One Step Ahead

Agility is an important, yet often overlooked tennis trait.

Published December 15, 2010 12:00

One Step Ahead
Kim Clijsters

Agility is the ability of a tennis player to start, stop, and change direction quickly and effectively while moving. This combination of quickness, speed and balance is one of the most important, yet often overlooked aspects of playing tennis.

• Many players spend hours each day fine tuning their strokes and yet only minutes practicing their footwork skills.
• It's no use having great strokes if you can't get there to play them!
• The successful professional tennis player today is the quickest getting to the ball.
Including footwork drills in your routine can enhance your on-court performance. The following foot work activities will give you several ideas for agility drills; add your imagination, and the sky is the limit. While you improve your footwork and agility you will also develop balance, co-ordination, speed, & endurance. To get started with footwork drills consider these things:
• Always be sure to thoroughly warm-up before beginning any exercises by including about 15 minutes of aerobic/dynamic activity such as jogging or skipping..
• Be sure to make the movement specific to the way you move on the court.
• Don't time your body to the ball--be ready and waiting to put it away for a WINNER.
• Remember to practice core stability and use your Transverse Abdominus (TA) muscle when performing these agility drills and in your daily activities. "Set" your TA at the beginning of the drills, and hold this position throughout the activity.
• When working on your footwork, be sure to remember the principle of quality NOT quantity.
• The following drills can be completed at any time. They are great as warm-up activities, or to do repeated efforts during training weeks.

Footwork 101
By including a variety of step types, these drills warm up your body while preparing your feet for quick response during the match. Do them on-court along the sideline from one baseline to the other. Keep your TA muscle tightened for good posture with your arms bent next to your trunk. Perform one court length for each exercise with 30 seconds rest in between.
• Low skip with low frequency
• Low skip with high frequency
• High knee skip with low frequency
• High knee skip with high frequency
• Hot steps with high frequency low knees
• Hot steps with high frequency high knees
• Bump kicks with low frequency
• Bump kicks with high frequency
• High Knee skip with low frequency
• High knee skip with high frequency
• Hot steps with low frequency and High knees

Fancy Feet
These are great for developing hand-eye coordination, learning to watch the ball and judging its speed and direction. They also make sure that you bend down to get to a ball on the ground.
• Be sure to do them on a tennis court. Remember specificity!
• Have someone stand about 10 feet away from you and roll a ball along the ground.
• Run to the ball, roll it back and return to a ready position.
• As you recover your position, your partner rolls the next ball.
• The ball can be rolled in any direction so you are forced to change direction and stop
and start. Start with sets of six balls.

• In Back-court area; in service box area; bounce or throw balls; vary depth, speed and spin of the balls; in tramlines: aim to get the ball before it crosses the line

Climb your way to the Top
For this exercise place or draw a ladder on an even court surface. Allow a few meters beyond each end of the ladder to have enough space. Keep your weight on your toes for a quicker response. You can choose different stepping variations such as skipping or bump kicks for each of the following ladder patterns. At the end of each exercise, when you run out of the ladder, perform a short sprint (e.g., from one baseline to the other).
• One foot contact in each gap when running through the ladder
• Each foot contacts within one gap, start with right/left then change left/right
• Three contacts within one gap, right/left/right
• Switch between one, two, three contacts in each gap and back with three, two, one contact
• Perform the drills above sideways and then backward through the ladder
• Both feet outside the ladder, jump inside the gap, then outside the next gap…
• One foot jumps (right and left) from outside the ladder jump inside the gap, then outside the next gap…
• Right foot in first gap, left foot outside: jump to the other side into the next gap (Left foot inside, right foot outside)
• Perform the last two exercises backward.

Ball Change
This is an effective way to work on quick start and stop, as well as change of direction. It is also a fun way to build your strength and endurance for lunging to get low balls.
• On half court, place two balls along each sideline near the baseline.
• Stand in the middle on the baseline and run to the right side, pick up one ball, then change direction and run to the left side.
• Place the ball on the left sideline next to the others, closer to the net.
• Pick up the ball closest to the baseline and run back to the right side.
• Again leave the ball on the line, closer to the net and pick up the ball closest to the baseline.
• Sprint back and forth, working your way closer to the net with each ball changes.

Remember to cool down (an easy slow jog and stretching exercises) for 5-10 minutes after completing these agility drills. This helps return your body temperature to normal and helps prevent muscle soreness. Add other recovery techniques to gain even more benefits.

The contents of the Game, Set, Health site, are for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, psychiatric, psychological, health care or health management advice. The materials herein are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.

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