Speed, when most of us refer to it, is related to how quickly something moves from point A to point B. However, in tennis, I feel it is a bit more complicated than that and I would like to take a further look into the concept.
In order to increase speed, it is necessary to identify the different types. Generally, experts recognize four types of speed:
1. Perceptual Speed – This refers to how quickly you recognize the need to move. In tennis, this could mean reading the height, depth, placement, speed, and spin of the incoming ball.
2. Decision-making (Mental) Speed – This refers to how quickly your brain can interpret what you have perceived and send a message to your body to react. In tennis, this could be recognizing the need to move for a ball that has been hit deep to your backhand, putting you in a defensive position.
3. Movement Speed (Initiation Speed and Performance Speed)
Initiation speed: After you have perceived the need to act and have mentally sent the signals to the proper muscles, it then comes down to how quickly you can physically initiate the motion. In the above example, once you have recognized the deep, defensive backhand, now it’s a matter of how quickly you can initiate the movement to this deep, backhand.
Performance speed: This refers to the time it takes from initiation until the completion of an action/stroke. In the example, this speed refers to the time it takes you to move to the ball, get set up to hit the ball, and to recover for the next shot.
4. Alteration Speed – This type of speed refers to how fast you can change a motion after it has already been committed to. Alteration speed refers to any type of deviation from the initial motion. In the above example, this could mean getting ready to hit the backhand, but with a bad bounce (like on clay), it could mean changing to hit a forehand.
Over the next two articles, I would like to examine in more detail, each of these four types of speed. Let’s start by taking a deeper look at PERCEPTUAL SPEED and DECISION-MAKING SPEED.
Perceptual Speed is just as it sounds. It is a measurement of how quickly you recognize the need to move. For example, the measurement of perceptual speed starts when your opponent is getting ready to hit the ball.
To get a feel for this, next time you find yourself sitting at a stoplight, watch closely and attempt to step on the gas as soon as the light turns green (by the way, make sure no one is coming in the other direction). Pay attention to how long it felt like it took to recognize and try it again at the next light. After a bit of practice, you should begin to feel some improvement. Be careful not to cheat by watching the lights from opposing traffic.
Decision-Making (Mental) Speed
Mental speed is how quickly your brain can interpret what you have perceived and send a message to your body to react. Increasing mental speed is sometimes more difficult than any of the others but it may well be the most useful. The ability to process the action in your head faster is priceless. It gives you the chance to control play – be proactive instead of simply reacting to the ball.
Physical training that can help mental speed consists of drills that require choices and decisions. The idea is to exercise the brain’s ability to send messages to the body.
Drills for Training Perceptual and Decision-Making Speed
Drill #1: Ladder’n Ball
Equipment needed: Agility ladder and three different colored balls
Description: Have a player run through an agility ladder and assign a different task to each of the balls:
• When the yellow ball is tossed, the player knocks it down with his hand;
• The blue ball is hit up with his hand;
• The green ball is caught.
Drill #2: Colored Ball
Equipment needed: Have a basket with different colored balls in it, e.g. yellow, orange, and white.
Description: If the ball fed to you is an orange ball, hit a forehand; if it’s a white ball, a backhand; if it’s yellow, hit a lob.
Another variation could be using the same stroke. For example, if you get a white ball, you hit a forehand crosscourt; if you get an orange ball, you hit a forehand down-the-line; if you get a yellow ball, you hit a forehand lob.
Drill #3: Ball-Cone Target
Equipment needed: Have a basket of balls with different colored balls in it and colored cones that match the colors of the balls. For example, orange, yellow, and green balls with orange, yellow, and green cones.
Description: The coach stands on one side of the court with the cones placed as follows: the orange cone in the deuce court alley, the yellow cone placed on the baseline by the center mark, and the green cone placed in the alley on the ad court. The coach has a basket of balls with different colored balls (orange, yellow, and green) in it.
The player is positioned on the opposite side of the net on the baseline in the ready position facing the coach. The coach feeds one ball at a time to the player. The player must hit groundstrokes and each colored ball must be hit toward the corresponding colored cone on the coach’s side of the court.
1. Reverse the command. For example, if an orange ball is fed to the player, the ball has to be hit to the yellow cone; a green ball hit to the orange cone, and a yellow ball hit to the green cone.
2. Add a white ball that must be caught with the player’s non-dominant hand.
3. Have the player face away from coach so that he has to turn 180-degrees to hit each ball.
4. Perform 180-degree turn and scramble the commands
5. Do different strokes (volleys, overheads, return of serve, etc.)
Drills used to increase perceptual speed should require random recognition. The only criterion is that you avoid patterns and rhythmic actions. This can be a little difficult when training alone. You will need a partner or some other separate, uncontrollable object.
In the next article we will discuss the last two types of speed, MOVEMENT SPEED and ALTERATION SPEED. Stay tuned!