Why its the foot that actually hits the ball first

One of the most common coaching lessons with players of all levels is helping bring power and control when hitting drives and volleys on the backhand side. I’m sure we all know that feeling when the opponent hits an attacking length that if not played before the back wall the ball will die, its puts pressure on movement and technique. This situation often causes players to be forced into stretching back with the racket and body in an attempt the flick the ball back down the wall, the result often being a soft, easy volley opportunity for the opponent. 

In order the combat this type of drive effectively we need to be able to take the ball early on the bounce or the volley and hit on balance while moving quickly towards the ball. The movement pattern is not easy, involving a quick first movement from the t area back towards the back corner or across to the volley. The combination of the first movement, the momentum and the need to prepare and hit through the ball while controlling a balanced lunge requires extremely good technique in the movement components and the swing. 

There is one element of the movement components which can be overlooked and has a massive impact on the ability generate power; the position of the foot on the floor. This is one of the most useful insights from the enormous knowledge base of Joanne Elphinston, a world renowned performance movement and injury prevention expert who we have had the fortune of many hours of input from. Everything starts with the foot and the ground.  Energy needs to be directed into the floor in order to be able to benefit from the recoil of energy back up through the body into the racket and finally the ball.

Things happen very fast when a player is practicing and there are multiple elements to watch out for as a coach. Each stage can be broken down into many other stages – the first movement for example is a project in itself. But the way the foot contacts the floor, even if parts of the movement pattern and swing are not yet at their best, will affect gluteal muscle function, stability and balance which in turn affects the ability to release the swing without losing control of the upper body. Very often the reason why players rotate the body during the shot is that they are simply not taking power and stability from the floor which means the force has to be generated from somewhere else i.e. the torso. To test this try playing a drive with your foot deliberately off balance landing on the toe first and notice how unstable the base of the body is. Then try the same with the whole foot contacting the floor in a committed but relaxed state and the leading leg hip slightly bent and acting like a powerful spring. You should notice a considerable difference. This applies in all parts of the court and needs to be mapped into the movement pattern to achieve ultimate stability and control on the shot.

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