MOVEMENT IN TENNIS
In FLIN’S last edition, we introduced the different basic elements of a balanced and harmonious physical preparation for Tennis.
In this article we would like to go a step further by introducing concrete applications of these exercises in the game.
Tennis implies MOVEMENT. The ball rarely comes to us and in most cases we have to deal with different variables: direction, height, power, rotation, distance and timing. Aspects being largely out of our control and as such a source of stress.
One way to reduce this stress is to address the technical and tactical aspects. Another is to address “MOVEMENT”: Be in the best place to realize in the best position our best technical shot.
It is this “MOVEMENT” aspect that we would like to develop further.
When dealing with a large task which seems unreachable for different reasons: Difficulty, age, inability, where to start? Lack of motivation… a good way to approach it is to break it down into smaller, achievable components. The first step is not only the most important but many times the most difficult one.
We aim to present an approach which is coherent and that helps people achieve their personal objectives.
The different components of movement in Tennis are:
This loop occurs at every exchange, from the first to the last point of the match.
We understand by anticipation the ability to correctly guess what will be the next action from our opponent. To increase the probability to correctly guess we would have first to reduce, through analysis of the situation, the different possible outcomes. In order to do so we should: (list not exhaustive)
1. Know the court: Its dimensions like length (23, 77m), width (8, 23m), and that the difference of height of the net between the post and the middle is 16cm, (1, 07-0, 91). The diagonal is 25, 15 m. making it safer to play “cross” shots as opposed to shots “down the line”. (image B)
2. Know probable patterns: Using image B) and following the latest comment we could mention that for example, after executing a cross ball it is easier to receive another cross ball. A change of direction, called as well “Opening the game”, is an excellent initiative but requires technical, tactical and emotional capabilities.
Another situation is that after you play a very long ball, the opponent will probably only be able to return a shorter ball, near the T-line. Integrating this pattern will allow us to be ready or to anticipate our position more inside the court, being able to impose pressure and take the initiative by using wider angles.
1) Know the opponent: Which are his/her strengths and weaknesses? What does his body language and attitude transmits: aggressiveness and proactiveness versus acceptance and reactivity? Where is he/she most comfortable? Less comfortable? What are his favorite patterns?
2) Know yourself: Just as it is important to know your opponent, it is crucial to be aware of our own limits. There are game situations that we do not like. What can we do about that? How do we feel physically and emotionally before and during the game? What should we try to implement? Or to avoid? Our errors are frequently the result of trying something that is currently too difficult for us to execute.
Combining higher probability patterns with the opponent abilities and preferences, will help you improve your anticipation capabilities.
Reaction is either a voluntary or involuntary movement in response of a stimulus. In tennis, your reaction will be influenced by your own characteristics, whether you are tall or short, heavy or light, flexible or stiff. To improve the reaction time, here is a non-exhaustive list of factors which will get you into condition:
– Warming up before your match
– Improve your footwork
– Maintain your focus during the game
– Proprioception (feet, knees, hands, elbows…)
– Coordination, equilibrium
– Perception (Sound, vision, touch, etc…)
– Dissociate lower and upper body
– Explosivity, tonicity and endurance
In tennis we have numerous accelerations, stops and changes of directions. Movements are vertical (front & backwards), horizontal and diagonal, short & long, etc… We have to be ready to rapidly alternate those movements and be able to recover rapidly after an intense effort.
In order to run properly we have to lower our center of gravity. Good posture.
Because of the tennis characteristics we have to train the fractionate running, a mixture of short accelerations and pauses, and different types of steps can be used: side steps, cross steps, carioca steps, small and larger ones. Those different steps will have to be performed at different velocities.
An optimized type of movement should in addition have:
1) A similar motion in as many circumstances as possible
2) Optimization of the energy input and maximization of the resulting power
3) Preserve the equilibrium / balance
4) Fluidity of the motion (think of a dancer)
5) No waste of time
ORIENTATION (of the body)
Orientation precedes the execution of the shot
– While we are moving with our lower body towards the hitting zone, our upper body should be preparing for the shot: torso, shoulder, arm, hand and racket.
– We should avoid an interruption in the movement before hitting the ball, benefitting from a continuous motion (the kinetic chain which allows fluidity and power).
– Thus avoiding losing or wasting time, reducing the stress level and allowing us to focus our attention on the timing of the shot: contact ball-racket.
That uninterrupted chain will result in a continuous and harmonious execution that could be as well timed with the breathing sequence. Analogies could be made with the archery: the pulling of the string and the let go of the arrow, as well as with the analogy of the piano and the difference between just playing the notes and the ability to interpret a melody. Putting all elements together and in synchronicity will lead to a performing and pleasant motion.
To hit properly we need to control our equilibrium, to be balanced. What can we do to improve our balance? The answer lies essentially in performing physical exercises:
– Work on the proprioception (ankles, knees as well as wrists and elbows) by using the combination of unstable platforms and power exercises
– Strengthening our core (hip and lower back) by performing isometric exercises
– Need to work on power and fluidity as well as on resistance by repeating such exercises with different difficulty levels: surface, inclination and load) over an extended period of time.
But as well different exercises on the court:
– Fighting disorientation by realizing exercises that will include, short movements, quick rotations of the body, up and down movements of the head, changes of directions…
Observation is the activity of collecting all the information inside of us as well as outside of us, (from the opponent, the trajectory of the ball, the situation of the game, etc… all useful information in order to realize the best global analysis of the situation. The more we are able to see and process rapidly, the more we will take the right decision and be able to correctly anticipate.
Our ability to do so decreases with our level of stress, with our level of energy and this is particularly problematic as in tennis the winner is the one who wins the last point. It is as such particularly important to remain fresh, alert and focus as to maintain our attention level at the highest level. Example of questions could be:
– Do I feel in control and comfortable with my position?
– Correctly positioned in the court? Will my effort and running distance be reduced according to what I expect to happen next?
– What does my position on the court communicate to my opponent? (Aggressive at the net versus defensive at the back of the court on the base line).
– Am I observing a change in patterns from me? From my opponent?
– Do I need to change something? To avoid changing something?
Tennis includes Movement.
Movement is composed by different elements that are recurring between every single exchange: Observation, Anticipation, Reaction, Speed, Orientation and Balance.
By working on those different elements we will quite rapidly open new perspectives for our game.
Those new available perspectives will create a highly motivating process, allowing us to be more performing playing tennis and having much more FUN.