As we have discussed, every player at any level can work to improve anticipation skills through practice. However, it is critical to understand what types of practice and drills can enhance anticipation, and what types of practice and drills are harmful to developing anticipation skills.
Beneficial Drills – Drilling concepts that improve and enhance anticipation skills
If you review and incorporate the fundamental principles discussed above when you are setting up a drill, you will find that you can make simple refinements to almost any drill to enhance its beneficial anticipation components.
In general, you should focus on drills that require concentration, court awareness, decision-making, pattern development, problem-solving, and tactical adjustments. These drills can be live ball or dead ball drills. However, they need to cultivate tactical awareness and overall skills which will directly contribute to anticipation. The best drills will very often be open-ended live ball drills, meaning that the player is not sure of where their partner will be hitting the ball. This allows for the player to split step, read, and ultimately anticipate. In short, this type of drill will more closely simulate match conditions.
Drills to AVOID – Drilling concepts that stifle anticipation skills
Random feeding: This type of drill can involve random feeding either out of the hand or fed from the racquet. Random is the key word here, as there is really no rhyme or reason as to where a ball is hit. Therefore, there is no development of patterns or awareness of what to expect. Students learn very little from the cues of the stroke, and they often have inadequate time to do a proper split step. This is probably the single most damaging type of drilling, as it contributes to the unlearning of anticipation skills. Coaches should avoid random feeding, particularly that which does not allow adequate time for the player to properly split step.
Improper Dead Ball Drills: These drills force the player to quickly change direction and position himself in a way that has no relation to the ball that he has just hit. For example, the coach stands one side of the court and randomly fires balls all over the court. If the player hits the ball to the open court, he cannot follow the usual process of positioning himself in preparing to pick up the normal cues and clues from his opponent running to the ball. Rather, the next ball is fired by the coach from the other side of the court. As a result, there is no anticipation component in the player’s movement. In fact, this type of drill undermines and diminishes the player’s existing knowledge of positioning, timing of the split step, and essentially all aspects of anticipation.
Improper Two-on-One Drills: When this type of drill is done improperly, the player does not have adequate time to recover, position, and read cues as he or she would do in a competitive situation. I have found that excessive two-on-one drilling will often diminish the player’s shot selection and development of patterns. It also stifles their recognition of when their opponent’s position will create opportunities to take advantage of.
Other Drills to Avoid: Avoid spending too much time on drills in which the player knows in advance where the ball will be fed and/or hit. In situations like this, the player will not look to read cues and evaluate where their opponent is positioned within the court. Rather, he or she will simply move to the location where the ball is “supposed” to be fed or hit. Obviously, some of this type of training is necessary, but it is important to understand that it has a propensity to diminish anticipation skills if it is done too frequently.