Footwork for Seniors

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The ball is sitting there asking to be hit; but you just don’t quite get there, so your stroke is not as solid as it should be.  The reason: poor footwork.  A reader asks what you can do about it.

What To Do?

    “ George, I just started your book and am really enjoying it. I am just shy of 65, learned tennis at an early age, played at a collegiate level-then walked away from it for 32 years.

     “Now I’m back and having a blast. Actually hitting the ball better now than college. Playing at the 4.0 level.  There is one exception: both pros and good amateurs tell me the same thing: my strokes technique is outstanding but footwork is nonexistent. So most shots are all arms because I can’t get my feet in position. I know the feeling of an effortless stroke when weight transfer is correct; and it is pure bliss.

     “My question to you is what footwork exercises do you recommend to help. I can jump rope, and need to be more regular with that. What other routines would you recommend for this old buzzard.”    Regards,  Hugh Papy

My Answer…

For me good footwork is more mental than physical… it is not that I can’t move my feet well enough to get into good hitting position; it is just that sometimes I don’t move my feet well enough.  When at Newk’s camp each year, my mentor Roy Emerson will walk behind us during crunch time in a match and tell us to “overdo the footwork!”  He is telling us to concentrate on moving our feet before anything else happens.

But I am sure there are some good exercises to help you on the physical side.  One I (used to) do is simply bouncing on the balls of my feet to some up-tempo music for five to ten minutes at a time (it also gets the heart pumping pretty good).

Another option is to use a stretch band around both ankles and do a shuffle step sideways to increase the strength of the needed muscles.

What other footwork suggestions do YOU have to help senior tennis players?

Know someone who should read this?  Send them a link and if you are not on my “new posting alert email list” and want to be (I promise, no other uses of your email address!), just drop me a note at GeorgeWachtel@gmail.com

My Book: if you’d like to get a copy of “Senior Tennis”, just click on the link on the upper right of this web page to go to Amazon.com, look at the list of places under “My Book” on the bar above, or ask me what clubs are carrying it!

6 thoughts on “Footwork for Seniors

  1. Ahhhhhhhhhhh, the old moving the feet routine…………or lack of. I was lucky to hit a bit with Armistead Nealy and I mentioned this exact thing. His comment was as we age it is more difficult to always be in position, but as important is the shoulder turn to get the racquet back and let the racquet and shoulders be in a better position when striking the ball. I also found …..if I do this…..it does force me to move my feet a bit more and be in a better hitting position.

    Howie, keeping all body parts (and functions) is critical! Thanks. George

  2. George, I totally agree that for me the problem is my brain or lack of one that stops me from moving and good footwork. Even when we have time, we tend to wait and then move at the last instance. Once over the mental part, there are some exercises that I have given to some of my players and clients. They would include shuffles (forward, backward, and side-to-side), karaokes, toe bounces, butt kicks, and high knees. Then you can add resistance with bands – duck walks, lunges, etc. to strengthen the gluts and core, which are crucial in good foot movement. Finally, Emmo always told me the same thing “over-do” the footwork and then last week, Woody was all over me for that also. I am a slow learner!

    Larry, great list of “things to do”! thanks, george

  3. George, without a doubt, footwork is the most important single component of tennis technique. No stroke technique is any good unless you can get to the ball. I believe the most important parts of having good footwork is having a quick first step to the ball. This step can often make the difference between being in perfect position to hit an offensive forehand, or having to settle for reaching to hit the ball from a defensive position. By creating the habit of getting low between shots enhances the probability of getting a quicker push off and also cutting out some vital time in your movement. By doing footwork drills, players get their feet moving quickly and explosively. Before doing drills, I prefer to do a stretching routine that targets my hamstrings, hip flexors, quads and calves. What I like to use to develop fast feet is a drill where you keep your arms relaxed, feet apart. For the next 10 seconds try to imitate a typewriter, making as many small, fast shuffle steps as you can. Another drill, called “shadow strokes” helps grooves a player’s movement as if you are really hitting the ball.
    By imitating ground strokes ,volleys, and overheads, a player can get a feel of how their feet should be moving, whether forwards, backwards or diagonally. Good footwork is the key to consistently hitting the ball properly and at its power point. A good friend and coach once told me that “footwork doesn’t stop until the ball does”.

    Glenn, i am reminded of a point that Agassi used to make about “rushing to the ball to get there early”… instead of coasting to arrive just as you are ready to strike it. thanks, george

  4. Footwork? Why bother? That just takes all of the fun out of it.

    Marty, your shortest comment ever!!!! george

  5. As afar as I;m concerned, split step, jump step, decision step….whichever name you wish to assign, it’s the most important step in tennis. It loads your legs for any anticipated direction, and prepares you to hit a much more balanced and powerful return if called for, or move to play an approach shot. In any case, it is useful in all return situations.
    If someone wants to improve their rally stroke, volley stroke, drop shot stroke, slice approach,etc., the first step is the most important.

    PJ, and so many of us just “run thru” that step. thanks, george

  6. Willie Hoffman just loaned me a great book about Jimmy Connors, Jimmy Connors Saved My Life, by our own Joel Drucker (frequent contributor to George’s blog!), and in that book Jimmy emphasizes footwork over and over….taking short fast steps to the ball…that’s how his Mom, Gloria Connors, taught him on the public courts of East St. Louis!….and thanks, Willie…I’m loving this book.

    Scoot, i have enjoyed reading that one too. thanks, george

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