View Full Version : Ain't Too Old To Drill?

12-30-2009, 07:07 AM
Had a doubles clinic yesterday. Three players (ages 57, 48 and 48 ).

We played actual games for about 90 minutes of a 2-hour class (unusual for us, as we usually spend the time drilling and then play games for just 20 minutes or not at all). As usual, pro kept begging us to move our feet, do our split-step, move closer to the ball rather than reach, step into our volleys. As usual, we did the best we could. We are making progress, especially given how difficult our mission is: S&V on every point and follow every return to net.

Afterward, we students were licking our wounds and lamenting how badly we play once we are out of a drill situation and are playing doubles.

Pro directed our attention to players on another court, which was across the aisle from us and separated by an opaque curtain. The curtain had a cut-out at the bottom, so all we could see were the ankles and feet of the two doubles player nearest us. (They must have been playing two back or doing a drill because we could see two sets of feet).

He told us to just watch for a minute. Sure enough, there was no footwork going on. You saw no splitstep from either of them. If one started moving her feet to play the ball, the other stood flat-footed and completely still, staying that way until the ball happened to come to her.

Then he pointed to two younger women who were rallying two courts away, asking us to watch the one who had better footwork. She never stopped moving if the ball was in play. She began to recover as soon as she hit her shot rather than admiring it. She split when her opponent was about to hit, but her split was so imperceptible that I initially thought she wasn't doing one. In short, she was doing things correctly.

Then the pro asked us why we move like the first set of feet instead of the second. One of the students asked, "Aren't there drills and stuff that people do to get better footwork?" He said yes. And he kind of paused and said, "Do you guys want to do that?"

Me, I didn't say anything. 'Cause I'm not sure. Honestly, if you make me sidestep through a ladder, I just might fall and break something.

I think the pro hasn't proposed such drills with us in the past because most ladies who take clinics want to hit a lot of balls -- period. Also, I suspect he believes the problem isn't a lack of ability, and he may be right. We all *could* do a split step and *could* recover quickly, but I think he believes that we are simply being lazy and choosing not to do these things. He might well be right.

Those of you who teach: Do you ever run pure footwork/agility drills for students who are 50-ish? Is that the best way to improve the footwork of a group of older women? Is our lack of footwork in doubles play mostly just laziness?

12-30-2009, 08:23 AM
It can be laziness, but not having played reacting ball sports as kids, you never learned the NEED to get to reacting/ready position so you can make the quickest moves towards or away from where you are now standing.
If you boxed, played one on one basketball, or was a shortstop as a kid, you'd have NATURAL ready position split step without any coach ever mentioning it.
But you didn't, and your knees are bad, so why pretend to play like a 5.0 player now that you are over 50?
If you want to improve, you'd have to at least get to ready position, not a jumping splitstep, but at least facing opponent with feet 20" apart, depending on your height, and ready to move any direction. First step left is with left foot outwards. First step back is to hop sideways and crabwalk back. First step forwards is easiest, as weight is on balls of feet and you only have to overbend your knees and push off with dominant foot depending on direction.
Movement is not easy, so those who played ball sports have a huge advantage.

12-30-2009, 08:41 AM
silly Cindy.

during your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you as your doubles partner.


12-30-2009, 08:52 AM

Those were good times. I'd love to partner with you again. I can hit a crosscourt FH now. Really!! :)

12-30-2009, 11:58 AM
LeeD has a great point. People who never played sports and take up tennis as an adult seem to have real issues with moving to the ball, and general tennis movement. I don't think they are lazy, I think they got a late start on acquiring these skills and the body just won't always work the way we want it to as we age.

I'm sure that a good teaching pro would know some drills to work on the footwork and moving to the ball. Perhaps some drills without rackets, moving and catching tennis balls would be helpful. Like a split step and then catch a tennis ball with your right hand, and then one with the left hand. Drills forcing you to poach also help learn how and when to move at the net.

One of the most important things in tennis is movement. I play at the 4.5 level now, which is OK I guess for a club player who started playing tennis at the age of 36. Not great, but not horrible. Anyway, I do still play with some 3.5 and 4.0 buddies. Most of them hit a good ball, but the biggest hole in their game is movement. They stand and wait for the ball to come to them, rather than going after the ball.

12-30-2009, 01:33 PM

I honestly think you and your group are just being too hard on yourselves (is that a word? Looks credible). I play with so SO many 40is, 50ish and beyond, and none does any split-step or good footwork. One or two may run really fast to the shots but that's not good footwork. They play crafty tennis for fun and laugh.

Are you trying to achieve something or what?

fuzz nation
12-31-2009, 07:01 AM
Interesting story with your group watching some other players. I'll bet that if your teacher hadn't drawn your attention to the footwork aspect of everyone's game there, you all would have just watched how well the other players hit the ball, right? We all do that I think. If I go down to the US Open and watch some matches, I know I'm going to watch those killers cracking the ball a whole lot more than staring at their feet during their points!

Footwork is as essential as keeping an eye on the ball or making a unit turn to prepare for a shot, but it's just not as readily considered as the other essential habits. Maybe because it's more fun to get away with being lazy or maybe because good footwork usually starts well before a good shot happens, so there's a little less association with happy feet and a good stroke.

Like other things, it's a habit. It needs to be learned and practiced. Without it, any player's potential will be diminished. I had an especially tough time with some of the high school girls that I coached this fall in terms of getting them to routinely split-step and get an earlier jump on the ball. It takes a lot of persistence to keep them thinking about their feet. Without my constant chirping to remind them, their heels would get stuck to the court, their legs would go semi-straight, and they'd be late to more balls.

If anyone honestly wants to be better, I think that they have to get out for practice sessions and do all the footwork that they need to hit well, even if this means getting worn down in only 15-20 minutes. No heroics here, just a steady effort move properly over and over again. Like anything else, if it's practiced, it becomes a little more ingrained and eventually that split-step comes naturally every time the person across the net hits the ball.

12-31-2009, 07:35 AM

Are you trying to achieve something or what?


The five of us (well, except the one who got pregnant) have a goal of being 4.0 by Nov. 2010. Ain't gonna happen with crap footwork, that's for sure.

So no having fun and laughing for us! :)

fuzz nation
12-31-2009, 07:44 AM

Keep after it Cindy, just don't go too hard on yourselves if the ratings and the desired page on your calendars don't show up at the same time. If you stay on the path to honestly improve, you'll get it. Your expectations seem realistic enough to me and I think that this can be half the battle.

12-31-2009, 07:55 AM
If anyone honestly wants to be better, I think that they have to get out for practice sessions and do all the footwork that they need to hit well, even if this means getting worn down in only 15-20 minutes. No heroics here, just a steady effort move properly over and over again. Like anything else, if it's practiced, it becomes a little more ingrained and eventually that split-step comes naturally every time the person across the net hits the ball.

Amen. A perfect description how "use it or lose it" works. If you have the physically ability but don't use it (for what ever the reason, getting worn down too fast is a good one) then it's only a matter of time until you lose it. And the accomplishment of "using it" can be it's own reward.

Steady Eddy
12-31-2009, 08:30 AM
I think doing drills is one of the best ways to improve your game or keep it sharp. But most people don't enjoy it much. So it's a matter of how serious you want to be about your tennis.

12-31-2009, 10:53 AM
^^^Yup. Your coach is right most players don't want to do drills like that.