Game, Set, Dash! How to Sprint like the Pros
The best tennis players from around the world will gather in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., this weekend.
While all eyes may be on blazing serves and ferocious backhands, there’s another group of athletes on the court that doesn’t get the attention it deserves: the ballpeople.
Charged with ensuring the game on the court runs smoothly and without interruption, the ball kids squat, crawl and sprint across the court picking up wayward balls and handing out towels to perspiring players.
According to speed and agility expert Luis Badillo Jr., aspiring ballpeople looking to hone their craft in advance of the legendary tournament should focus on lateral quickness during their training.
“I’m a big tennis fan,” says Badillo. “You have to be able to go in any direction as quickly as possible to beat your opponent, and ballpeople need that same skill to do their own jobs well.”
Badillo says learning proper technique is essential to success.
“The top skills for a ball person are to stay low and stay light on your feet,” he says.
“You might want to lean forward for extra momentum to get to the ball quicker, and don’t be too flat-footed or you will waste too much time on the ground. And pump your arms to move to where you need to be as quickly as possible.”
Badillo developed five drills for ballpeople to practice their speed and agility and learn the most crucial skills for their hard court debut.
Drill No. 1: Getting off the Line Quickly
Set up a standard agility ladder and run through it with high knees, focusing on pulling your knees to your chest.
“Exaggerated movements like high knees help you practice technique so you’re ready for the real situation when it comes,” says Badillo.
“In this case, it teaches you to stay light on your toes while moving fast, which is crucial to developing speed starting from a crouched position.”
Drill No. 2: Picking Strays up on the Fly
Set up a two cones about eight feet apart. Run by them, staying low enough to tap the top of the cones with your hand as you pass them.
“Staying low is important so you can pick up balls without breaking your stride,” says Badillo.
“Don’t waste time running upright and then having to bend down to pick up the balls.”
Drill No. 3: Sprinting Across the Court
Set up hurdles a few feet apart across the length of the court and sprint over them as fast as you can.
“The hurdle is for explosiveness, or how fast you can get your feet off the ground,” says Badillo. “This drill teaches you to achieve maximum speed over a short distance.”
Drill No. 4: Stopping on a Dime
Set up two cones about four feet apart. Run two ovals around them then continue your run across the length of the court.
“Ballpeople have to be comfortable changing direction quickly,” says Badillo.
“Lean forward and keep your center of gravity low so you can take sharp turns without falling down.”
Drill No. 5: Picking up Multiple Balls at Once
Set up a ladder and place two tennis balls on either side, evenly spaced apart. Run through the ladder with two feet in each box and then two feet out, picking up the balls as you pass them.
“The ladder helps you practice footwork in any direction, which is important when the ballpeople sprint across the court picking up multiple balls during warm-ups,” Badillo says.
How do you put Badillo’s agility drills into practice? Let us know by tweeting @Reebok!