The All-Important Split Step
We've talked about the split step before back in Episode 89 which was called How and Why to Split Step in Tennis. And if you have any questions about exactly what the split step is and why you need to do it, I recommend you go back and listen to that episode. Bottom line – the split step is what helps us get moving in the right direction. It is a way to overcome the inertia of just standing on the court flat-footed. It helps you get your body moving before it's time for you to hit the ball. When the split step occurs, you may not even know exactly where your next move will be. But by getting your feet up off the ground and bouncing, you're ready to quickly make that move.
The Most Important Aspect of the Split Step – The Timing
The single most important aspect of the split step is the timing – when you actually make your split step. Because if you do it too early, you'll basically be back where you started – flat-footed on the court waiting to make your next move. If you do it too late, you won't get to the ball quickly enough and you won't be able to effectively hit your stroke. So the timing is very important.
And, if you can time the split step well, it can really help you to move much quicker because your legs will already be loose, bent at the knees and loaded with kinetic energy at soon as you recognize the direction of the ball.
When is the Right Time to Split Step?
So when is the right moment to split step, to make that little hop? Well, it's right before your opponent hits the ball. When you think your opponent is about to hit the ball, you make a little low hop up into the air and then you land again on the balls or front of your feet, heels up. Then you move into the direction of the ball as you see where it is coming towards you over the net.
Now, this might not be what your pro is telling you. He or she may be telling you to make that split step AS your opponent hits the ball. And while I am not going to argue with your pro and tell him or her why they're wrong, I would say that a lot of coaches say that, split step as your opponent hits the ball, because it's easier for us tennis students to understand and visualize. But over time, you want to be working more towards anticipating what your opponent is doing and that includes making your split step right before you anticipate that they are going to hit the ball. Then by the time they hit the ball and it is traveling toward you, you are ready to move into the direction that the ball is going.
And if you think that you will never be able to do that, I promise you, you're wrong. If you start consciously watching your opponent across the net, specifically watching the motion of their racket, and you start working that split step in, you will soon be doing it at the right moment. And eventually, it becomes something that you don't even consciously have to make yourself do – you just do it.
So Split Step Right Before Your Opponent Hits the Ball
So the correct timing is –
- You make your split step, your little hop into the air, right before your opponent hits the ball.
- You land as they hit the ball and then move in the direction that the ball is traveling as it is coming towards you.
Okay, so let's talk about how you might practice the timing of your split step. Of course, the best thing you can do is to get out on court and practice it while you're actually hitting balls. But if you aren't able to do that currently or if you'd like some extra at-home practice, I've got two drills that you can work on from the comfort of your own home.
Split Step Drill No. 1 – Jump Rope
The first drill I recommend is just regular-old jumping rope. Jumping rope is a great for tennis players as both a cardio activity and a warm-up before matches. But it is also a wonderful way to practice your split step because it so closely mimics what you do when you split step. When you jump rope, you take little low hops in the air to keep going. Not huge leaps. And that is what you want to do when you split step. So try jumping rope at home, just a few minutes at a time, to get some great split step practice.
Split Step Drill No. 2 – The 3 By 3 By 3 Drill
The next drill I recommend helps you with the different types of split steps you may use. In Episode 89, I talked about the fact that sometimes you'll split step off both feet at the same time, doing a little hop up in the air. At other times, you may do a sort of stutter step, where you begin your split step off one foot or the other. So to practice both of these motions, try the 3 by 3 drill. In this drill, you do a little hop sequence that goes like this:
- Hop on right foot, then left foot, then right foot
- Hop 3 times in the middle with both feet slightly apart
- Hop on left foot, then right foot, then left foot
- Hop 3 times in the middle with both feet again
So you're just moving from alternating the 3 hops on one foot, to 3 hops on both feet, back to alternating 3 hops on one foot. And you mix up the order of your single foot hops so that you train both your dominant and non-dominant side to start the split step.
So that's it for this week – all about the timing of the split step. If you have questions or comments, be sure and let me know in the comment box below.
RESOURCES AND LINKS FROM THIS EPISODE
Check out these other Tennis Quick Tips episodes for more great tips:
- How and Why to Split Step in Tennis – Tennis Quick Tips Episode 89
- How to Use the Tennis Ready Position – Tennis Quick Tips Episode 31
- Better Footwork for Tennis – Tennis Quick Tips Episode 61
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