Are you putting yourself into a position to win?
By Kristopher S. Shumway, M.Sc., NASM-PES, iTPA-CTPS, USPTA-Elite Professional
Tennis is a game of tenths and hundredths of seconds in which a player must anticipate, interpret, move, prepare, balance, choose a shot, recover and then repeat again and again throughout the entirety of a match or practice. The singles lines on a tennis court are marked twenty-seven feet apart with the center hash mark at thirteen and a half feet from each sideline. The typical amount of time one has to react and be in position to hit again after striking the ball can range from 1-3.5 seconds respectively. To put this in perspective, if a tennis player is in the middle of the court rallying and their opponent hits a ball down the line, he/she will have to move ten feet in either direction to get in position to hit the next shot and recover. If each stride in tennis equals approximately two feet give or take depending on the height of the individual and the average amount of time to complete one stride is .02 to .05 tenths of a second, the approximate time it will take an individual to move ten feet will be .10 to .25 seconds. If the opponent hits a ball and it travels at 56mph down the line the receiving player will have one second to get into position and hit the next ball. Since it can take up to .25 seconds to get into position it leaves .75 seconds to become balanced and hit the proper stroke.
The limited amount of time to react, move and hit the next ball makes it all the more apparent a player will need to modify their training methods to react faster. Transitioning to the next skill level in tennis where players are stronger and more talented it requires a much faster reaction/anticipation time due to the changing speed of the game. The ball moves at a faster pace, the use of angles become more apparent, and physically the players are stronger. As a player you can adjust your game to give yourself more time to react and prepare to hit the next ball in several different ways: you can cut hundredths of seconds off of your reaction time by training yourself to pick up on visual, mental and auditory cues along with physical training.
Visual training or visual anticipation become very important in decreasing your reaction time and giving you the ability to hit the best shot possible. Visual training will help you recognize what your opponent is hitting and will allow you to pick up the ball coming off of your opponents racquet much faster and will allow you to react more quickly. Good visual training can give you up to .20 seconds of a head start to the next shot.
Mental training allows you to be comfortable in every situation. By being a student of the game and understanding proper shot selection and strategy it will allow your choice to become automatic. When this occurs the only thing you need to worry about is movement preparation, and shot execution.
While I was at Coordinated Healths PULSE department we had put together a tennis program focused on the visual, physical and movement training specifically geared to those movements seen on the tennis court. We had completed the first 4 week session and saw significant improvements in a variety of skills. A decreased amount of muscle imbalances pre and post testing were also noted. This was significant within itself because the corrective exercise training was designed to help prevent injuries due to a player’s body not working together. If the amount of torque placed on the dominant armed side of a tennis player is producing more power/torque than the non dominant side can slow down it can cause a possible injury. This repetitive micro trauma caused by the vibrations of the racquet and ball meeting can over time break down the body’s muscles and cause injury if the body is not optimally working together as a unit.
Our tennis class participants all had played high school tennis in the Lehigh valley and their ability levels varied from being ranked in the mid Atlantic region to national rankings with some. Our pre-post tests included the vertical jump, a lower extremity functional test, and a shark skills test which tests both left and right sides for reaction time. All of the participants vertical jumps increased 2″ or more over the four weeks of training. One player’s vertical jump had increased 6 inches from the initial training session. We tested for muscle imbalances in the right and left sides in a single leg shark skills test to determine which side was more dominant and were able to decrease any discrepancy between the two sides. The lower extremity functional test which consisted of changing directions seven times with a total accumulation of 210 feet was a success where all participants decreased there times by more than one second. We had one player who was able to decrease their time to 19 seconds, which is equivalent to 11 feet/second with a variety of footwork patterns. If we look back to where a player may only have 1-3.5 seconds to react and hit an opponents ball they will be able to move from the middle of the court to hit a ball coming at them up the line in less than a second. If the player is visually picking up the ball earlier and anticipating the shot he/she will be able to move quicker into position which will ultimately allow them more time to slow down and balance their bodies for their forward swing. This will ultimately create a much more accurate and precise shot.
Tennis is a multifaceted sport in that it requires a player to not only be physically fit but fundamentally, mentally and strategically sound. As a coach/trainer/player this makes it tough for us to determine which components of training are the most important regarding the outcome of a tennis match. With that said however, you can as an athlete prepare yourself for the factors that you can control such as the physical, visual, and developing proper movement patterns. This allows you, as players, to walk out on to the court knowing you don’t have to worry about those aspects of the game and you can solely focus on the mental and strategic components concerning the opponent across from you. This will in turn put you in a position to win as long as you execute your strokes, game plan and strategize to the best of your ability.
I leave you with a reminder that proper preparation is essential for execution.