Developing and maintaining proper footwork practices is vital to success on the tennis court. In fact, this aspect of the game is so important that Tennis Fitness founders Giselle and Nathan Martin have cultivated their own “7 Tennis Movement Principles” to help teach athletes the proper progressions for how to move effectively on court.
At the recent PTR/WTCA Indian Wells Tennis Coaches Summit, the Martins perfected their 7-step movement system, and have since implemented it into their own programming, breaking down movement into seven components and using it with each of their players.
“It’s all about building on and progressing through each of module of the model,” explained Giselle. “Realistically, if you don’t have the first principle correct, it’s really hard to keep building onto the next ones.”
At Tennis Fitness, the coaches have settled on nine threads that make up the ideal athlete, with proper footwork being one of them. While improving a tennis player’s footwork can be done, it is always easier to institute the proper movement principles in the introductory stages of a player’s development.
“You can always break bad habits, it’s never too late,” said Giselle. “We do find with the players who have that basic movement at a younger age, it is easier to guide them through the movement patterns. However, the good thing about poor movement is that it is an area where you can make great improvements with the correct technique. Even 10 minutes a day before practice can help your game.”
“If you don’t have footwork, you have a hole in your game. If you don’t move well, it puts you under pressure. You don’t have enough time to get into position to hit a good shot,” Giselle explained. “At the end of the day, it comes down to confidence. If you move well on the court and you’re confident with your movement, then you’re going to have that advantage as soon as you step on court.”
The first component of the “7 Tennis Movement Principles” is posture. According to Giselle, athletes must have a wide base, be slightly forward, have bent knees, knees aligned with the middle of the foot, be strong throughout the core, have a straight back and keep their chin tucked in order to master posture. In fact, she often finds it is easier to teach them these facets in a stationary position before moving on to movement with a racquet in hand.
Once posture has been mastered, athletes will progress onto coordination. “Coordination is working on small steps or adjustment steps. We ensure that they’re coordinated on both sides. You will find lots of players are dominant on one side compared to the other, so we run drills to see the difference from their left to the right,” explained Giselle.
Third, tennis players must learn how to brake effectively, both for enhanced performance on the court and for injury prevention. If an athlete does not brake properly, they have a much higher chance on being injured.
“You can’t accelerate properly if you don’t know how to brake,” Giselle reasoned. “On court, you’re stopping as much as you’re starting. At Tennis Fitness, we’re huge on teaching our athletes first how to brake and then how to accelerate.”
Naturally, acceleration is the fourth step in the “7 Tennis Movement Principles” progression. Acceleration is focused on being able to explode out of the first two steps and making solid, strong contact with the ground.
After acceleration comes change of direction, where athletes will work on efficiently shifting direction on the court and how to start and stop in multidirectional planes. “Tennis is not about running straight. You’re doing a lot more lateral movement in tennis,” said Giselle.
The sixth principle is reaction. “It’s important to have that quick reaction so that when players see the ball, they can react and move. We do a lot of reactional drills prior to matches just to heighten their nervous system. Their body needs to be warmed up, but so does their mind. A lot of reaction tennis ball drills switches their brain on,” Giselle explained.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there needs to be intensity with each component of movement. According to Giselle, if players lack intensity, the other six principles simply do not matter.
“It’s all about intensity, and if you don’t train with intensity, how are you expected to bring that on court?,” she said. “You have to learn how to train with intensity so that when it does come to match play, you know how to do it at that next level. If you look at any of the pro players, their intensity when they train is the same as when they’re on court in a match.”
For teaching these “7 Tennis Movement Principles,” Nathan and Giselle believe that quality is much more beneficial than quantity. “Everybody is short on time, but we believe that 10 to 15 minutes of effective footwork drills each day is more useful than spending hours on noneffective drills,” said Giselle.
The Martins also emphasize a few key areas all coaches must focus on when teaching their athletes to move effectively on the court. First, they should not skip or jump progression levels. It is imperative that athletes master each movement principle before advancing to the next.
Secondly, coaches should put as much emphasis on braking techniques as they do on teaching athletes how to accelerate. Third, give athletes incentives and goals while training. Tennis players are naturally competitive, so it is important to introduce competition to keep training from becoming mundane.
Next, there must be a conscious effort to train both reactive and nonreactive drills in order to reinforce agility of movement on the court. Fifth, once again, is intensity. The Martins believe it is always better for athletes to do less exercises with high intensity than trying to overload them with too many exercises at a low intensity.
Lastly, athletes need to know the “why” behind each exercise they are performing. “Before I train an athlete or try any new drills, I tell them why we are doing this. They tend to buy in on the exercise more when they have this information and do the exercise with purpose. We find it’s very important to explain and educate,” Giselle explained.
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