Friday, June 29, 2007

Court Movement 101

Sorry about the somewhat long delay since my last post. A bunch of business trips stacked very close together, a short family road trip around the various State and National Parks around Utah and Colorado, and a lot of catching up on the business end of things for me have cut into my blogging time in recent weeks, but I’ll be posting more regularly as the summer progresses (I hope).

The next few posts will delve into the “how-to” side of the various forms of speed in tennis. And, to begin this “how-to” series, I think that the obvious place to start is to begin with a discussion of how to move effectively, efficiently and explosively on the court. For those of you out there who haven’t gotten this memo (or for those who are new to this blog): competitive tennis success is really based on your ability to move explosively and efficiently on the court.

Remember, you can’t hit a ball that’s not there, so you need to realize and accept that the consistency, precision, and power of your ball-striking is primarily based on your ability to get into a consistent hitting position for every shot you intend to hit. So, no matter how you look at it, the single most important physical skill that impacts your entire game is your movement.

Usually, the first thing I try to assess in new clients of mine and then carefully monitor on a continuous basis from that point forward is whether or not they are moving properly during competitive play.

Efficient court movement is a very simple process. The fundamental principle of efficient, effective court movement is to always start with an explosive first move toward your opponent’s return, accelerate to top speed within the first two to three steps, and then decelerating so you can establish a solid, balanced hitting stance at the optimal hitting position to make solid, controlled ball contact.

Then, immediately after finishing your follow-through, you repeat the sequence to recover your court position by making an explosive first and second step and then immediately finding the classic “ready position” in anticipation of your opponent’s next return.

This overall pattern of alternating acceleration and deceleration is then performed as needed to secure each and every possible point. Fast then slow… Say it together, now… “Fast then slow”. If you are moving efficiently and effectively, you should be constantly accelerating and decelerating in order to achieve both maximum court coverage and maximum control over your ball-striking. At no time should you be moving at a constant speed on the court during play.

So, to sum it up, you need to first understand that the overall goal of court movement is to enable you to consistently move into a solid hitting position for every one of your opponent’s returns. Then, you need to understand that the most effective way to accomplish this goal is to use the “fast then slow“ movement pattern. Even if your absolute foot speed is average, or below average, you will get to many more shots during play if you move with the correct “fast then slow” pattern.

Say it again now… Fast then Slow, Fast then Slow….

Armed with this understanding, I think that you might begin to notice as you start watching other players move on court that only a small fraction of tennis players at every level (from recreational players at the nearby public park, to the pros on TV) execute the proper “fast then slow” movement pattern on the court. The majority of players either move at a constant speed during play, or execute the opposite movement pattern where their first move toward the ball is slow, then they try to accelerate as they approach contact to “catch up” to their opponent’s return.

While “catch-up” speed is coveted in certain sports (prime examples are the late burst of speed used by defensive backs in American Football to close the distance between them and pass receivers just before the arrival of a forward pass, or the sudden burst used by basketball defenders to “take away the baseline” from an offensive player driving toward the basket), in tennis, having a lot of speed just before the point where you need to achieve a solid, balanced hitting stance makes finding such a quality hitting stance very difficult (trying to come to a complete, balanced stop while moving at full speed is a stark challenge--try it and see for yourself) and severely compromises your ability to maximize both control and power of your strokes.

If you are a player who has difficulty controlling running shots during play (basically 30 to 50 percent of players at any level are plagued by this particular problem—lack of control on running shots), the root cause of your control issues is this inverted “slow then fast” movement pattern. The solution to your control issues for running shots is as simple as understanding that you need to move in the exact opposite pattern where you make your initial move to the ball faster and then slow down as you approach the optimal hitting position behind the path of your opponent’s return.

(In fact, I’ve noticed that for many players in a great many cases, improvement is often largely a matter of doing the opposite of what they are currently doing or trying to do. I am strongly considering writing a tennis instructional book called “180 Degree Tennis” because the vast majority of people’s issues with playing this sport well would be corrected by doing the exact opposite of what they’re actually doing, or what they think they should be doing.)

In my next post, we’ll get into more detail about effective court movement and talk about some simple drills to help you get to more of your opponent’s returns and increase the power and control of your own shots at the same time (Yes, the ability to hit powerfully during competitive play is directly related to court movement!)


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At 4:40 PM, Anonymous Karen said...

Hey speedmaster - thanks so much for dropping by the USTA Boys 18s Nationals today. I truly appreciated your astute observations during the live match play - it is our pleasure to have met you. And, hey - TTFN back to you -


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