Would you like to improve your overall quickness on the tennis court? If so, some physical means are available through improved
conditioning, agility and footwork. After that, you may need to
choose faster parents to gain a sizeable physical advantage, since
genetic factors (e.g., muscle characteristics)
place an upper limit on your movement ability.
What may surprise you is that quickness in tennis has less to do with
the ability to move, or even run as fast as Forest Gump, than mental
skills! Although physical proficiency is desirable, and necessary at
the higher levels of play, mental superiority in the form of
anticipatory skills is far more meaningful in achieving quickness in
Visual scanning research in racquet sports has shown that experts
differ from novices in eye fixation patterns and perceptual
strategies. For example, whereas experts focus consistently on
proximal cues (e.g., angle of racket prior to contact, position of
server's shoulder), novices display less controlled fixations and
focus on more distal cues (e.g., position of ball after contact).
The ability to attend to relevant proximal cues and interpret them
accurately is the hallmark of superior anticipation ... and quickness.
In short, tennis quickness involves being prepared, knowing what kind
of shot to expect from early visual cues, and acting accordingly on
that knowledge. If you have poor anticipatory skills and are
constantly late in reacting to your opponent, your world class speed
will be useless.
Can anticipatory skills in tennis be taught? The exciting news is
that a pioneer study here at the University of Florida shows that the
answer is yes! In this study, novice and intermediate tennis players
learned to make faster and more accurate decisions regarding the type
and direction of shots following a mental quickness training program.
Further research is certainly needed, but these results are
In my opinion, there are two areas of knowledge where improvements
will lead to enhanced anticipatory skills and greater tennis
quickness. The first, already discussed, involves helping players
recognize the meaning of appropriate proximal cues, and implementing
this knowledge in game situations. The second area is more
traditional and involves reviewing the fine points of timing and
court positioning as they relate to the type of shot hit, position of
the player, and position of the opponent. Very few club players have
mastered these skills. While watching the US Open, it appeared that
some professionals would benefit from refinement in this area as well.
I hope this brief review has helped you realize that quickness in
tennis involves far more than swift movements or a new pair of Nikes.
Quickness may not be directly observable, since the processes
contributing to it (e.g., scanning, recognizing, interpreting) are
mental operations. Don't worry though, the
difference will be clearly evident in the score! Until next month ...