In tennis, more important than your serve, your ground strokes, your volley; more important than anything else in your game, is your fitness. I have been coaching tennis now for almost 7 years, and the biggest detriment to people’s game, besides their technique, is their fitness. Tennis is a total body sport, it is long and it is grueling. If you want to be able to compete, you must be fit enough to compete for the entire duration of your match at a competitive level. Fitness, however, isn’t a one tiered system. Fitness is strength, fitness is endurance, fitness is flexibility, fitness is reaction time. Fitness is the most important factor that can distinguish one player from another. Their ability to run down balls, to hit with power, to be able to quickly react to balls that are coming at them at top speeds.
What I have found in my coaching with most players looking to improve their game is that they do not train properly. People come for their hour lesson, and play in some other type of organized match, once, maybe twice a week for at least an hour; this is 3 hours (180 minutes) of tennis. By Canada’s Fitness Guidelines, every single person that plays this much meets their weekly recommendation for activity, but they aren’t training to get better, they are playing to maintain. To really improve, a serious effort must be placed on and off the court.
There are three areas where you can make improvements to help your tennis game: off of the tennis court (ie. in the gym or at home), while training on the court (with a partner(s), a coach, or a ball machine, and while competing. Each of these areas have their own specific set of principles that you should be working on.
Off the court
Primarily, when you are training off of the court, you are aiming to improve your fitness. My principles of fitness are muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiopulmonary fitness, joint flexibility and speed. Each of these principles needs to be trained in a different way. Muscular strength and endurance and both be trained by resistance exercise. Cardiopulmonary fitness, or cardio, is typically trained by running or biking or really any sort of exercise that allows you to have your heart and breathing rate elevated for an extended period of time. This years newest fitness trend is high intensity interval training (HIIT). It is high intensity workouts, utilizing an enhanced form of interval training; alternating short bursts of anaerobic exercise with short less-intense rest periods in order to create a cardiopulmonary workout.These short, intense workouts are said to provide improved athletic capacity and conditioning, we well as improved glucose metabolism and fat burning. In terms of flexibility, I have never actively, until this year, pursued flexibility. What I have decided to pursue this year is yoga (Bikram Yoga). I have noticed that the extra flexibility that I have has increased my power through my range of motion, allowing for a harder and smoother swing. Speed training essentially is a way to train your body to move from point A to point B faster. There are many ways to speed train, my personal favourite is by using an agility ladder. There are many drills that you can do on an agility ladder, here are a few drills you can do [here].
On the court
The training on the court begins when you work on specific skills. Typically, the first place that you go to work on skills on the court, is to your coach. That’s when I come in. As I’ve learned and found in my coaching, and tennis skill develops from the ground up. What I’ve seen throughout the years is that people of any skill level, don’t know how to move their feet. Most people have bad footwork and this causes them to be unable to adjust to the ball, whether the ball it hit far away from them or directly on the strings, footwork is always key. The second most common problem that players that I coach is that they can not effectively turn their hips. This lack of hip engagement does not allow player to actually engage their entire body; they lose a majority of the muscular strength potential in their lower half and trunk region. Past the footwork and the hip work, the on court training then progresses to work on the technical aspects of the swing. Whenever you are on the court, training, whether hitting with a partner, coach or a ball machine, pick one aspect of the skill you are working on and repeat it over and over until you are able to feel some progress. If you are working on hitting your forehand with more topspin, the small skill that you may focus on could be dropping the racket head further under the ball during your swing. Of course, before you begin to see results, you will notice that you are missing and mishitting more balls; as the saying goes, things will get worse before they get better. In spite of this, hitting with proper technique will, in the long-term, allow you to hit the ball harder, more consistently, and aim it more effectively.
It is important to attempt to translate everything that has been worked on prior to competition, into the competition. The fitness components and the on court training. These skills that have been learnt hopefully will smoothly be translated from practice to play. This does not actually happen in the real world though, going back to the saying, things get worse before they can get better. The most important part of your game to focus on in competition, is not fitness, nor any of the skills that you have practiced, it is your mental attitude. It is your mental fortitude that will keep you chasing down every ball at 2-6, 3-5. It is mental fortitude that allows you to come up with a big ace down the T, right after you double faulted into the bottom of the net. It is mental fortitude that separates winners from losers. In a competition, no matter how clean your strokes are, no matter how hard you can hit the ball, or how fast or how long you can run for, if you cannot keep your mind focused on the game and stay in the moment, you will not be a winner. When I say a winner, I’m not speaking to anyone’s personality, what I’m referring to is their ability to fight, whether they are up 6-0, 5-0, down 0-6, 0-5 or anywhere in between, it is their ability to fight for every single point and not let up that will separate.
Training in tennis should be a vital part of every players routine; putting some effort into you routine every day, even if players are just recreational, to make the most of your game. Anyone who wants to get better has the ability to, and as cliché as it may sound, you get out what you put in. So train smarter, train a little harder and keep working at for what you want because tennis is a rewarding game that you can play for the rest of your life.