An important but often overlooked or misunderstood technical aspect of tennis is the position and movement of your head during a stroke. The right technique can prevent injuries while giving your shots more power and control. There is a lot of wrong information out there so in this article and the video below I will clarify and show you the right technique and how to do it.
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Why the correct head position is important.
The correct head position and movement during a forehand, backhand or serve allows your body move in a biomechanically optimum way. It eliminates resistance in your kinetic chain giving your shots more control and power.
An incorrect head position/movement during a tennis stroke does the opposite. It’s a dysfunctional movement that causes resistance in your stroke. This means you have less control and power on your shots. It can even result in injury.
Head position and movement.
For better technique on your groundstrokes, volleys, serve and smash there are three things to pay attention to:
Your head will never be in exactly the same position because every tennis stroke is different. However, the technical principles remain the same weather you’re hitting a forehand, backhand, serve, volley or overhead smash.
1. How should your head move before contact point?
The most important thing is to keep your neck and head relaxed as you wind up and begin to unwind. Allow your head to move, turn and rotate naturally with the rest of your body as you watch the ball.
In the gif above notice how little Andy Murray moves his head leading up to contact point. His head is stable only turning and tilting a little bit as the ball approaches.
2. What is the ideal head position at contact point?
As you make contact with the tennis ball your head and neck should be relaxed with your face turned forwards toward the net. Your head should not be strained and turned too much to one side.
Notice the position of Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray’s head in the image above. On both the forehand and backhand their entire body including their head is facing the net in front of them. This is the biomechanically ideal head position at contact point. Here is the same principle in action on the serve:
In the gif above of Goran Ivanisevic you’ll see that his head is facing forwards towards the net at contact point. His head is not angled upwards to look at the ball. Just like the groundstrokes and volleys this is the ideal head position on the serve.
Turning or angling your head to “watch the ball” milliseconds before and during contact point will not help your stroke. It happens so fast that you won’t actually see contact anyway. But even if you could, there are no benefits to doing so.
3. How should your head move after contact point?
After you make contact with the tennis ball it is important to let your head rotate along with the rest of your body as you finish your swing.
You do not want to “lock” it into place as this’ll cause unnecessary strain on your neck, shoulder and back making injuries more likely. It’ll also stop you fully “unwinding” decreasing the amount of power you can generate. Lastly, it can cause you to make contact with the ball in a weakened position to far in front of you.
In the above gif pay close attention to how Juan Martin del Potro moves his head after contact point. Even though his head is turned sideways more than is necessary at contact, notice how it turns forward towards the the net as he rotates and finishes his backhand follow through.
Remember, isolating your head (or any body part) from the rest of your body movement during a tennis stroke causes resistance in your kinetic chain decreasing power and control.
Technique summary and tips.
How to move and position your head for better tennis technique:
- Keep your neck and head relaxed for all tennis strokes.
- Before contact point keep your head stable with minimal movement.
- At contact point your head should ideally be facing forwards towards the net.
- After contact point allow your head to move naturally with the rest of your body.
- Do not “lock” your head in place at any point during a shot.
Come back to this list if you need a quick reminder before practice. The most important thing to remember is not to force any particular movement. Let your body move the way it naturally wants to.
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