Q. As a fellow professional coach, I need advice on implementing good footwork drills into match play situations. I coach 12-year-old juniors and they perform footwork drills very well in practice but when playing points, they just don't seem to step up to that level as performed in the drill? Can you kindly advice what method you implement to solve this? Thank you for your advice!
A. The best footwork drills for transfer into match play are those that are tennis specific. The movements must replicate those used in match play. The work to rest ratios used should mimic match play work to rest ratios which have been found to be approximately 1:3 (three times as much rest as work). The players should hold a racquet when possible as this will help with developing dynamic balance.
We also like to use tennis specific cues, like a tennis ball, to cue for the player on when and how to react (e.g. rather that yell at a player to run to the right on the court, use a tennis ball and “point” in the direction you want the player to run). Players should also always react out of their split step.
Incorporate these factors into your footwork drills and the performance your players demonstrate during the drills should better transfer to match play.
B. Some players will transfer the footwork skills they learn during practice to competition better than others – just as they will transfer tennis technique better than others. One thing that helps transfer skills is repetition. Remember, “perfect practice makes perfect.”
Have the players repeat the footwork skills over and over so that eventually they perform the proper footwork naturally, without thinking. Another thing that seems to help is using the tennis ball as much as possible in the drills.
When a player competes he/she must react to the ball, not someone’s finger point, whistle, or verbal cue. Incorporating the racquet in the drills may also assist in the transfer of skills gained in practice to competition.
In general, the more tennis specific the footwork drills, probably, the better the transfer.
Q. Is there a book on footwork drills that you would recommend?
A. A couple of books I’d recommend that include footwork drills:
Complete Conditioning for Tennis by the USTA
Power Tennis Training by Donald Chu
Both books can be purchased through Human Kinetics at 1-800-747-4457.
Q. What exercises do you recommend for the type of footwork needed on the court?
A. Do drills that incorporate the footwork used during tennis. Also, incorporate the work to rest ratio experienced during tennis (typically 1:2 or 1:3); drills should last about 10-20 seconds interspersed with bouts of rest of about 25 seconds. Concentrate on making the first step when changing direction explosive.
Studies reveal that the average distance moved per stroke during a tennis match is only about three yards. So, you don’t need the speed of a 100-meter sprinter. You need to develop speed over a short distance with the ability to change direction quickly. If you can react with an explosive first step and recover quickly as well, you should be quick on the court.
When possible, use a tennis ball to react to since the ball is what you react to in a tennis match, not hands, finger points, whistles, lights, bells, or shouts. Focus on the ball, read its speed, spin, and direction and attack it with your feet. Train accordingly and your tennis footwork should improve.
Q. I have a 10-year-old grandson who plays a lot and isn't fast on his feet. What training can he do to improve his foot speed?
A. One of the great things about 10 year olds is their desire and enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, at this age there are changes in their growth and development that influence their balance, coordination and agility.
Jumping rope at this age is a simple and fun way to develop foot speed and coordination.
Figure 8’s around two cones, shuttling between the alley lines (front/back and side-side) and performing the ‘spider’ drill (sprinting from the middle ‘hash” mark on the baseline to the five ‘intersections’ on the court) are all great ways to improve balance, agility and coordination.
Changes in direction while keeping the body under control is the biggest challenge to this age group.
There are many more drills listed on the USTA Player Development web site.