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 by continuing our discussion on the types of speed we defined in the previous article.
To recapitulate, experts generally 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.
In this final article, I would like to finish our discussion of each of these four types of speed by taking a deeper look at MOVEMENT SPEED and ALTERATION SPEED.
Movement Speed (Initiation Speed And Performance 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 motion. Initiation speed requires starting ability and acceleration.
Starting Ability: In tennis, every point starts from a stationary position. For example, return of serve, volleys, and doubles play at the net.
Acceleration: changing the tempo of your run, i.e. increase speed with every step.
Drills for Training Initiation Speed
Drill #1: Tag Sprints
Player “A” is sitting down on the baseline facing the net. Player “B” is standing against the back fence. On the whistle or command of “GO,” Player “B” tries to tag player “A” before he touches the net.
Drill: Push-Up and Catch
Player “A” is in a push-up position on the baseline facing the net, player “B” or a coach rolls a ball between Player A’s legs, player “A” sprints and catches the ball before it passes the service line.
Drill: Get Ups
Player is sitting (on their butt and hands back) on the baseline, on the command of “GO” the player gets up and sprints to the net
Performance speed is the time it takes from initiation until the completion of an action or stroke. This type of speed is the one coaches normally refer to and focus on training. In tennis, the performance skills that are required are agility and changing footwork patterns.
Agility: This is a player’s ability to change directions with the least amount of speed loss. In tennis, research has concluded that a player changes direction on average of 4-5 times per point.
Studies show that tennis movement in tennis involves:
• Lateral 48%
• Backward 5%
Movement experts suggest that agility training should be as follows:
• 70% should require bursts of speed lasting under 10 seconds
• 20% should require bursts of speed lasting 10-20 seconds
• 10% should require bursts of speed over 20 seconds
Drills For Training Agility
Drill #1: Jumping Rope
This is good for agility, balance, timing, coordination, and quick reactions. Generally, record the number of jumps in 30 seconds then rest for 30 seconds and repeat the pattern.
Several jump rope patterns can be used: double foot hop, right foot hop, left foot hop, heel kicks, high knees or a forward and side hop are some of the jump rope patterns I utilize.
Drill #2: Circle Run
The coach rolls a ball toward the net; the player (who is standing on the baseline) moves toward the net and is trying to circle around the rolling ball. Count the number of times the player went around the ball before the ball touched the net.
Changing Footwork Patterns
Common footwork skills in tennis are adjustment steps, side shuffles (lateral and forward and back) and cross steps (including front-cross and back-cross or the carioca)
As a player gets closer to the ball, she begins to decelerate or settle down and take little adjustment steps so she’ll end up balanced, in control, and with her back foot lined up with the path of the ball.
The side shuffle and cross steps are typically used as recovery techniques. Lateral movement may combine side steps with cross-over steps (cross the rear foot over the front foot). By using the cross-over technique, the player covers twice the distance in half the number of steps yet the player can still keep the hips parallel to the net. Side-steps are more limited because one foot can slide only as far as the other foot.
If you watch the footwork of tennis players closely, you will see a variety of footwork patterns occurring during a single shot and note that tennis requires the player to change from one footwork pattern to another rapidly and efficiently!
For example, a player may run to the ball, decelerate, and then side shuffle back for recovery. A player may also transition from shuffling to running or from crossover step to a run. These “changing footwork patterns” must be trained and coordinated so that players can efficiently and effectively transition from one footwork pattern to another.
Changing Footwork Patterns Drill
Player starts standing on the baseline, coach will call four types of footwork patterns to be performed. The player is instructed to change the footwork patterns each time they cross the service line and when they touch the net. If “sprint”, shuffle, backwards, sprint” are called out, for example, the player sprints to the service line. Without stopping, the player transitions from a sprint to a shuffle as rapidly as possible. At the net, he immediately backpedals to the service line. At the service line, he would rapidly transition to a sprint.
A variety of footwork patterns can be used, including a crossover step, a carioca step and a single leg and double leg bounding and hopping. Remember, the most common footwork patterns in tennis are shuffle and run. According to Scott Phelps, former top 10-world class sprinter, the maximum length of time running in a straight line for tennis should be 8-12 seconds.
I suggest that players must carry a tennis racquet and simulate strokes while performing these drills.
Some common patterns that are used are:
• Sprint, shuffle, backpedal, sprint
• Sprint, decelerate, crossover, shuffle
• Sprint, crossover, backpedal, sprint.
• Shuffle, crossover, shuffle, crossover
• Sprint, shuffle, backpedal, sprint
Alteration speed is the measurement of 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. It can be changing from stopping a motion mid-stream from a bad bounce on clay. It could also be a tactical adjustment like switching from an attack to a defensive maneuver.
To improve alteration speed, it is important to work on all four of the previous types of speed. Obviously, without perceptual speed, the need for alteration may not even be recognized. Without mental speed, you may not be able to process and send the information to your body to make the alteration. Without the remaining types, you can see that it may be difficult to change your motion at all.
Speed, when broken down, is quite a bit more complicated than it may seem. There are hundreds of variables and hundreds of ways to improve. As with almost anything else, breaking it down and emphasizing the components separately will assist improvement and enable you to monitor progress more closely. Just the awareness of the different types can help tremendously to improve speed as a whole.
Trying to develop speed for tennis is a challenging task for any player or coach. I feel each player or coach should try to develop a speed training program to fit the needs of his/her player(s). I have had success with this program.