Tips for small steps to place yourself properly in front of the ball

Hi, I'm a medium / low-ranked club player and my footwork shows a mixed level. The footwork on my single handed back-hand is good (enough), somehow a single handed back-hand as well as the footwork goes naturel. The footwork for moving sidewards is good, must be because of the lessons I received as a kid, we always started with 10 min footwork lessons doing cross steps and side steps. The issue is, the footwork on my fore-hand, especially when I have to do small steps to put myself in right position for hitting the ball. Can anyone give me some tips how to do these small steps? I hopelessly fail doing them, I even fail doing them when I do not play for points. I have rather long legs so that probably doesn't help.
 

LeeD

Bionic Poster
Most player's take bigger steps to get to a far away ball, then take smaller steps as they approach the hitting zone, then the final shuffle adjustment steps can be just that, a shuffle, NOT with one foot going past the other, but staying in position with both feet taking small steps which allow the torso and shoulder to remain square to the ball (or whatever stance they choose to hit forehands with).
That's a lot of work for older player's, so you see them sauntering up to the ball making the spacing decision well before the final adjustment shuffle steps.
 
Hi, I'm a medium / low-ranked club player and my footwork shows a mixed level. The footwork on my single handed back-hand is good (enough), somehow a single handed back-hand as well as the footwork goes naturel. The footwork for moving sidewards is good, must be because of the lessons I received as a kid, we always started with 10 min footwork lessons doing cross steps and side steps. The issue is, the footwork on my fore-hand, especially when I have to do small steps to put myself in right position for hitting the ball. Can anyone give me some tips how to do these small steps? I hopelessly fail doing them, I even fail doing them when I do not play for points. I have rather long legs so that probably doesn't help.
Ever tried an agility ladder? It forces you to take small steps and might help your footwork.
 
D

Deleted member 23235

Guest
Ever tried an agility ladder? It forces you to take small steps and might help your footwork.
+1 on agility ladder drills, and the various footwork combinations you can do on them

random thoughts on things i did/do, and struggled with, and observed...
* tiny steps, while also figuring out where my exactly contact spot is... felt a bit like rubbing my belly and patting my head
* working on a "C" movement to get to the ball
* practicing working on tiny steps vs. a stationary target (on something like this: https://uedata.amazon.com/Peak-Performance-PracticeHit-Tennis-Trainer/dp/B004OZ2334 - wihtout it moving)
* practicing working on tiny steps vs. a slightly moving target (https://uedata.amazon.com/Peak-Performance-PracticeHit-Tennis-Trainer/dp/B004OZ2334)... alternating fh/bh
* practicing working on tiny steps vs. a drop feed directly in front
* practicing working on tiny steps vs. a drop feed slightly further and further away
* hear myself make squeaky noises... alot
* move fast to the general hitting area... small steps to refine
* watching the best players, they have the squeakiest feet.
* etc..

when you're doing it right, it's tiring! especially while learning and refining your spacing... IMO main reason folks don't take alot of adjusting, is to conserve energy (because they are not in shape).
 

GuyClinch

Legend
Got to say - don't like the whole small steps mantra. It's dumb - and can lead to some silly tennis. Small steps are not a goal - they can be a remedy - but only if you screwed up.

What you want to do is develop awareness that you are in the ideal hitting position (or not) and take steps - literally to make sure you are. If you can get to that position taking few steps - that's great. That's even ideal. This gives you more time to be setup and on balance.

Jeff Salzenstein talks about this - and how Roger only needs a few steps to cover a great distance. Sure he is moving his feet alot - but much of that is to smoothly recover to the ideal location..

The flip side of course - and why teaching pros harp on small steps is that many tennis players come out - don't get into anywhere CLOSE to a good hitting spot - and then 'make it work' with some horrific ugly stroke. So the idea is to use 'adjustment' steps to make sure you know you 'adjust.' And that's cool. But small steps alone are not a goal. They are often a problem actually..

LeeD touched on this earlier - big steps when far - small steps when close - but IF NEEDED.

Anyway don't take my word for it - just watch Federer. What you see is NORMAL size steps - and then good positioning to the ball. Sometimes he takes few steps - like one to get to a ball..


I mean do you see lots of little steps? No. Do you see adjustment steps - not many..

That's how tennis is actually played.
 
D

Deleted member 23235

Guest
LeeD touched on this earlier - big steps when far - small steps when close - but IF NEEDED.
true,... but....

i think most folks do NEED more small steps... but lazily don't.
i think Fed (and any high level player) are terrible examples of small steps... because their highly developed sense of anticipation of where the ball is gonna be (they don't need to take adjustments, they are more often, right where they need to be)
for us mere mortals at the rec level, we are still mapping, and searching for our ideal positions on all balls/scenarios... so we tend to NEED to take those smaller adjusting steps more often.

kinda like doing mutliplication for the first time... you do a million reps of "groups of groups"... then eventually get to memorizing the mutliplication table.
 
