By Damon Leedale-Brown, Sports Scientist & Conditioning Specialist
As coaches and players, when we talk about technique, it is easy to narrow our focus around the swing, and analysis of the swing can too often become detached and out of context from what is actually going on with the rest of the body.
Many players can appear to have ‘good swing technique’ when given space and time to hit a ball in the middle of the court, but it is amazing how quickly things can break down as soon as they are required to move into more challenging positions on the court and given considerably less time to play the shot. You may have played what could be considered the ‘Warm Up Specialist’! The player that looks like a million dollars in the warm up where they can feed easy balls to themselves, but seems to be a completely different player as soon as the level of movement, tactical and positional pressure builds up in the game.
Of course the reality of playing a competent opponent is that they rarely give you easy balls to play with time through the middle or front of the court. They will always be searching for the opportunity to apply pressure to your technique through a combination of tight balls on the walls and consistency into all four corners giving you little space to play with, and will use a combination of different lengths, heights, pace, angles and timing of shots to create pressure on your movement.
If you take the time to watch top players in the World play there are many impressive areas that can be observed in their movement that help them play with the accuracy, finesse, power and deception that are a feature of this level of play. They are quick off the mark and light on their feet; they dis- play great balance and strength on the ball; they are quick to recover position when hitting from the corners—back or front; they have the ability to adapt and make very subtle adjustments to their positioning on the ball. They also show great flow, rhythm and relaxation in their movement which can give the impression that things are pretty easy out there even when they are moving at high tempo and under significant pressure. All of these features in their movement are designed to put them in the best hitting position on the ball an extremely high percentage of the time.
Players that I would recommend watching from the World Tour that display these movement qualities and many other great attributes of athleticism and movement skills are James Willstrop (World No. 1), Nick Matthew (World No. 2 & World Champion), Amr Shabana (former World No. 1 & World Champion), Nicol David (World No. 1 & World Champion), and Jenny Duncalf (World No. 2).
Clearly movement is a huge part of success in the game and should be considered an integral part of a player’s overall technical skill alongside their swing technique. I see numerous players whose so-called “technical issues with the swing” are largely a result of poor movement and positioning on the ball, putting them in positions where technique is always going to be compromised. In the next issue we will take a look at what could be considered to be some common movement errors made by developing players, and also start to explore different training techniques to help improve footwork and movement skill.
Next time you are on court try and be more aware of specific aspects of your movement and positioning: are you reaching or over-lunging for balls that you could be playing in a more compact and controlled position by taking an extra step? Are you crowding the balls in the back corner, limit- ing your ability to play straight balls accurately from the back? Do you feel you could be quicker off the mark and onto the ball earlier? A better awareness of your footwork and movement should help you understand those areas that could be improved upon through focused on-and off-court training which we will be leading into.