The Footwork and The Body Connection – Understanding how the body affects your movement and footwork on the tennis court

The Footwork and The Body Connection: Understanding how the body affects your movement and footwork on the tennis court:

What is the key to developing footwork?

Dane Sweeny - Such a great mover. I was lucky enough to travel and help Dane for many years
Dane Sweeny – Such a great mover. I was lucky enough to travel and help Dane for many years

The answer is understanding your athlete’s footwork technique, their body’s limitations, and the tactics of implementation.

Footwork Ability = technique + physical + tactics

This BLOG will focus on technique and the body 

Even used, thought, or heard someone say these common coaching comments:

Coach yelling

  • Pick up your intensity
  • Bending your knees
  • Move faster
  • Try and be more explosive
  • On your toes
  • Work Harder
  • Stop being lazy with your footwork
  • You need to be smoother with the way you move.


And to be fair – these are all fair comments in the right situation ……however….


If a player has not been taught HOW to move, how can they be expected to improve their movement rapidly based just on these areas?


Footwork and movement technique teaches the body to be more explosive, stay lower, improve speed and demonstrate better intensity….. and it is very teachable!

We all have a limit of movement which is linked to our level of physical development and mentality. But without the correct technique of foot and body positioning in given situations, we cannot reach that ultimate movement limit that matches our physical levels.

So next time we go to tell someone to bend your knees, work harder, don’t have lazy feet, how about teaching them where and how to put their feet, hips, and body to allow them to get the best out of their bodies.

Teach them to move first – then dish out the easily made comments above.


If you were learning guitar and your teacher told you to strum harder and faster – it would be no useless if you could not put your fingers on the right strings just as fast.


I want to link these common coaching cues with various athletes’ types that I have worked with.


1.) Stop being lazy with your footwork! Stay on your toes! Stop muddling up your feet! 

This is common in players limited by their movement technique but are great athletes (strong, powerful, and athleticism) Teach them the technique and patterns, as their limiting factor is the understanding.

benny run
The best athlete I have worked with. Fast, powerful, and a great player. Speed was his best asset!

Example Player – Ben Mitchell #204 ATP (Inner range movement could get like this – although his end range was amazing)    

2.) Mover faster! Work Harder! Bent your knees! Stay low! Stay wide! You need to be stronger on the ball.  

There are also times where a player understands the technique but the body is limited due to strength, power, or athleticism being poor. These players moved at one speed round the court around the court but have decent technique. So, get them to develop their physical elements through a fitness trainer and watch as they improve as their body improves.

Lizette hips
This girl could work hard! Her body is now 20x the body is once ws and it comes down to her work ethic. She deserves all her success.

Example player – The junior Lizette Cabrera #119 WTA  (She has gone on to do big things and work very hard on her fitness and physical development but as a junior had good footwork technique but was limited at times by her strength and power)

3.) Injuries again?! Just pull it up there if you’re sore. Bent your knees (I can’t they hurt)

Then are players who can move explosively and have the tennis skill, but their bodies can break down with injury when pushed. I relate these players to a car, they have a great engine but a poor chassis (frame). They can produce power, move well but need extra strength training and body management to build their frame. They may appear physically great, but this is only the explosive nature of the genetics or physical development masking a poor functioning and weak body. Development their strength and functionality of their bodies, whilst managing their workloads.

Ollie suffered injuries and his body was very hard to maintain, but his speed, skill and court craft won were exceptional. I traveled and worked with Ollie for many years and enjoyed those times.

Example player/s: Oliver Anderson Junior Grand Slam Winner suffered from many injuries but was very talented skillfully and was quite powerful and fast. We made great efforts to develop his strength and movement to harness that speed and skill he had.

4.) All the above + You hit is so well, if we could just get you to the ball more often it would be great! You’re so talented if only you worked harder on the court.

Then there’s the poor mover with a poor body. These players are often injured but can have the most incredible skills to make up for their other bodies ‘ deficiencies.

KyrgiosAOJFinal 700x450 1
I worked with Nick from 14-16yrs old. He really needed some work when we first started. After 8 inches of height and regular physical work he really showed his level on the world stage and suffered from far fewer injuries. He was always fun to work with.

Example player/s: 14-year-old Nick Kyrgios #13 ATP (Later a junior grand slam winner but as youngster struggled with his movement and body – a big emphasis was placed on both these areas of his development as junior player and look where he’s gone now)

5.) Nothing, you just stand next to them – because everyone knows that to become a high-performance coach all your need to do is stand next to a high-performance player!!! (Jokes)

Those who are physically amazing, move with great technique and physicality and training at high levels of intensity. These athletes only require tactics on when to use technique and the rest is taken care.

Pri was an athlete from a young age - she has all the physical attributes you look for.
Pri was an athlete from a young age – she has all the physical attributes you look for.
Akira was always a hell of an athlete and player. our team pushed him hard and his body always responded well.

Example Player/s: Akira Santillan #144 ATP and Priscilla Hon #118 WTA – these athletes have amazing athleticism and movement. They rarely break down with an injury, move great, and are just developing the tactics of footwork and movement to finish off the physical elements of their game.

Then you have players who are poor in all forms and require development in all areas. These are great projects to see rapid improvement.


It is our responsibility as coaches to find the area or areas that lacking, so we can recognise their limitations and then develop the weaknesses to enhance their game.

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