Technique: Footwork Drills for Tennis Players on the Road

(The information in this article was taken or adapted from the High Performance Coaching Program Study Guide.)

Quick feet are an asset to tennis players at all levels.  Foot speed and coordination can be improved by performing drills that require strength, balance, and explosiveness.  There are many ways to improve footwork, including on court drills, ladder drills, and jumping rope.  It is often difficult to maintain a footwork-conditioning program for tennis players, especially when they are traveling.  In this article, footwork drills will be presented that can be performed in a very small amount of space indoors.  The carpeted floor of a hotel room can be turned into the perfect place to practice lower body quickness, balance, and foot speed!

Tennis players must move in a variety of directions with accuracy, speed and coordination.  A conditioning program to improve footwork must include a wide variety of movements.  Single leg drills are particularly important to tennis players, as they must often stop, balance, and shift the body weight in the opposite direction from a single leg.  A lower body strength base is a prerequisite to effective movement training.  With a good strength base, tennis players can progress into low intensity plyometric training.  In addition to a good strength base, the athlete performing these drills should be well supervised.  The program should carefully monitor the volume of activity, usually by counting the number of single leg and double leg foot contacts in a single session.  These sessions should be performed no more that 2-3 times per week, allowing at least one day of rest between days of footwork training.

1)  Line drill - The line drill uses exactly what you would expect, a single line that can be the line on a tennis court or a line drawn with chalk on the floor of a hotel room.  Don’t worry about the chalk, a damp washcloth will remove the chalk from the carpet when you are finished.  The basic movements for the line drill include a) double leg front to back (jumping forward and backward over the line as quickly as possible,);  b) single leg front to back; c) stagger step front to back (with one foot in front of the line and one foot behind the line, alternate jumping forward with one foot and backward with the second foot at the same time), d) double leg side to side; e) single leg side to side, and; f) straddle with crossover (standing with one foot on each side of the line, cross the feel so one leg is on front with the legs crossed, then back to the straddle position, then with the same leg behind the other leg, then back to the straddle position).  The drills can vary in length, generally performing each drill for approximately 5, 10 or 15 seconds.  The athlete can move consecutively from one drill to the next without rest once they have become conditioned to the exercise.  While performing single leg drills, the athlete may need to switch between the right and left leg every few seconds until they become conditioned to the exercise.  To make the drill harder, roll up a towel from the bathroom and jump over the towel instead of a line.


2). Cross drill - To perform the cross drill, use chalk to draw a large cross on the floor.  Number the boxes as shown in Figure 1.  Perform the drill as follows: a) double leg clockwise (1,2,3,4); b) double leg counter clockwise (4,3,2,1); c) right foot clockwise; d) left foot clockwise; e) right foot counter clockwise; f) left foot counter clockwise; g) double leg with “X pattern” (2,3,4,1); and h) single leg with “X pattern”.  Again, the length of each set will average from 5-15 seconds, with some longer sets as the athlete improves, and some shorter sets to work on power.  Drills can be performed consecutively to increase the difficulty, and towels can also be used instead of lines to make the athlete jump higher in the air.

3.) 5 Dot Drill - 5 dots are placed on the floor, 4 dots in a 2x3 foot rectangle, and one dot in the center (Figure 2).  The dots can be a bit closer for young players and beginners, or a bit larger for experienced athletes.  The basic movements in the 5 dot drill are a) front to back (or together/apart, one foot on each dot on the narrow end of the rectangle, the athlete jumps and lands with the feet together on the middle dot, apart on the next two dots, then backward and together to the middle dot, then backward to the original starting position); b) two feet together (in a “skiing motion”, two feet stay together and hit each dot going forward except on one leg, c) left leg only; d) turn-around (the athlete starts with the feet apart on two dots, jumps to the middle dot for both feet, then the end dots with one foot on each dot.  The athlete then jumps in the air turning the body 180 degrees to face in the opposite direction with one foot on each dot.  The athlete then jumps to the middle dot, the end dot, and continues to turn around on each end of the drill.

Just as it is important to use a variety of exercises to improve footwork, it is just as important to use a variety of work/rest intervals.  The athlete will move more slowly when first learning these drills.  Initially, the length of time may be limited by fatigue or inability to perform the activity.  As the athlete becomes better conditioned, work sets can last from three seconds to 1-2 minutes.  The average work set will last 5 to 15 seconds, with a 1:2 work/rest ratio.  That means if the work set lasts 10 seconds, the athlete will rest for 20 seconds.  Occasional rests of 1.5 to 2 minutes should be interspersed in the workout to simulate the rest allowed on a court changeover.

These exercises are considered low intensity plyometrics as they generally do not involve jumping from a height.  Still they must be performed properly to avoid the risk of injury.  To insure safety in performing these exercises, follow these general guidelines:

  1. if possible, perform the exercises on a soft surface
  2. do not increase the total number of foot contacts by more than 10% from any previous workout
  3. make sure the athlete has a good general lower body strength base before performing these exercises
  4. progress to single leg drills only when the athlete is comfortable performing double leg drills, and
  5. perform these drills no more than 3 times per week with at least one day of rest. 

With practice and consistency, these drills can be very beneficial in helping tennis players move quickly on the tennis court.