The game of tennis is much more than just striking a ball.
When you watch matches you will see all types of hitting styles, various strategies and lots of variety in movement on the court.
With a few unusual exceptions, top tennis players have quick feet on the court. Bjorn Borg said it best and proved it on the court, "There is no substitute for mobility."
Unlike raw natural ability and common sense, mobility is something you can actually improve with practice. One of the key components to great footwork (and least talked about) is flexibility.
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c.2005 Barbara Banks
Little children are amazingly flexible (just watch them swing with ease upside down on a jungle gym). But, as we age we slowly lose our ability to bend, stretch and move quickly.
The key is to find ways to maintain the flexibility we had as children. For some players it is just a matter of incorporating the right foot drills and great hitting partners to their practices.
However, some players just naturally are not great movers. For those players I have the trainers work with them using specific foot drills and sprint exercises. I have even sent some of my more rigid players to yoga just to stretch and loosen them up a little and to ultimately improve their footwork on the court.
The other advantage to improved movement is decreased injuries. Muscle and tendon pulls decrease significantly if a player is conditioned and flexible.
My suggestion for anyone wanting to improve their game is to find time every day to improve your physical fitness and your flexibility.
At night when you are watching television instead of sitting in your usual comfy chair try sitting on a large exercise ball and stretch your muscles during the commercials.
When you first get up in the morning spend five minutes on that same exercise ball and warm your muscles up for the day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park in the farthest spot from the work, and try to get up and move around several times a day.
All of the above will keep your muscles warm and flexible.
I also keep a simple exercise band hung over my bedroom door. Every morning and before I go to bed I stretch and strengthen my arms, my back and my stomach for five minutes just from this one little band. Plus it is easy to throw in my suitcase when I travel.
I will turn 79-years-old this year and still stretch a couple of times a day.
One of the benefits of a lifetime of stretching is that I still walk and move like a young man. My reflexes are still quick and I have no aches and pains like some of my friends who are the same age.
But I am also very disciplined and found out a long time ago that if I wanted to work full-time until I'm in my mid-nineties, then I was going to have to keep my body in great shape.
Here is my daily schedule:
- Up at 4:20 am – stretch at home using my exercise ball and exercise band
- In the gym by 5 AM to do more stretching, sit ups and a light work out
- On the court teaching from 5:45 am to 12:00 pm
- Lunch (two bowls of soup and salad) and an iced tea
- Staff meeting at 1 PM daily
- Back on court teaching from 1:30-6:15 PM
- Dinner at 6:30 PM
- Ride bike or hit a few golf balls
- Write articles, answer emails, work on staff and player issues
- Touch base with coaches, players, parents, and staff via phone calls and texts
- Stretch again before bed
- Bed by 11:00 PM
Not everyone can or wants to keep a schedule like mine, but you can still improve your health, your flexibility and ultimately your game just by adding stretching to your daily routine.
For those of you who are truly ambitious, try activities like yoga, pilates, or tai chi.
If you're ever at the IMG Bollettieri Academy I'll show you my version of tai chi -- it may not help you, but it is sure to make you laugh!
Nick Bollettieri has coached 10 players who have reached No. 1 in the world, including Andre Agassi, Boris Becker and Martina Hingis. To learn more, visit IMGAcademies.com.