There are many variations of this general theme, one of which is the Tennis Channel’s one-minute clinic. Imagine you are paid one dollar for every step taken to the ball. If you are getting paid ‘by the step,’ the natural tendency is to take more steps to get to the ball. Smaller steps is one of the keys to better footwork. Hitting a moving ball requires a lot of fine adjustment from setup through the stroke and into recovery. It’s easier to make those adjustments with the feet than compensating through upper body/arm/wrist manipulations. Compensating for poor footwork robs you of power and accuracy.
So, how do you translate this to the court? I’ve always liked tips that involve less thinking and more sensory feedback. Even during a practice session, it’s hard to think about multiple things at once. So, how do you tell if you are taking smaller steps to the ball? Do you count them?
A variation of this general tip that I like is to ‘hear’ your feet during each stroke. Especially on hardcourt, you can really hear small rapid steps and shuffling to get the body into the best position for the stroke. When I hit a ball poorly, I can usually trace a lot of the problem to equally poor footwork. Usually, it’s taking fewer steps, getting into position, then trying to ‘muscle’ the ball at impact. A good stroke should be highly fluid, even if you don’t have to move very far to get to the ball. When I’m hitting well, I’m taking lots and lots of very tiny steps as I position and then take the final step into impact. In other words, I can always hear my feet moving when I’m hitting well.
The immediate question is how can you train to get better footwork? I’ll answer that one on Monday.