By E. Paul Roetert, Ph.D
What’s the best way to help your players improve their tennis? By playing and practicing tennis skills of course. Therefore, much of the training for tennis should be sport specific. Especially when it comes to footwork. Many players work on their movement and footwork skills, but to have the best results they should emulate the particular movements that they will be performing during a match. I have selected some of the top movement drills used by professionals as well as many of our very best nationally ranked junior players.
Performing these drills will help your players too in improving their speed, quickness, and agility. Since during a match they will always have a racket in their hand (I hope so at least), I suggest performing these drills with a racket.
CLOSE AND DROP
Purpose of the drill: Works on both forward and backward movement. Reinforces closing in while at the net.
Set-up: Coach kneels at the net facing the player on the same side service line. Two cones are set up on the other side of the net as targets for the drop shots.
Action: Coach alternates tossing balls to left and right sides, forcing the player to sprint up and hit a drop shot. After each shot, the player backpedals as quickly as possible to the starting position (the center of the service line). After 25 seconds (a long point), the next player jumps into position. This gives the first player a chance to recover.
Coaching tip: Make work/rest ratio similar to an actual tennis point (1:2).
PROTECT YOUR TURF
Purpose of the drill: Improves movement skills around the net.
Set-up: Player stands in the center of one of the service boxes. Coach stands with basket of balls on the opposite side of the center service line.
Action: Coach feeds balls rapidly from the opposite side service line, moving the player back and forth and side to side within the service box. If there is more than one player, the second player quickly jumps in when the first player misses.
Coaching tip: Split step to change direction quickly.
Purpose of the drill: Improve lateral movement along the baseline.
Set-up: Player stands in ready position in the center of the baseline. Coach feeds from the other side of the net.
Action: Coach runs player from side to side, but player is only allowed to hit forehands. Coach could designate inside-out or inside-in targets (down-the-line forehands hit from the backhand corner).
Coaching tip: An excellent drill to work on the inside-out and inside-in forehands.
Purpose of the drill: Teaches players how much reach they actually have at the net, while taking only one step in each direction.
Set-up: Coach feeds from opposite side service line to player at net.
Action: Player alternately hits a high forehand volley followed by a low backhand volley. After a short rest period the sequence is reversed to a high backhand and a low forehand volley.
Coaching tip: Work on proper body rotation while alternating hitting the volleys.
Purpose of the drill: Works on hitting a variety of shots as the player advances to the net to close out the point.
Set-up: Coach feeds balls rapidly from the opposite side baseline.
Action: Player shuffles along the baseline, then sprints forward to the center service line, split steps and hits a forehand volley immediately followed by a backhand volley while closing in to the net. The final shot in the sequence is an overhead while backing up.
Coaching tip: Replicates common patterns of play.
2 COACHES DRILL
Purpose of the drill: Improves lateral movement and teaches players to cut off the ball off at an angle.
Set-up: Player stands in the ready position in the center of the baseline. One coach or one coach and a player stands in each doubles alley three feet inside the baseline with three balls in his/her hand.
Action: Player shuffles along the baseline, one coach shouts either “forehand” and drops a ball from shoulder height or shouts “backhand” and the other coach drops a ball. After hitting the groundstroke, the player recovers near the center of the baseline. Coaches can vary their position in the alley from the baseline to the service line.
Coaching Tip: Emphasize balance on the split step and an explosive first step toward the ball.