Tennis beginners often think that the ability to handle a racquet is what determines tennis skill. If this is also you, you need to reevaluate your attitude.
Footwork is an integral part of tennis and is one of the most critical components of sports success. If you have weak footwork, forget about getting good.
I will show you a few tennis practice drills for footwork and coordination to help you. And if you have doubts about the usefulness of footwork, I’ll convince you that it’s definitely worth your time.
Why Footwork Is Important In Tennis
You should practice your strokes to become better at tennis, but focusing all your effort just on racquet skills is a huge mistake.
During a game of tennis, do you stand in one spot all the time? If you do, you should throw your racquet into the trash and never come to the court again.
On a more serious note, you need to keep moving on the court to send the ball back. If you can’t do that, then all the hours you may have put into practicing your strokes will go to waste.
Even if you have the best stroke game in the entire universe, what’s the use of your stroke skills if you can’t actually keep up with the ball?
Working on your footwork can help you increase the chances of hitting the ball. If you’ve ever missed a shot because you were in the wrong position, then know that bad footwork was the culprit.
Your hit rate obviously won’t ever be 100% – there are many other factors in play aside from speed and position.
If you want to become good at tennis, you need to work on each and every component of skill, be it footwork, your ability to read the movements of your opponent, or stroke accuracy. If any of these is weak in you, you can forget about success.
But even though footwork is just one tennis skill component, it helps you solidify the basics by improving your coordination, timing, balance, and agility. Good footwork allows you to fully utilize your kinetic chain – which extends all the way from your feet into the hand that’s holding the racquet – to rapidly cover your half of the court and efficiently direct power into the ball.
Tennis Footwork Drills For Beginners
Now that we know why footwork is essential let’s look at a few footwork exercises, starting with the five best tennis footwork drills for beginners.
1. Mini tennis Z-ball
Mini tennis Z-ball is a straightforward game for two or more players that can help you improve speed and endurance on the court. It’s not as specific to tennis as some of the other drills down the list, but it is excellent for building the basics.
Using underhand throws, toss a Z-ball into the opponent’s service box. After the ball bounces once, the opponent must catch it with their hands. If the ball bounces two times before you catch it, your opponent gets the point.
Only the service boxes are used as a play area. The game is played until one of the players wins a tiebreak game to 7.
2. Spider run test
The spider run test is a speed and agility test that involves five tennis balls. The balls are positioned as follows:
- One ball on each corner where the singles sideline and baseline meet.
- One ball on each corner where the singles sideline and the service line meet.
- One ball on the center T.
Aside from that, you need to mark a 12 x 18-inch rectangle behind the center of the baseline with masking tape.
Your goal in this drill is to retrieve each ball and place it in the rectangle. Balls are retrieved one at a time, and you need to complete the test as fast as you can. Near or below 15 seconds should be your goal, although women tend to be 3 seconds slower.
3. Horizontal repeater
The horizontal repeater is a drill aimed at improving speed, agility, and conditioning. Here’s how it’s performed:
- Assume a starting position at the doubles sideline, facing the net.
- Shuffle (side-step) to the center service line.
- Sprint back to your starting position at the doubles sideline.
- Sprint toward the opposite doubles sideline.
- Shuffle toward the centerline.
- Sprint back toward the doubles sideline.
- Sprint back toward the starting position.
You should perform 2 or 3 reps, with 30 seconds of rest between each rep. This drill may be pretty tough for beginners, so you may want to be easy on yourself initially.
You may also hold your racquet during the drill.
4. Lateral cone slalom
Tennis footwork drills with cones are great for developing footwork, and the lateral cone slalom is the most essential cone drill you can perform. It’s simple, somewhat challenging, and, most importantly, effective.
Here’s how to perform the lateral cone slalom:
- Line 10 to 12 cones along the baseline, about a yard apart.
- Start off at one end of the cones. Face the cones.
- Weave through the cones with small sidesteps.
- Backpedal through the cones to the start.
And here’s a video showing how to do the slalom:
You may also do the slalom backward from start to finish, like so:
Backward slalom is much more demanding on your balance and coordination, but that’s great since those are precisely the qualities you want to work on in tennis.
5. Hexagon test
The hexagon test is used to measure foot quickness, but it may also serve as a good foot agility drill for tennis players. This is a reasonably challenging movement that requires speed, agility, balance, and a great sense of direction.
Here’s how to do the hexagon test:
- Use masking tape to draw a hexagon on the ground. Each side of the hexagon should be 24 inches long.
- Stand in the middle of the hexagon.
- Jump forward over the tape – without touching the line – and immediately jump back into the hexagon.
- Facing forward, jump over the adjacent edge of the hexagon, and again hop back in.
- Continue jumping over all the six edges, facing forward at all times.
- Complete three circuits over the hexagon.
This test typically involves two people – the athlete and a partner with a stopwatch. Your goal is to complete the circuit as fast as possible.
Under 12-13 seconds is an excellent result and should be your target.
In the beginning, you may struggle with maintaining your balance and completing the test fast enough. One key thing to remember with the hexagon test is that you need to be stable before performing the next jump. If your feet aren’t firm on the ground before the jump, you won’t be able to complete the hexagon test efficiently.
Tennis Footwork Drills At Home
If you don’t have easy access to a tennis court to practice drills, you may do some things at home.
