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Situational Movement

Footwork in tennis is so complex. Split steps, crossover steps, side steps etc etc. But isn’t the most important thing to be able to reach the ball as quickly as possible.

Using a Games Based Approach is often the fastest way of learning

and utilizing the complex steps of high level tennis.

In a Game-based approach, it is ‘situations’ rather than strokes that need to be trained. Tactics are the driver of all technical development.

Technique is developed through a series of tactical tasks, problems that

need to be solved to play effectively.

So what about footwork?

Universally, coaches agree that footwork is critical for success in tennis. In traditional coaching, footwork was all too often tied to stroke models.

Coaches would have absurd debates about such things as, “should a player learn to hit open stance or closed’? Observing the athletic play performed in modern tennis, the answer to the above question is obviously “yes”!

Unfortunately, the industry is rife with less than effective footwork coaching.

How many players have experienced the popular ‘non-technical’ approach (the coach hits balls out of the player’s reach and yells, “Get to the ball! Run faster!”)

The other extreme is the ‘footwork model’ approach where the coach conforms everyone to the same pattern (e.g. Players should always ‘step and lean’ into their groundstrokes). They even have little cutouts of feet to show where t

o step.

Players must move quickly and efficiently to all parts of the court to perform the myriad of shots required in tennis. In a Game-based Approach, the path to developing footwork needs to take into account all the possibilities. To navigate this landscape, we need to define the principles that can be used to create functional footwork in the various situations encountered by players.


A tactical Situation (starting just before the opponent’s impact) that presents a challenge to the player and what they do to receive the ball, and a Response (starting from the player’s impact) that deals with the challenge and what is needed to send the b

all. The cycle can start with the player’s impact, like on a serve , or the opponents, like in a rally

This framework gives coaches a critical tool to systematically analyze and organize training the components involved in footwork. Let’s look at the components in more detail:


Like all technique in tennis, a player needs to first ‘read’ the situation to gain information on what actions to perform before launching into the Cycle.


On groundstrokes, returns, and volleys, the cycle starts just before the Opponent impacts the ball. The goal is to have a balanced position to launch into the shot. The main way to accomplish this is with a Split-step. These come in two general categories, static and dynamic.

Static Split-steps: These occur from a stationary position (like on return of serve or, at the net in doubles, etc.). The key is the timing of the step to begin generating ground force reaction. Typically, it occurs just before the opponent impacts the ball. • Dynamic Split-steps: These occur from a moving position.

Dynamic Split-

steps are connected to the recovery process. The goal is to re-gain a neutral balance (head above centre of gravity) to allow movement in any direction while transitioning from one shot to the next.


The ‘Start-Step’ is the first movement a player takes to get to the ball. There are several options players use to break inertia and initiate movement: Drop-step: This movement is to get a quick start for lateral movement. The outside foot pushes in the opposite direction of movement as the inside foot slides (drops) underneath the centre of gravity. Punch-step: This step is important to get maximum ‘thrust’ in the direction of movement. The physics principle, ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction’, comes into play as the player must perform a strong push in the opposite direction of where they want to go. The key on the punch-step is to keep the centre of gravity neutral (don’t shift weight towards the push). Step-out: This move is typically seen when moving laterally for volleys. The foot (on the same side as the direction of movement) turns out. At higher levels, the Step-out is part of the Split-step.


This refers to the footwork required to take the player to the appropriate location to perform the stroke. It is their movement to the ball. Direction: Players move in 3 directions in relation to the net. Lateral movement occurs side to side across the court. Up & Back movement occurs towards or away from the net. Diagonal movement is also possible in any direction. Footwork Type: There are 5 basic ways a player strides across a court. • Shuffle Step: For moving short distances Crossover: For moving medium distances Run: For covering maximum ground quickly Back-pedal: For short distances (e.g. an inside-out forehand) Slide: Used on clay courts to cover distance with balance


This refers to the movements required to launch the shot. The player is already in the appropriate location and only needs to perform the footwork during the shot. Stances: There are 5 ‘stances’ which refer to the position of the feet in relation to the net -Open -Semi-open -Neutral -Semi-closed Footing: This refers to which foot launches the body into the shot and which foot is landed on. There are 4 combinations (these can occur on groundstrokes, volleys, and overheads). Right-Right: Right-Left: o Left-Right: Left-Left.


As the name implies, this stage of the Footwork Cycle is to recover the player’s balance and put them in a location that allows them to get to any shot the opponent makes. Recovery has 4 components: Position: The player must regain their neutral balanced position with a lower posture and wide base Location: The player must place themselves to respond to any shot the opponent makes. The location of recovery includes side to side (lateral) as well as up & back (offensive vs defensive. Time: To be fully recovered, the player must achieve their position and location before the opponent contacts the ball (before the ball bounces is the preferable timing on groundstrokes). Footwork Type: Shuffle Step: This is for moving short distances Crossover: For moving medium distances Run: For covering maximum ground quickly. A NOTE ABOUT BALANCE: In all the parts of the Footwork Cycle, balance is the critical element required to ensure everything works optimally. The main key to retain balance is to maintain a straight, “Line of Gravity This line ensures all the rotations of the body have a solid axis. CONCLUSION By using the Footwork Cycle as a reference, all the main ‘situational’ possibilities can be observed, analyzed, and trained.

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