SHOW NOTES AND EDITED TRANSCRIPT:
My goal here at the Tennis Quick Tips podcast is to give you quick and easy tips that you might not have thought about, or might not even be familiar with that I hope you can understand and then easily apply to your own game.
And I try to always give things that I think any level of player could apply, whether you're just starting out or you've been playing for quite a while. Some of my tips, I know, are going to be ones you've already heard, but a lot of times the tip you've already heard is the one that another player never thought about before.
Let's Talk About The Split Step
I'm saying all this because the topic I'm talking about today is the split step, which I think a lot of us would consider kind of an intermediate level technique to use, as far as footwork goes. I know that when I first started playing, nobody said anything to me about using the split step. It wasn't until I'd been playing a while, and was really trying to improve my volleys, that I even learned what a split step was and why I needed to use it.
And so, if you're an intermediate player, you may already be very familiar with the split step, but there's plenty of intermediate level players, certainly the ones I've seen, I play a lot of ladies, who are very good and yet a lot of them do not split step.
And I'm assuming that you guys have the same experience that either you’re not using the split step, or if you are, you see plenty of players who don't. And certainly, up to a point, you can continue to be a pretty decent tennis player without ever even being aware of the split step.
However, if you do want to take your game up a notch, especially up at the net, I think at some point you really have to learn and adopt the split step. So first of all, let's talk about what is the split step, what am I talking about?
Just What Is The Split Step?
The split step is a little hop that you see players take right before they go to hit the ball. You see it often. As I said earlier, up at the net for volleys. However, if you watch the pros play on T.V., you will notice that virtually every shot they hit usually they somehow are incorporating a split step.
And where you really notice it, is on the return because they often have a very exaggerated split step on the return. They'll take a little hop in the air, as a service coming over towards them, and then they'll move into the direction of what shot they're going to use, either forehand or backhand, to hit their return.
And when you see it like this, if you see the pros, and you can certainly see videos of this on You Tube, what you see as the hop is a very neutral position that the player takes going up and landing in an athletic position, or what I call a ready position. I have a podcast episode on the ready position and I'll be sure to link to it in the show notes for this episode.
And I also included in that a pdf that was an illustration of what the athletic position, or the ready position, looks like and what the important elements of that are and why you need to use it. And certainly that's incorporated into a good split step, that ready position where you're light on your feet, you land on both of your feet, but softly your heels are usually up, your weight is a little bit forward, and your hips and your body are also forward with your racquet held out right in front of you.
Because when you're taking a split step, at the moment you take it, you're not sure which way you're going. It's a way to keep your momentum, prevent you from being flat footed when the ball comes back over the net towards you, and then make that decision whether you're going to end up moving off to your left or your right, or if you're just going to shift to your body left or right, especially up at the net.
It might not be so much which way you're going to take steps, as far as which direction you need to move your body to get your racquet in the right place. When we're talking about what a split step looks like, it is a hop up, and often players will hop up pushing off with both feet at the same time.
Different Versions of the Split Step
But there are different versions of a split step and certainly they're not incorrect, and you may use more than one version, where maybe you push off with just one foot, or you have sort of a stutter step.
This is more close to what I find myself doing. It might not be the best split step in the world, but it just feels more comfortable to me where my feet are not necessarily both leaving the ground at the same time or lending at the same time. But I am trying to maintain a wider base to land on with my feet and keep my knees soft, so that I'm bouncy or springy and ready to go.
So that's what a split step is, it's that little hop up in the air, that when you land you're in your athletic ready position and you're ready to move whichever direction the ball's going to come. And having explained basically what a split step is, I've kind of given you the reasons why you want to use a split step.
The Dangers of Not Using the Split Step
If you're not using it, you're in the danger of doing two things. Number one, if you're just standing there and imagine being at the net waiting for the ball to come, if you don't have this little spring going, when you do finally go to move to the ball, you sort of have to gather up all your energy and your momentum to make that move.