Ideally, you should practice on the court – many of the drills specific to tennis can’t be done in the confines of one’s home. Still, if you are stuck at home, give this circuit of 5 drills a shot. Aside from improving your footwork, this circuit will serve as good cardio!
1. Split step jump
- Stand with your feet together.
- Jump into a wide split step position.
- Do a double jump in this wide-foot position.
- Repeat for 30 seconds and then rest for 30 seconds before switching to the next drill.
2. Hop and split step
- Hop onto your right leg.
- Jump into a wide split step.
- Hop onto your left leg.
- Again jump into a wide split-step stance.
- Repeat for 30 seconds.
3. Fast feet in a wide base
- Assume a wide split stance position.
- Sprint on the spot, maintaining the wide stance.
- Do for 30 seconds.
4. Side shuffle
- Shuffle one step to the right.
- Shuffle one step to your left.
- Repeat for 30 seconds, maintaining a high pace.
5. Wide runners
- Assume a wide split stance, with one foot ahead and the other behind.
- Hop in place, swapping your feet over.
- Go for 30 seconds.
Advanced Tennis Footwork Drills
Finally, let’s have a look at a few advanced drills. I consider these drills advanced since they involve multiple steps and can be challenging to perfect and memorize.
1. Offensive transition
The offensive transition consists of 5 shots that span your entire half of the court. This drill is intended to help you transition from defense to offense. You’ll need a tennis buddy to practice this drill, or perhaps a tennis ball machine that allows you to program a sequence of shots.
At a glance, here’s how you perform this drill:
- Do a lateral step on the ball and hit it back. Then, make a cross step to recover from your vulnerable position, followed by a side step to position yourself for a shot on the other side of the court.
- Step into the second ball as you return it – this is so that you can keep it deep enough. Adjust your stance with small steps to get ready for the next ball.
- Recover with a side step. When the next ball comes, again step into it as you strike.
- Recover with a split step into the court. Keep adjusting your stance with small steps to land a heavy shot and prepare your transition toward the net.
- As you reach the service box, add another split-step to be ready for the volley and hit the ball either forehanded or backhanded.
Tennis gear brand HEAD has a wonderful video displaying this drill. Watch it to get a better idea of what to do.
This drill is a bit involved and may need plenty of practice for you to master. But if you do nail it, you’ll be much better at recovering and quickly moving across the court.
2. Random feed
Next, we have the random feed drill. This drill is intended to improve your speed and reaction when responding to unexpected ball directions. Again, this drill requires a training partner or a coach.
Here’s a video from HEAD showcasing the random feed drill:
As you can see, you need to follow these five tips for success:
- Find your balance. You need to steady yourself to make a controlled and powerful shot.
- Adjust your stance. Perform split steps to be able to adjust quickly and find an optimal position for the shot.
- Keep moving. Make sure to stay in action to be better prepared for the next shot.
- Stay low to the ground. To increase your balance and stability, lower your center of gravity.
- Stay on your toes. Staying on your toes is crucial to staying reactive.
Make sure to reposition at the center of the baseline after each shot.
3. Net coverage
The net coverage drill aims to improve your speed at the net and improve your ability to hit volleys. This is quite an important drill because the closer you are to the net, the more crucial quick footwork becomes.
Here’s how the drill is performed:
- Position yourself at the baseline and then step into the ball to get into the service box. Play forward to be always ready for the next shot and keep a closed stance.
- Split step after each shot to be ready for the next ball.
- Shuffle backward to adjust your position.
- Adjust your position for the smash by transferring your body weight forward – this increases shot power.
And here’s a video demonstrating the drill. It’s relatively simple but demanding on speed and accuracy.
4. Baseline coverage
The baseline coverage drill teaches you how to quickly and efficiently react to balls at the baseline. To master this drill, you need the following elements:
- Weight on the front foot. This helps you increase power and keep the ball deep.
- Quick positioning. Stay active and adjust your position quickly by doing lateral steps.
- Recovering. Cross, split, and side steps are the quickest way of covering the baseline.
- Low center of gravity. Once again, keep your center of gravity low to improve balance and stability.
The X-drill is traditionally used to enhance your ability to switch between defensive and offensive situations. You need to master the following concepts for this drill:
- Reposition at the center. After each shot, reposition at the center of your baseline.
- Stay on your toes. This will allow you to reposition and react to the ball’s direction quicker.
- Focus on your balance. It’s easy to lose your balance, especially when moving backward. Be sure to get steady before hitting the ball.
- Weight on the front foot. Again, this increases power and helps you send the ball deep.
6. Forehand attack
Finally, the forehand attack drill helps you solidify your forehand game and employ forehand rather than backhand shots.
Follow these tips to perfect this drill:
- Solid lateral step. Start with a solid lateral step into the first ball – this will allow you to make a more powerful shot and be ready for repositioning.
- Adjust with small steps. Small steps can help you get into the right position for a forehand.
- Side step around the ball. Move your body weight around the ball to put more power into it.
- Keep balance while sliding. If you have to slide to make the shot, you should transfer your body weight to your front foot to maintain balance.
These tennis footwork drills should help you get started. Make sure to consistently incorporate footwork routines into your program, but don’t forget about other elements as well. Master your racquet game, learn to read your opponent, and work on your endurance.