At Fault Tolerant Tennis we teach fundamentals.
We don’t start with tips and tricks. We don’t start with this limb position and that joint angle. We start with the human body and build out the best way to play tennis from there.
When you learn tennis this way – the right way – most of the things you learn about one stroke will cross-pollinate to the others. As a quick example, nearly everything we talk about concerning fault tolerant forehand contact applies almost identically to fault tolerant one-handed backhand contact as well. From maintaining the string angle, to swinging out, up and through, to relaxing the hand, the underlying principles that generate topspin are the same, even though the stroke by which they manifest is different.
The beautiful thing is that the athletic cross-pollination doesn’t stop there. Not even close. In fact, becoming an elite tennis player makes you better at every sport. Here’s how.
Like movement in all sports, football movement starts and ends with the athletic position, the very same position that facilitates explosive movement in tennis. To move in tennis, you master this position, and you learn how to feel your muscles firing out of it. Effective movement in football is the exact same thing.
The kind of moving, balancing, and change of direction that’s necessary for tennis will make you better at football as well. In order to dribble and pass while remaining balanced and moving precisely, you must engage your glutes and hamstrings, as well as your quads, just like in tennis.
In fact, the movement of a tennis player at the baseline and and the movement of a goalie defending the net are remarkably similar. This makes sense, since every tennis player is essentially serving the function of a goalie for their entire side of the court.
Like tennis, football involves a lot of ball striking – the players just use their foot instead of a racket. This similarity necessitates a very similar kind of visual tracking in both sports. Players in both spend most of their visual focus tracking the ball, rather than looking at their targets.
You actually have it easier in tennis – the ball has to go so far before it reaches your opponent that you have the luxury of only watching the ball until after your stroke is totally complete. Even if you do that, you’ll have plenty of time to react to your opponent’s actions. This is most similar to a shot on goal or a penalty kick, on which football players watch their foot all the way into the ball.
Football dribbling is more demanding of the eyes – it’s more like tennis volleying against someone who is also at net. An elite dribbler’s eyes are constantly darting up and back down – mostly focusing on the ball, insuring precise strikes, but also routinely flashing up to their opponents to see how they’re defending. This is very similar to a volley-to-volley rally. During that, a tennis player’s eyes are darting back and forth between the ball and their opponent’s body/racket to read where the next shot is coming.
Spiking is serving
Does this movement pattern look familiar?
The volleyball spike is actually one of the closest movements in the entire sports world to the serve. Not only are spiking and serving mechanically similar, but also both movements are executed with the precise goal of disguising where the resulting shot will go.
Both serving and spiking are throws, fundamentally. The spike is so similar because the vector of extension at the top of the motion resembles tennis almost exactly – on a football or baseball throw, we need our hand to whip forward as much as possible, whereas on a tennis serve or volleyball spike, we need to cut off the momentum prematurely so that our hand hits the end of it’s range of motion and then flicks down.
Digging is Returning Serve
Are you a great tennis returner? You’re probably great at digging in volleyball, too. From a biomechanical standpoint, digging and returning are pretty different, except for the initial reaction off the ground, but from a mental processing standpoint, they’re extremely similar.
Anticipation and Guessing
Digging and returning share a lot when it comes to visual tracking and prediction. Both diggers and returners are trying to read their opponent’s body in order to anticipate the location of the shot. Since serving and spiking are so similar, both diggers and returners spend a lot of focus on their opponent’s upper body and shoulder angle.
Additionally, a spiker or server may be so good that the defender must resort to “guessing” where the ball will go, rather than trying to read their body. In this case, subconscious clues from the brain can still give the defending player better than 50/50 odds to guess correctly, and if you’re an exceptional tennis return guesser, I guarantee you’ll be great at guessing volleyball spikes as well.
Both digging and returning also require a deep understanding of what constitutes correct contact. On a tennis serve return, you typically don’t have time for your usual mechanics; there’s rarely time for a full shoulder turn, an elbow extension, and then a forward whip through contact.
Instead, your goal is simply to get the racket in front of you, at an angle with your forearm, and then to redirect the ball’s pace back over the net. The better you understand the contact you’re aiming for, the better you are at improvising as a returner.
Digging is extremely similar. Again, there’s no time for a proper “bump.” Instead, you have to fundamentally understand how the volleyball will ricochet off your body, and then do anything you can to get a part of your body behind it in such a way that it pops up remotely close to one of your teammates. And though the actual mechanic of redirection is quite different – a racket vs a body part – the underlying idea of improvising correct contact out of a wide array compromising positions is the same.
Next week, we’ll head over to the US (metaphorically) and talk about how tennis makes you better NFL Football and Baseball.