A few years ago when I was at a high-performance coaching seminar in Cincinnati, I heard a great expression, "Hit-and-Giggle Tennis." I loved the expression because it accurately portrayed recreational tennis distinctly in four words. Not that there is anything wrong with Hit-and-Giggle Tennis, but when I hear someone say that they play tennis seriously, and they hit, laugh with the person they are hitting with and laugh about it after the point is over, that person doesn't take their tennis seriously.
One thing takes that player to the next level in my eyes—split stepping.
With a simple split-step while the opponent is beginning their swing, the player is not only gaining dynamic balance and a quicker first step, but they are also focusing more on the shot. When evaluating a new junior at Glen Head, that is the first thing that I look for ... does the player split-step. If so, they take their tennis seriously. If not, either the player hasn't been well-coached yet and/or the player is a recreational player. If you don't do this automatically and\ want to take your tennis seriously, force it at first. After a while, it will become automatic. We have a rule in our junior drills that if you don't have a distinct split-step, you automatically lose the point.
Ok. So now you split-step. You take your tennis seriously. Maybe you are ready to play on your school team or enter a few tournaments. What is the next step to being a serious tennis player. One that college coaches will be interested in. The answer: FITNESS!!!
Back in the day, only about half of top juniors did off-court fitness. Now, it is an absolute necessity. Everyone hits the ball well but off-court conditioning is the key. At Glen Head we are so lucky to be bringing Beci Ilyes on board (aka Bitsy) who simply put, is the man. He has worked with Grand Slam quarterfinalists, Fed Cup players, World Team Tennis Players, Davis Cup players, Ivy League Tennis Players, as well as with National European Federations and at the esteemed Barcelona Tennis Academy. What makes him so great though, is that he works his player hard but he also does it tailored to the players age and game. He can work on quickness and agility with younger kids and makes it fun. He can work pros on power and speed with aspiring pros where it doesn't need to be as fun. He can do cardio-tailored things for adult league players as well. This guy can do it all and we are lucky to have him.
Remember ... if you take your tennis seriously ... split step! If you want to be a serious tennis player—off-court fitness!!
Ricky Becker is The Director of Tennis at Glen Oaks Club. Ricky also coaches high-performance juniors throughout the year and has been the Director of Tennis at three of Long Island’s biggest junior programs. As a player, Becker was the Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis team and ranked in the top-five nationally as a junior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 516-359-4843 or via juniortennisconsulting.com.