Tennis movement is a fine interplay of neural, muscular and technical-tactical components. Very highly demanding and specific to the match situations and geometrical relation of a hitting player towards the receiving opponent. The movement as a task and its outcome can be influenced by multiple factors as players interact with environment adjusting, creating and coordinating their own psycho-physical responses and body movements depending on the task in hand (perception) and spatio-temporal constraints (action potentials).
Reaction movement begins with responsive movement initiation based on an idea of the stroke intention of the opponent. The balls coming from the opposite direction are pretty unpredictable in velocity and rate of spin with intention of moving a player as much as possible. Therefore it’s important to understand the crucial role of perception, cognition and decision making in player’s movement training concept. Training a player to improve reaction time should be a component of tennis movement training, alongside movement technique and body conditioning.
Force production in tennis, as in many other ground-based sports, involves the usage of the ground reaction forces in combination with the forces such are gravity and inertia. Based on the projection of the future impact zone area, player is accelerating with the intention of reaching to the future contact zone. As the player is getting closer to the impact zone, by efficiently decelerating, he/she should be able to keep the momentum in order to be able to plant the loading foot (and ground) and transfer the ground forces through the ankle and lower extremities to the upper body and eventually through the impact zone into the direction of the target.
TENNIS MOVEMENT PRACTICE
Our idea is that the tennis conditioning training should be based on a specific match stimulation and players initiating their movement by recognizing the game context, through specific perceptual reaction and creating corresponding decision about the stroke tactical and technical demands.
The movement itself should be tennis specific, starting from the split step while initiating the first step and movement corresponding to the :
- perpetual- cognitive reactions
- acceleration – deceleration,
- loading – unloading sequence and
- efficient recovery movement following the kinetic chain principles
Tennis movement cycle has five categories (Giles et al., 2018):
- Movement initiation
- Transition of movement (acceleration)
- Arrival/Set up (deceleration and loading)
- Contact (unloading and follow through)
- Recovery (changing of direction, moving towards the future point of contact)
Movement initiation begins with prediction what type of shot an opponent will make and in expert players, in many cases is initiated before the contact point. The most efficient movers are the ones that are able (and trained) to detect the possibilities for the ball placement earlier in the game.
The movement reaction should be initiated from the split step as the neutral movement reaction contracting the lower extremity muscles in preparation to receive the instructions from the reaction based on the game stimulus. The most efficient way to create an orientation of the movement is by supination (toe outward) of the foot closer to the incoming object (ball) while the player still being above the ground. The foot opposite from the direction should be turned inwards while landing, narrowing the base of support and orienting the whole body movement and accelerating towards the incoming ball.
Lateral movement presents around 70% of the total amount of tennis movement during a tennis game, it can be initiated with intention to create advantage by creating more aggressive strokes or can be used with counter attacking intentions, therefore the tennis movement practice should create both types of movement responses.
Upper and lower body differentiation / Synchronized body segment separation
The differentiation refers to the upper body rotation initiated with shoulder and elbow rotation away from the direction of incoming ball while the lower body is keeping the movement momentum. Differentiation could be one of the most important transitional motion from the split step to the unloading phase as the players are, while in process of moving, ensuring that at the moment of the set up, upper body muscles are fully and timely stretched (stretch-shortening reflex) and prepared to execute the stroke.
Deceleration/Set up / Body coordinates
Deceleration is crucial movement phase in preparing for the stroke and for initiation of the recovery after the strokes. Deceleration needs to be considered a vital component of a tennis player’s training as the lower body applies large forces against the ground to decelerate the movement just enough to ensure the most efficient transfer of the lateral into the forward momentum, while the upper body muscles help decelerating the upper body rotation and in order to keep the COG on the edges of the base of support, closer to the impact zone.
As the momentum of the movement differs due to the demands of the game, tennis player’s ability to decelerate changes as well. If an athlete’s velocity increases due to the urgency of the movement, the greater forces are required for player to decelerate in order to set up and unload.
Recovery / Continuity of movement
In tennis specific movement the recovery movement follows the high intensity unloading of the forces created from the momentum of the movement in combination with the ground forces and additional forces from the upper body muscles contractions. Therefore, unloading the forces through the impact zone while keeping the body parts in balance to recover presents a tennis specific movement.
In addition to it, the recovery steps in tennis are typical and very specific to the area of the court in which the player stopped the movement and the intention to which area the player intends to recover. Depending on the distance and time availability, players can chose lateral crossover steps for quicker responses or lateral shuffle when having time available to recover.
TENNIS SPECIFIC MOVEMENT TRAINING RECOMMENDATION:
- Teaching the efficiency of the movement from the split step, followed by the initiating step, acceleration, deceleration and recovery following the energy transfer throughout the contact zone
- Neuromuscular reactions such are decisions of the body orientation and intensity of the movement should be related to the context of the game
- Keeping the power output at ground contact using the GRF, enabling the summation of energy from the ground to the impact zone and quicker movement recovery responses
- It is imperative that the majority of training programs are structured to train specific movements experienced during a tennis point and depending of the style of the game
- Training program should follow specific patterns of movement related to the tactical movement around the court. Directional movement and sudden directional changes should present meaningful actions and reactions