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The Importance of the Split Step

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By Joyce Bitaraes, Smoke Rise Country ClubCenter

When we talk about how to improve your tennis game, most will agree that you need to become more consistent with your shots, practice your ground strokes, volley, and serve technique. But what most players, and sometimes even coaches, don’t realize is the importance of a basic footwork knowledge to improve your whole game.

The split-step technique is used by all high-level professional players and high-level club players. This simple technique can put you ahead of the game. The split step is a movement with our feet to neutralize our body position to the incoming ball, even before the ball has been hit by your opponent. When playing a match, we do not know where the ball is going next, and it is important to prepare our body to be able to move to any given direction.

Thankfully, the split-step technique is not complicated to execute. The technique is simply staying wide in your base, and knees slightly bent. This will actively load your leg muscles and prepare your body so that the instant your opponent hits the ball, you are ready to move to any direction. A not-so-well-executed split-step can cause the player to compensate a late timing. One of the most common reasons why players hit a shot late is because the same player reacts to the incoming shot after it has been hit. This example will take us to a very important part of the split step, which is timing.

Timing is the right moment a player prepares to deliver a shot. If you touch your feet down on your split too late, then you will be taking time off from your adjustment steps around the ball once you approach it. This will cause a rush in your reaction and you will find yourself too close or too far from the ball. However, if you are too early on your split step, this will cause your muscles to lock in that loading position for too long. You will feel stuck and too heavy to give that first explosive step. The ideal timing to split step is right as your opponent is touching the ball with their strings. That way you can immediately identify the direction the ball is going, sprint off toward that direction, and adjust your body around the ball for the best contact point possible.

Now that you have all the steps to practice, head off to the tennis courts. If you have a friend who can hit with you, the best way to start practicing your split step is to ask them to always shout “split” at the moment they are hitting the ball. Once you master this step, then you switch to yourself shouting “split” at the moment your friend hits the ball. This second progress will help your perception and focus on your opponent’s movement, so you can anticipate your reaction. If all your friends are busy but you have access to a ball machine, the easiest way to start your practice is to shout “split” every time you hear the machine launching the ball. Once you master this step, you can then stop shouting and let your reaction become natural when you hear the machine launching the ball. Make sure you are always moving your feet, and split-step at the given moments mentioned above.

 

USTA GEORGIA-GPTA TEACHING PROFESSIONAL SPOTLIGHT: Joyce Bitaraes

Hometown: Belo Horizonte/Minas Gerais, Brazil

How did you get involved in teaching tennis? Tennis has been in my life since I was 7 years old. I could not imagine not being involved in the tennis industry in my career.

Diehard fan of what sports team? Cruzeiro Esporte Clube/ Brazil

Best part of your game? Footwork

Dream doubles match would be me and… Serena Williams.

When I’m not teaching tennis, I’m… Watching movies and working out.

My favorite tennis memory is: When I won an important junior tournament in Brazil.

My favorite professional player is: Serena Williams.

#1 reason why I enjoy teaching & coaching tennis: I enjoy engaging with my players, and getting to know different personalities while supporting their goals.

What important tennis message do you want to promote? Set many small goals to help you accomplish your dream. Be persistent and have fun doing it.