Sports performance people are always looking for new ideas to use when training athletes. I thought that I would share something that has had good results with my athletes. One of the things that I like to use during agility and ladder drills is a tennis ball. Now, I don’t use it all of the time and I don’t use it with beginning athletes. Otherwise, I try to find ways to incorporate it into the drills frequently. I have them catch it during the drill, catch it as they finish a drill, catch it and toss it back to me, or anything else that I can come up with. So why do I use it?
Reasons To Use A Tennis Ball
- It forces the athlete to keep their head up. I understand an athlete keeping their head down while doing ladder drills for the first few times. However, as one coach used to tell kids “The ground has been there for millions of years. It’s not gonna move.” Once the athlete has a feel for the movement, they need to keep their head up. If you play sports with your head down you’re in deep trouble. This is when I will toss them a tennis ball during the drill. It forces them to keep their head up (or get bopped in the nose).
- It makes drills more complex. You should always have a way to progress a drill. It should start out simple and then progress to something that is more complex. When you add something to a basic ladder or agility drill, it makes it more complex. In sports, athletes have to adapt and react to what is happening on the court or field. They must make combine simple actions into more complex ones. By making an athlete catch or throw a tennis ball while doing a drill, you have taken a simple action (footwork to complete the drill) and made it more complex.
- Helps teach transitions. Almost any sport is full of transitions from one action or speed to another action or speed. Think of a soccer player running up the field who must then trap a ball that is passed to him. He has to transition from pure running to the action of trapping the ball. By incorporating a tennis ball at the end of a drill, an athlete is forced to change from one action (the drill) to another (catching the ball). The goal is to make this transition as smooth and quick as possible. I like to have an athlete catch the ball at the end of a drill and then sprint a few steps. This forces them to transition from the drill to the catch and then again to the sprint.
Now, I’m sure someone is wondering why I use a tennis ball and not some other type of ball. I do admit that for true sport specificity, a tennis ball may not be the best thing. If you are training a football player, you should use a football. However, I do have my reasons for using tennis balls:
- Tennis balls are fairly harmless so if the athlete doesn’t catch it, there isn’t any danger.
- Tennis balls are cheap.
- Tennis balls are easy to keep with you.