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The 4 Best Foot Speed, Agility and Quickness Drills for Tennis and All Court Sports!

Lee Taft

If you want to be quicker and more agile on the court, you've gotta incorporate these 4 drills into your training program. Complete with rep and time recommendations!

There is no doubt that to improve speed of a tennis player there are many variable; one of them being strength. The stronger the athlete is and the more force, applied quickly, they can apply to the ground the greater potential for speed. Having said that tennis is one of those sports where footwork and positioning are crucial to being a productive player.

If you were to take a world class track athlete and make them really proficient at stroking the tennis ball that certainly doesn't mean they will be good at getting to shots, especially against a good shot maker. A tennis player needs to develop court awareness, reaction speed, deceleration speed, and footwork timing.

When a tennis player goes out wide after a hard hit deep ground stroke, they are not just accelerating. Of course that is major part of the speed that gets them to the ball, but they are also preparing to use foot work that allows them to stroke the ball and place it in a specific area on the opponent's court. To do this the player has to use proper footwork that allows the upper body to be in position to swing the racquet and control the shot.

Many times you will see tennis players that don't appear to be extremely fast but they get to difficult shots all the time. This is because they are good court movers and they understand how they should be moving to play the game.

Here are some examples of shots that a tennis player will be required to make during a match. This is to show you the varying footwork skills that must become apart of the tennis players movement abilities.

1. Wide ground strokes- The tennis player must be able to sprint out wide and still stroke the ball properly, stop, and get back into the center of the court for the next shot.

2. Drop shot- This is when the tennis player must run from the back of the court, sometimes, 5-8 feet behind the baseline, and chase down a dying short shot near the front of the court. This can be at any angle near the net.

3. Lob shot- When the player is at the net and the opponent hits a high shot over the players head deep in the court they must turn and sprint after the ball attempting to hit a blind shot correctly positioned on the opponent's court (if possible).

4. Wide return of serve- When a serve is coming at you at 130 miles and hour and it is stretched out to the right or left of the player, it takes a tremendous quick reaction and first step to reach the ball before it passes.

If you look at all of these potential shots, each one of them requires a different form of footwork. But all of them require quick reactions followed by great footwork to make the shot.

Here are some of my favorite drills to use to improve the court speed when attempting to return these four shots.

Wide Ground Stokes

To get to the wide ground stroke here is the progression of drills I use with an experienced tennis player:

*React and Run- I will stand at the service box and point to the right or left. There is a cone placed on the double line on the forehand and backhand side. The tennis player must be active and bouncing on the balls of the feet in anticipation of my signal to move. I will point to the right or left and the player must sprint to that cone and perform and imaginary groundstroke, use a crossover step for one or two moves, then bounce shuffle back to the center cone preparing for the next signal. This is a great drill to get the player to accelerate quickly decelerate after the shot, and then get back on the court.

Drop Shot

Getting to a drop shot and hitting away from the opponent may be one of the toughest shots in the game.

*Run and catch- With the player active and bouncing on the baseline I will stand on the opposite side of the net about 5 feet away. I will toss a tennis ball anywhere on the court. The player must run to the ball and hit it (after one bounce) with either their hand, if I have them without the racquet, or with the racquet. I won't always give them a drop shot because they will begin to cheat forward and anticipate it- so I may throw some wide and deep as well. To make this drill more controlling in nature I will make them catch the ball on the strings of the racquet and without it falling off. This teaches touch and softness.

Lob shot

Regardless of if the lob is an offensive or defensive shot, if it goes over the head of the player it is always a difficult shot to return.

*Turn and run- When performing this drill I will have the athlete start at the "T" of the service box and I will stand on the opposite side of the net roughly 5 feet away. When I say go the player will approach the net preparing to split step and volley. I will throw the ball wide or at them to keep them honest. The when I toss it deep over head- they must use a quick hip turn and run to the ball and catch or hit it before the second bounce. The key is to use a quick hip turn and immediately get into acceleration mode. Look to locate the ball and take the appropriate angle. If the player has been asked to catch the ball with the hands I want them getting as close to the ball as possible or even running slightly past it to make the catch. The reason for this is due to the fact they must hit the ball 180 degrees (in the opposite direction of travel).

Wide return of serve

When a player is facing a great server and especially one that has speed and great angle placement- it can be a daunting task.

*React and cut off- In this drill I will stand near the net and while the player stands on, behind, or just in front of the baseline depending on their comfort. I will hit or throw a tennis ball wide to the right or left and the player must quickly come out of the split step (which is times with my hitting or throwing action) and explode quickly on a slight forward angle and hit or catch the ball by cutting it off before it gets to wide. The player doesn't want to take too sharp of an angle due to not being able to get wide enough, yet if they player goes straight out to the side with no angle the ball will curve out of reach. This is by far the most explosive and reactionary drill. It only takes a second but it is crucial in being able to return serves that are hit wide. Take the angle away.

On all of these drills the coach needs to be watching for aggressive footwork and efficient movement. If the player is taking too small of steps early on in the acceleration, which is often taught, the player won't be as quick gaining distance.

Make sure the player is in good position to hit a stoke once the get to the ball, even if they are not going to hit the ball.

Here is a basic design I use for these drills:

React and run:
*4-6 reps going to the right and left.

*30 second recovery max to prepare for game pace or 60 seconds for greater speed training.

*Use a light long resistance band to create resistance on the way out. Do not pull on the way back. Make sure to use a belt that allows the tubing to spin around the waist of the player. It should be light enough not to affect running form.

Drop Shot:
*8-10 reps

*30 second recovery max to prepare for game pace or 60-75 seconds for greater speed training.

*Can use light tubing for resistance as long as it is lengthy enough and an experience holder is involved. The tubing can't effect the initial acceleration position. It is meant to increase the ground forces.

Lob shot:
*6-8 reps

*30 second recovery max to prepare for game pace or 60 seconds for greater speed training

Wide return shot:
*8-10 reps each side

*5-10 second recovery max to prepare for game pace and second serve pace or 30 seconds for greater speed training.

These drills should be integrated into the first part of the entire workout. I would choose 1-2 of the above drills per day to train. Because it is more nervous system training you don't want to do too many if your goal for the day is raw speed; yet if you want it to be about moving quickly under fatigue (match simulations) then you can do all of them in one workout or manipulate the work to rest scheme.

Get good at these 4 drills and you may be playing in the Grand Slams!

For more information about Lee Taft's Speed Program, visit