If you're a little bit bouncy and if you take that split step, you've already got yourself moving, so that you're ready when the ball comes over to make your move, and you're not gathering up all your weight and momentum and then making your move. Frankly, this is… if you're not doing this you are usually being pretty flat footed and it can be hard to move out of that position towards the ball.
The other danger that can happen when you don't take a split step, and a lot of times where you would see this is when you're coming into the net making your approach shot. If you don't use the split step to sort of slow yourself down and get ready to hit the ball, you can over run the ball, end up being too close, not close enough. Or, let's say you do actually hit the ball, if you haven't sort of got your momentum under control, you can end up running through the ball as you're hitting it and then being out of position for that next ball.
And that approach shot, and going into the split step, I have a lot of trouble with that. I think about it, and I hope I'm getting better at it, but I do often find myself over running the ball as I'm coming in or, and/or then being out of position for the next ball.
So the split step is a way to… it does slow you down. And I know when you're approaching you're trying really hard to get in there, but it slows you down in a way that allows you to hit a good shot and then be ready for whatever happens next.
Learning To Split Step
So how do you apply the split step? How do you learn how to do it, if you haven't been doing it already? I think the easiest way to start using the split step is up at the net, and initially you're going to have to make yourself think about it and start doing it. It was hard for me at first, but now I find myself up at the net, sort of bouncing up and down, even when the ball is not coming towards me, trying to remain prepared for when it does.
The way to use it is to think about taking that little hop right when the ball is being hit by your opponent, and then after you've taken that hop, make your move to either your right or your left to hit the shot that you need to hit, that follows when the ball does come over.
And I'm going to give you this little tip. If you really are thinking: “I can't do that. I can't change everything about my net game or my return game to adopt this split step.” It was hard for me at first, and what I did to practice this was, I just started hopping a two footed hop around my house. I would, when I was in the kitchen sometimes, I would just hop up and down a few times. Sometimes when I was watching TV I would do it.
Eventually I got to the point where I thought: “You know what? I'm going to start doing this with my racquet in my hand.” So yes, I was in my kitchen with my tennis racquet hopping up and down just to get more of the feeling of what that feels like.
Because if you are not a person who's doing a lot of athletic activities outside of playing tennis, and you're not using the split step, hopping up and down like that can feel not very comfortable, it can feel very awkward and you may need to just practice what that feels like, not even on a tennis court, because no reason to start doing it out on the tennis court if it doesn't feel good when you're just doing it in your house.
Practicing the Split Step at Home
So that's how I started practicing it. Once I decided: “Yes, I'm going to have to split step if I want to play better tennis”, I first started practicing at home in my kitchen, hopping up and down, and then eventually putting my racquet in my hand and really hopping up and down, and taking that ready position, that athletic stance.
And then, I did have to take it out to the court and really force myself to use it. It can come naturally after some time. You won't think so at first, but I recently did some drills and it was, I think the drill we were doing was, hit a groundstroke, hit an approach shot, hit a volley, and the pro who was feeding, not my usual pro, but I was just at some drills at a club, he was really slow and I found myself, like working my way into the net and just being up at the net waiting for that volley hopping up and down constantly and it took me a minute to go: “Hey, look at me. I split step, this is what I do to wait to get ready for the volley.”
So, initially yes, it was hard for me to get into doing it. But I've reached a point where at least when I'm up at the net, waiting for the shot, the volley that I'm going to hit, it's kind of a natural part of my game now, so I highly recommend it to y'all.
Try the split step out. It will feel awkward, like everything does when you're changing your game. But this is definitely one of those moves that you can make that can really take your game up another level. If you’re looking to do that, sometimes you have to make a move and do something that you haven't done before, and the split step may be that thing that really makes a change for you.
Please leave me a comment below to let me know what you think of this episode or what you'd like to hear in future episodes of Tennis Quick Tips, so I'd love to hear from you. That's all for today. Thanks for listening. And Happy Tennis!
RESOURCES AND LINKS FROM THIS EPISODE:
For information on how to get into and use the ready position, check out this episode: Tennis Quick Tips Episode 31 – How To Use The Tennis Ready Position.
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