T3 – How Shakria Helped Me Be A Better Volleyer

How Shakira Helped Me Be A Better Volleyer

By Kyle Mollison, USPTA

I can’t say that I’ve learned a lot from Latin pop stars. I’ve learned that no matter how much money J-Lo makes that she’ll still be Jenny from the Block and that “Livin La Vida Loca” can lead to catching a cold from taking your clothes off and going dancing in the rain, but certainly nothing about tennis, or any sport, or so I thought …

One of the keys to being an effective net player is being able to anticipate and react quickly in order to move to the ball. This anticipation can look like second nature to seasoned players, but there are also plenty of 4.0 and 4.5s that are still completely lost when anticipating where a ball is going. Not to toot my own horn (toot toot) but I am fortunate in that this part of tennis has always pretty easily to me; however the challenge became how can I explain it to my students. Then it hit me one late on a drive home from PCT:

Oh baby when you talk like that
You make a tennis player go mad
So be wise (si) and keep on (si)
Reading the signs of the body …


How To Read An Opponents Hips

The way that your opponents hips are set up can be a great indicator on how they’re going to hit the ball. The key is being able to see 2 things: whether they are open or closed to the net, and the degree to which they are open or closed.

First – are your opponents hips open or closed? For those players who are also golfers know that if you were to draw an imaginary line from your back foot’s toes to your front foot’s toes  that would be a good indication of where the ball is likely going to go; the same holds true in tennis. If the line connecting your toes is pointing to the left of center on a forehand we will say that the stance, as well as the hips, is OPEN. Which means that if the line connecting your toes is pointing to the right (or completely straight) we will say that the stance is CLOSED. The opposite is true for the backhand (left is closed, right is open). Just like in golf, the direction that line is pointing is a good indication of where the ball is going to want to go.

Second – just how open or closed are your opponents hips? Another great way to think about stances is to think about the face of a clock. In particular, imagine that you are standing at the center of the face of a clock, so directly in front of you is 12-noon, and directly behind you is 6. This mental image helps show the degree of openness or closed-ness of your hips. If I take my racquet back on my backswing and my belly button goes past 9 o’clock (on a backhand) or 3’clock (on a forehand) my stance is likely very closed. On the other side of that coin if when I take my racquet back and my belly button stays between 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock (so 10,11, 12, 1, or 2 o’clock) my stance is likely more open. Now when I try to read my opponents stance if I can see their belly button (meaning that from my opponents frame of reference it is between 9 and 3 o’clock) their stance is more open, and if I cannot see their belly button (it is either past 9 or 3 o’clock to my opponent) their stance is closed.

Reading Hips As a Net Player When My Partner Is Serving

When you are playing net when your partner is serving you have a great opportunity to read the returners hips. Say your opponent is returning on the deuce half. When is a good time to poach? How can I help my partner out and try to steal some easy volleys for my partner? Well, if my partner serves up the t will it likely go more crosscourt or down the line? The answer is a resounding, “well it depends” – namely on my opponents stance. If my opponent lines up to hit the backhand and their stance stays more open, again meaning that the line connecting their toes is pointing more towards their right (down the line) and I can still see their belly button, it will likely go down the line. Conversely if my opponent turns and lines up with the line connecting their toes points to their left (crosscourt) and I cannot see their belly button their stance is more closed and it will likely go crosscourt.

So generally if my opponent doesn’t have the best footwork and my partner serves it up the t on the deuce side, I should expect the ball to go more down the line, towards me. The same is true on the ad side, if my partner serves up the t, and my opponent doesn’t (or can’t) really close off their stance they will have a hard time getting the ball cross court. On the other side of the coin if my partner serves more out wide and my opponent keeps their stance more open the ball will likely want to go crosscourt, and if they have the time to close their stance off the ball will likely go more down the line. This means that if my partner serves out wide really well and my opponent fights to get and leaves their stance open that the ball will still want to go cross court, but likely won’t be hit very low or hard which says to me 1 thing – POACH!

So thats it, I had a shocking moment of clarity all thanks to latin-pop princess Shakira. Your hips don’t lie, and neither do your opponents. Just remember this last bit from her certifiable JAM featuring Wyclef Jean:

“you know I’m on tonight and my hips don’t lie
And I am starting to feel it’s right
The attraction, the tension
Baby, like this is perfection”

You too can read your opponent and like perfection, just remember, hips don’t lie …


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