D

Deleted member 23235

Guest
for all us software coding geeks... IMO, not taking small steps, at the rec level, is a form of "premature optimization"
 

LeeD

Bionic Poster
true,... but....

i think most folks do NEED more small steps... but lazily don't.
i think Fed (and any high level player) are terrible examples of small steps... because their highly developed sense of anticipation of where the ball is gonna be (they don't need to take adjustments, they are more often, right where they need to be)
for us mere mortals at the rec level, we are still mapping, and searching for our ideal positions on all balls/scenarios... so we tend to NEED to take those smaller adjusting steps more often.

kinda like doing mutliplication for the first time... you do a million reps of "groups of groups"... then eventually get to memorizing the mutliplication table.
I just don't have the talent of Federer, and certainly I can't figure out the spacing I need when the incoming ball is still on the other side of the net. My mean opponent's hit with all spins, including mishit spins, they hit short while swinging hard, they hit high floater's mishiting, then they try a dropshot, but they hit it to my baseline.
Maybe if I find better, more consistent hitting opponent's, I won't need to take any small steps at all, nor would I need to shuffle to adjust the final 4-9" I need for ideal strikezone spacing.
 
Got to say - don't like the whole small steps mantra. It's dumb - and can lead to some silly tennis.
I see neither how it's dumb nor leads to silly tennis.

Small steps are not a goal - they can be a remedy - but only if you screwed up.
They are footwork tools, just like large steps, split steps, shuffles, back pedals, etc. You use the appropriate tool for the situation.

What you want to do is develop awareness that you are in the ideal hitting position (or not) and take steps - literally to make sure you are. If you can get to that position taking few steps - that's great. That's even ideal. This gives you more time to be setup and on balance.
The only way you'd not need small steps is if you could calculate how to modulate your big steps into slightly less big steps so you could get to the target zone in a whole number of steps. Otherwise, of course you'll need small steps once you get into range.

For example, if my step is 5' and the ball is 12' away [assuming it's stationary for argument's sake], I can't get there in a whole number of steps; I need 2.4. That means I'd have to hit the ball in mid-step. Bad idea. There are two alternatives:

- Alter my step to 4' so I can get there in 3 steps [or some other combo]
- Take 2 steps to cover 10' then take smaller steps to cover the remaining 2'

I'm not good enough to do what Federer does but I'm competent at combining large and small steps.

I think of it like trying to locate your neighborhood while zoomed out looking at the entire earth. You would zoom in using "large steps", then adjust the center of the map to roughly where you thought your neighborhood was, then zoom in more using large steps, repeat, and then, finally, use finer adjustments. You wouldn't have much success only using "large steps": you'd end up zooming in on the wrong neighborhood [or even wrong city altogether].


Jeff Salzenstein talks about this - and how Roger only needs a few steps to cover a great distance. Sure he is moving his feet alot - but much of that is to smoothly recover to the ideal location..
I'm willing to bet if someone did an analysis of his stride, he's not taking a fixed distance step but is changing it on-the-fly to bypass the need for small steps.

The flip side of course - and why teaching pros harp on small steps is that many tennis players come out - don't get into anywhere CLOSE to a good hitting spot - and then 'make it work' with some horrific ugly stroke. So the idea is to use 'adjustment' steps to make sure you know you 'adjust.' And that's cool. But small steps alone are not a goal. They are often a problem actually..
I think the big problem is people not getting to a good spot and either reaching for the ball with their arms while bending at the waist or over running it and getting jammed. I don't see many who have terrible footwork due to taking a lot of small steps unless they are unathletic and that's just how they run.

LeeD touched on this earlier - big steps when far - small steps when close - but IF NEEDED.

Anyway don't take my word for it - just watch Federer. What you see is NORMAL size steps - and then good positioning to the ball. Sometimes he takes few steps - like one to get to a ball..

I mean do you see lots of little steps? No. Do you see adjustment steps - not many..

That's how tennis is actually played.
That might be how pro tennis is actually played; I haven't made up my mind on that yet. But I'm not sure how applicable that is to the rec level. I see tremendous value in being able to combine large and small steps.
 

GuyClinch

Legend
That might be how pro tennis is actually played; I haven't made up my mind on that yet. But I'm not sure how applicable that is to the rec level. I see tremendous value in being able to combine large and small steps.
We don't entirely disagree - but a lot of coaches - ALOT teach very small steps when one or two large steps would suffice. This is silly tennis - no one plays like this - not even good amateur players.

