From Sportsmen to Athlete: a Transition in Tennis

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When tennis started on the finely manicured lawns of Wimbledon, the players hit the ball back and forth nicely in long white pants and skirts, with wooden racquets, and short stokes. Tennis was a gentlemen’s game, a thinking game, and the players were more sportsman than athletes.

Fast forward to modern day…Tennis is now a high powered, supremely athletic, fist pumping, in your face game, and the toughest person wins. The ball travels faster, players are stronger, racquets and string provide more power, and the courts and balls are sped up to enhance the athletic prowess of the modern player.

Understanding this dynamic change in tennis has increased the importance of off court training for all levels of tennis players, both in the gym and with dynamic and plyometric movements. I have been a high performance coach for the last eight years, working with top level juniors and top 100 ranked WTA players. It is always a struggle to get players and parents alike to understand that it is not all about how well you hit the tennis ball.

Once you reach a certain level everyone can hit the ball well. The separation at the highest level is fitness, strength, and ability to create from defensive positions. This separation can be closed with proper training off the court.

The best way to bridge the gap between hitting balls and learning the proper movements is to build the understanding at the earliest age possible. I try to talk to the students and the parents as soon as they decide tennis is the sport for their child to pursue.

When working with young children the most important thing is to begin teaching them to use their legs at an early age. As they grow stronger, the more specific, more taxing movements will be easier to achieve if they learn to bend and load with their legs right from the outset of their training. In the beginning they may not understand the movements but they will be building the base for bigger and better things in the future.

With young children there are a few movements that if taught at the beginning of their development will pay great dividends later in their career.

These movements are:

  • Squat
    • Make sure legs are wider than shoulder with apart
    • Shoulders are over the knees
    • Knees are over the toes
    • Feet are parallel to each other and pointed straight at the net
      • Teach as split step/ready position
  • Front lunge
    • From ready position, step one leg straight forward and back knee is dropped to the ground
    • Front leg is bent at a 90 degree angle
    • Stop one tennis ball length from the ground
    • Make sure front knee does not pass in front of front toe
    • Front foot flat on the ground back foot the weight is on the ball
  • Side lunge/load position
    • From ready position, turn to one side and step out with that foot parallel to the baseline.
    • Weight is placed on leg that steps and front lunge position is achieved
      • Teach in simulation with forehands and backhands

These three basic movements will allow your students to get the basic understanding of the leg movements that will allow them to reach a higher level when they fully develop their game. I have found that students who have played other sports before turning to tennis have picked up the movements quickly. However, any student can learn the proper movements and enhance their tennis game through these basic kinetic movements.

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