How to Improve Footwork for Junior Players

Question: I am coaching the girl's varsity tennis team. Two of my girls have great ground strokes, but absolutely lazy feet during matches.

Even at practice they are kind of slow reacting to balls, even though we do agility drills, jump ropes, etc. Or we work on sequences of approach shots, volleys and overheads.

When the lobs are too deep, they can't get there. When it comes to match play, it becomes downright ridiculous; they just stand there mesmerized or shell shocked or do something goofy with their rackets.

Both girls are playing all year round and have private coaches, who must have given up on them with regard to foot work.

As soon as I talk about them being on their toes and ready to move, I kind of feel a little bit of resentment on their part or a "Oh, not again!" reaction. Do you have any magic drills in your bag of tricks?

Hi, Jorg. Interesting scenario.

The key may be the following statement: "Both girls are playing all year round and have private coaches, who must have given up on them with regard to footwork."

Kids that are taught "footwork" with the conventional teaching usually have two barriers created.

First, the way they are taught in conventional coaching causes them to think about the way they move.

Second, those moves tend to be unnatural. The end result is clumsiness and no speed.

Oscar Wegner

Read more from Oscar
in his article archive.

I usually tell the kids that I am coaching, "You don't have to move your feet in tennis." Of course, they laugh at that. And then I tell them to move their heads instead (or I push them in that direction). Their feet will follow naturally.

After that, it's all about speed drills. A good example is the Rounding the Can drill that focuses on speed, footwork and approach shots.

I don't feed the balls very far. I let them get their "win," then slowly I keep stretching them. They get surprised at how far and fast they are getting with time on a gradient scale of difficulty.

Adjust each drill to each player and don't give them losses. Even if the ones you push farther start complaining that you are nicer to the "slower" ones.

If you have a group, do ten balls on the forehand down the line with one player, then complete the group on the same drill. Then move on to backhands crosscourt, then down the line.

If you have a left hander, let them do the same drill as the others, even if it is their backhand.

Mark the court in one side with a couple of cones so that they are hitting to about one quarter of the court, between the cones and the sideline.

Give them time to get back to the center, even if they are slow. But as soon as they start rounding the can you feed the ball to where they can reach it with a bit of effort.

Don't let them stop somewhere around the can while they wait for your next feed, or it will destroy the purpose of the drill.

Let me know how it works.

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Renowned coach Oscar Wegner has authored bestselling tennis instructional books and DVDs that demonstrate how players of all ages can learn quickly and easily to "Play Like The Pros." To learn more about Oscar Wegner's Modern Tennis Methodology visit

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