If you want video to understand here:



The only way you'd not need small steps is if you could calculate how to modulate your big steps into slightly less big steps so you could get to the target zone in a whole number of steps. Otherwise, of course you'll need small steps once you get into range.

For example, if my step is 5' and the ball is 12' away [assuming it's stationary for argument's sake], I can't get there in a whole number of steps; I need 2.4. That means I'd have to hit the ball in mid-step. Bad idea. There are two alternatives:

- Alter my step to 4' so I can get there in 3 steps [or some other combo]
- Take 2 steps to cover 10' then take smaller steps to cover the remaining 2'

I'm not good enough to do what Federer does but I'm competent at combining large and small steps.

I think of it like trying to locate your neighborhood while zoomed out looking at the entire earth. You would zoom in using "large steps", then adjust the center of the map to roughly where you thought your neighborhood was, then zoom in more using large steps, repeat, and then, finally, use finer adjustments. You wouldn't have much success only using "large steps": you'd end up zooming in on the wrong neighborhood [or even wrong city altogether].
Exactly. Fed uses larger steps to use efficient footwork and get to the ball early and on balance. This is what you should be doing. That's why I said SMALL STEPS ARE A REMEDY - NOT A GOAL.

You need to move to X position to get ball. You can do that with a few larger steps and several adjustment steps. Or you can do that with several large steps. We are forced to use adjustment steps. But you don't need to go out and practice small steps for all your steps. Take adjustment steps AS NEEDED. They are only if you screwed up..

I think the big problem is people not getting to a good spot and either reaching for the ball with their arms while bending at the waist or over running it and getting jammed. I don't see many who have terrible footwork due to taking a lot of small steps unless they are unathletic and that's just how they run.
Agree. But the OP had the 'coaching' idea where you go out and take a ton of little steps - because that's how tennis is played. It's not. It's only because we suck that we have to take a lot of steps. I am not Federer but if the ball is close - I really can take one step and be in a good spot..

There is nothing wrong with that - its not only not wrong - its RIGHT.

Like I said the key to getting better footwork is more contact point awareness. You have to learn to feel what a good hitting spot is for you - so you learn to position yourself ideally. Most people don't have this awareness - so taking little steps doesn't do you much good unless you can use them to adjust to the right position..

I can relate to OP because you will get a coach who will make you say take 7 steps to get to a ball that's 2 steps away. Try that - and you will see its pretty frustrating. You might be thinking you are doing something wrong..

You are not - the coach has this common mindset which is not reflected in reality. Pros are not taking lots of little steps. They are constantly moving - they are very light on their feet but the steps are not particularly small.. Sometimes they are very large and few.
 
Last edited:
We don't entirely disagree - but a lot of coaches - ALOT teach very small steps when one or two large steps would suffice. This is silly tennis - no one plays like this - not even good amateur players.

If you want video to understand here:





Exactly. Fed uses larger steps to use efficient footwork and get to the ball early and on balance. This is what you should be doing. That's why I said SMALL STEPS ARE A REMEDY - NOT A GOAL.

You need to move to X position to get ball. You can do that with a few larger steps and several adjustment steps. Or you can do that with several large steps. We are forced to use adjustment steps. But you don't need to go out and practice small steps for all your steps. Take adjustment steps AS NEEDED. They are only if you screwed up..



Agree. But the OP had the 'coaching' idea where you go out and take a ton of little steps - because that's how tennis is played. It's not. It's only because we suck that we have to take a lot of steps. I am not Federer but if the ball is close - I really can take one step and be in a good spot..

There is nothing wrong with that - its not only not wrong - its RIGHT.

Like I said the key to getting better footwork is more contact point awareness. You have to learn to feel what a good hitting spot is for you - so you learn to position yourself ideally. Most people don't have this awareness - so taking little steps doesn't do you much good unless you can use them to adjust to the right position..

I can relate to OP because you will get a coach who will make you say take 7 steps to get to a ball that's 2 steps away. Try that - and you will see its pretty frustrating. You might be thinking you are doing something wrong..

You are not - the coach has this common mindset which is not reflected in reality. Pros are not taking lots of little steps. They are constantly moving - they are very light on their feet but the steps are not particularly small.. Sometimes they are very large and few.
OK; we're closer to being on the same page than I initially thought. I still don't think I have the athleticism or training to be able to only use large steps so I will continue to use a combination.

And I still think an agility ladder would help @MikeMechanic [as I think it could help us all].

For example, 0:28:

 
Top