Split‐Step- Why You Need To Be Doing It...
By- Erick Chall- USPTA, Director of Tennis of Seminole Lake Country Club
If you know me, then you know I love to get you moving and grooving on the court no matter how old, young or what level you are. Tennis is an athletic sport. You need to be prepared to move when you play tennis.
The “Split‐Step” is the answer to many of the problems that my students have. I know this movement, if done properly, will cure many of my beloved student’s problems.
What is it?
It is called a “split‐step” because, when done correctly, the player hops and splits the feet apart and lands in an athletic squatting position. The very most important movement after the serve is the Split‐Step. It is the move returners make to time the return of serve. Also, after the return, BOTH players engage in a rally of constant split‐steps because the balls is continuously hit and you split‐step EVERY TIME the ball is hit by your opponent.
The “Split Step” is the most important move in most sports, especially tennis. It is the MOST important move to a player in a defensive situation trying to react to the offensive player. (Yes, it is that important!)
1- Hop a couple of inches up in the air forward about 1ft to split the feet apart allowing the body to land in an athletic squatting position. Do it!
2-The feet should land wide (at the same time) so the inside of your knee lines up with the outside of your shoulders. Do Split Step 1 and 2! Yes, it is wide. That is what it feels like to be athletic!
Let’s do it together…don’t be lazy!
3‐In the athletic squatting position, the toes should be pointing outward, the left toes pointing at 11o’clock and the right toes pointing at 1o’clock. Do Split Step 1, 2, and 3!
4‐You should land on the balls of your toes with your heal in the air. Do Split Step 1, 2, 3, and 4 FIVE TIMES CORRECTLY!
Why do you do it? (I’ll try to keep the list small with so many reasons)
1. Rhythm “Splitting and moving keeps you grooving!” It keeps you in rhythm with the player hitting the ball. Moving in rhythms (like skiing down a mountain) will allow you to move more efficiently while conserving energy. NO! It is not just for the young and in‐shape people. It is for every tennis player old or young. It is actually more work to stand then panic with your feet to play catch‐up. You just have to make it a habit. You feel so much more elegant and smooth. Now, you really feel tennis!
2. Change of direction‐ because you do not know where your opponent is trying to hit the ball, you need to be ready to go in any direction. Having both of your feet on the ground at the same time and both of your legs bent in a squatting position will allow you to have a crucial explosive move to the direction you need to go.
3. Toes‐ “Point the Toes and GO GO GO!”
a. The toes are pointed outward for your weight to be transferred on the front of your foot instead of the side of your foot. This will allow you to push off with more foot for more support to allow a faster push off.
b. When one foot is pushing, the toes on the other foot are already pointing in the direction you want to go which allows that foot to grab the court and push off immediately. If your foot is pointed forward in the split‐step, you have to pick up your foot, and then point it in the direction you are going. This is an unnecessary extra step.
4. “Heals Up saves the ankles!”
a. If you have problems with spraining your ankles or bad ankles, keep your heals off the ground. When you push off the ground with the heals up, the feet will swivel while maintaining weight on the balls of the toes. If you are flat footed, you end up pushing off the side of your foot which leads to bad ankles and ankle sprains.
b. allows your toes to be ready to push your body immediately in the direction you want to go.
c. Strengthens the ankles!
5. Focus‐ It forces you to watch the ball being hit by your opponent. This is key to staying in the moment which is a problem many players have.
6. Strokes!‐ So many players that come to me are “fixated on fixing” their strokes. If they are not split‐stepping and moving in time they are late to the ball. If they are late to the ball, they cannot hit the ball in their “strike zone”. If they are not hitting the ball in their strike zone, there is a very good chance their stroke will look like a convulsion and finish in all places of the body instead of over the shoulder.
When do you do it?
1. EVERY SINGLE TIME your opponent hits the ball!!
a. Return of Serve‐ When your opponent serves, be ready to split‐step when they hit the balls to return it back.
b. Rally‐ Every time your opponent hits the ball, you split‐step. Whenever you hit the ball, your opponent should split‐step as well. That means if you have a 20 ball rally, you and your opponent each hit the ball 10 times, you should split‐step 10 times and your opponent should split‐step 10 times.
c. Volley’s‐ Even if your opponent hits a volley, you should split‐step.
2. Timing the Start of the Split‐ Step many players are different from each other. They process the movement of their opponent differently. Some players start going into their split‐step when the opponent’s racquet moves to the ball. Some players start their split‐step when the take their racquet back. However you process your opponents movement, do what it takes to get the butt all the way down exactly at the contact of your opponents racquet on the ball or…..
3. Timing the Split‐Step‐ the ideal timing of the split‐step is timing the end of your butt drop with the contact of the ball with the racquet of your opponent.
That means when you split‐step, as previously discussed, you go into an athletic squatting position. When you squat, your butt drops down like you are sitting in a chair. As soon as your butt stops dropping, you move. As soon as your opponent’s racquet hits the ball, the ball moves. This is a relationship that needs to together like mom and dad.
If you want to improve, be mentally prepared to move!