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How to Avoid Hitting Off Your Back Foot

Q. "How can I stop from hitting off my back foot? I find myself tilting backwards quite a bit. Thanks."

From Steve M., San Diego, CA:

It's impossible to do two contradictory things at the same time, such as simultaneously step left and step right with the same foot or sit down and stand up at the same time. So commit strongly to hitting the ball sooner -- as in further in front of you -- while shifting your hitting shoulder, chest and nose forward toward the ball to make that happen.

From Vickie, Martinez, CA:

You need to get to the ball earlier to set up for you shot. Then load on the back foot and finish on the front foot.

From Barry, Grass Valley:

Try this: When you are hitting with a friend, right before you hit, lift your back foot slightly off the ground.

From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, FL:

Don, this is a common problem. In general, it is the result of late preparation and its effect on balance. Hitting the ball late with inadequate weight transfer results in an out of balance contact and falling back off the ball.

Solution: Start by simply assuming a closed stance. Without your racquet, hips turned toward the sidelines, put your weight on the back foot. Then rotate your hips toward the net, and place all your weight on your front foot. Look back. Your heel should be raised off the court, and you should be comfortable and on balance.

With racquet in hand, repeat taking the racquet back in slow motion. Continue to swing to a contact point just in front of yourself now that you are facing the net, and follow through. NOW hold it for a three count. If you are truly balanced, then you should be able to lift the back foot from the court and remain balanced. You can do this at home if you feel uncomfortable.

Add movement, then a ball, and you should be set after some practice. Speed will come later.

Get balanced, hit early and enjoy.

From Kitty B., Princeton, NJ:

Move a little farther back to return the ball. That way, you are coming in for your shots, not backing off.

From Tony S.:

A good drill to solve hitting off the back foot is this one:

Stand facing the net in the ready position. Have a partner stand behind you, and gently toss a ball four or five feet in front of you. Move forward, and strike the ball. Repeat this 10 or more times. You can't possibly hit off the back foot in this drill.

Then have your partner feed balls facing you from the other side of the net (for their protection). The ball will now be coming toward you. Move forward, and hit the ball out in front using that same stroke.

It will take some diligence on your part to make it part of your game, but practice makes permanent. Remember, whenever possible, the last step in any stroke should be forward.

From Mark B., Iowa City, IA:

The best way to avoid hitting off your back foot is to generate some forward momentum before you prepare to hit the ball.

On a return or volley you should be moving forward one or two steps before your opponent hits the ball and split step when they hit.

On groundstrokes, you should split step when they hit, as well, so you are not rearing backward, defending against their stroke.

Try to give yourself enough time to get in position to hit the ball. This may require better preparation. You can achieve this preparation better by getting your racquet back before the ball bounces on your side when hitting a groundstroke.

From Karen G., Glenford, NY:

Hitting off your back foot implies you are waiting for the ball to come to you, instead of going to the ball. In other words, the ball is playing you, instead of you playing the ball, and you are making contact at the very last moment.

My advice would be, first, to adjust the manner in which you track the ball, concentrating on a contact point out in front of your body. Also, make sure your legs are bent, and make the effort to step into the ball before making contact. It's very hard to hit off of your back foot if your legs are bent.

Also, make sure you have a good shoulder turn because your body is probably facing the net too much.

If these tips don't work, have someone toss you short balls so you have to run up and hit them. This will get you used to moving into the ball, not away from it.

From Dick B., Morrisville, VT:

You need to move to the ball so your body weight is going forward into the ball. Also try to step to cut the ball off and not straight across. Stepping straight across not only keeps your weight back but also results in a late hit. Do not wait on the ball when the pace slows; rather, attack the ball. You will get a lot better results.

From Mike G.:

Like most players at a certain rating point, I find myself doing the same thing. I try standing a little back behind the baseline to force myself to come in and be moving forward. That seems to work for me. There are some instances you can’t be in proper position to do this. Also have a teaching pro work with you on how to hit an open-stance shot. It will help your game, as well.

From Irwin M., MN:

I’m a tennis pro in Minnesota. If you are a right-handed player, you can try this on your own. Hit off the back foot but land on your left, and it will help you stop falling backwards. If you put pressure on your back foot but transfer to your left, it would help you shift weights and rotate your trunk as you hit.

You can self-feed yourself by drop and feed, and try this exercise: lift your left foot drop feed, hit and land on left foot, and your problem will be fixed.

From Dave B, Bettendorf, IA:

I find practicing hitting a few shots in warm ups off one leg (front leg) helps me get used to not backing up. This is used by some golfers to warm up. It also helps with balance and weight transfer.

From Phil, Briarcliff Manor, NY:

Hitting off the back foot is not a bad thing. Look at Henin hitting her signature backhand, and Nadal hitting his forehand. The key is maintaining your balance at all times throughout the stroke.

It is better if your weight is evenly distributed between both feet, like a batter in the batter's box, a golfer at the tee, or Federer hitting his backhand drive. Hitting off the back foot is done by the pros, but they are simultaneously pushing off that back foot to give them power from the ground.

It is also a technique that Krickstein used to do when backing up to hit a deep ball from his opponent. He used to retreat from the ball with small steps, plant his right foot, push forward with it and hit his forehand like a howitzer.

Ali used to do the same thing when back-pedaling away from a charging opponent in the ring: he would then plant his right foot and fire a right hook with tremendous torque, generated from that right leg and shoulder rotation, the exact same dynamic as modern tennis players from a semi-open stance.

The key is maintaining balance throughout.

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