Fitness During Tournaments for Tennis Players Trying to be Elite

Courtesy of Todd Widom
Courtesy of Todd Widom

Here is another helpful article from coach Todd Widom on one way elite players set themselves apart from the rest of the pack.

This past December I had a discussion with a young touring professional  who was having trouble sustaining his level of fitness during matches on the ATP tour.  He had some very good chances to win matches against good players, but he would run out of gas and not be able to sustain his level of play.  After telling me his physical issues during his matches, he asked me if he should be doing fitness during tournaments.  My quick response was of course.

The vast majority of your children are not going to do what this article is discussing.  To be elite in this sport, you have to be different than the rest, and it is the small things that make the biggest difference if you want to be special.  If you do not go above and beyond the call of duty, you will be like the rest.  It all depends what your child wants out of their tennis.

Included in this article is information on fitness for those who are trying to become elite junior tennis players.  The norm for a junior tennis player is to warm up for their match, play their match, maybe stretch 5 to10 minutes, get food, maybe play another match or go to the movies, or hang out with their tennis friends for the rest of the day.  If the junior tennis player trains well for a tournament, they should be physically fit entering each and every tournament.  The reality is that if this player does not keep up their level of fitness during tournaments, they will be out of shape when they come back to train once their tournament is complete.  For every day they skip doing some physical fitness during a tournament, they will lose a bit of their physical conditioning, which will have to be boosted up again when they come home to train.

Doing fitness during a tournament will help maintain one’s fitness level and it is not about becoming more fit or stronger.  You want to try your best to maintain your level of fitness so that when you get home to train, you are not starting from scratch, and you can keep progressing to becoming more fit and stronger.  From a parental perspective I know what you are thinking:  I do not want my child to be tired for their next match the next day, I want them fresh.  If your child has been training well and is fit, doing 30 minutes of exercises is going to keep them sharp, because they should be used to doing lots of tough physical work at home.  If your child has two tough matches in a day at a tournament, then doing anything strenuous is not too smart, but if your child has some easy matches or one easy match, I would highly recommend them doing some very sport specific exercises to keep them sharp at tournaments.

This comes down to common sense.  For example, if your child has an easy match or two in one day, they definitely should proceed to do fitness for at least 20 to30 minutes.  They should do tennis specific movements to keep their fast twitch muscles firing for the matches the next day.  They could also do some body weight exercises, core or band work for some upper body strength.  If your child had a brutal day at a tournament and is tired, they should have a very good cool down session and recover well for the next match.  This may consist of a light jog or bike ride to flush out all the lactic acid that developed in their muscles.  Then you need a great recovery plan to make sure your child wakes up the next day with a fresh body so that they are able to compete again.  I will discuss the recovery plan in a future article.

As I discussed earlier in the article, most kids are not going to do this without someone helping them, and if they do this on their own, you have a very special mature young person on your hands.  Tennis is becoming a more physical game and the ball is going faster generation after generation.  I can tell you that many injuries come from improper training.  Also, tennis players who have become out of shape and then trying to push their bodies to higher levels of fitness or tennis when their bodies cannot handle that type of training at that moment, is a recipe for injuries.  When a player is at a tournament, it is all about trying to maintain your level of fitness so that when you come home to train, you are not out of shape and having to start from zero.  I always tell the players I train on a daily basis, that if you think your matches at tennis tournaments are very tough physically, then you are not fit enough.  Your training should always be tougher physically than your tournament matches, and if this is not the case, then you need to train tougher physically.  Best of luck and remember that going to tournaments are fun, but you also need to keep up with your fitness if you want to keep progressing physically.

Specialists vs. Generalists

Image courtesy of m3design.com
Image courtesy of m3design.com

 

Today’s Guest Post is written by Ryan Segelke of High-Altitude Tennis. Enjoy!

Throughout my training career, I have been very lucky to have the opportunity to work with many ambitious athletes that have gone on to achieve great things in their sport, not to mention their professional lives after they “retire.”  I periodically look back on some athletes that I knew, but did not have the opportunity to work with.  Some in particular, could have achieved more (at least in the athletic arena), but were hindered by a couple main things: lack of love for the game, or perhaps their program hindered their potential.

Does this mean I know everything and they would have been able to turn professional if they worked with me?  Certainly not.  But I cannot help to periodically think about these athletes that did not seem to reach their full potential and wonder “what if?”  Below is just one of my recommendations on how to allow your child to maximize their athletic potential:

Work With A Specialist

By working with a specialist, I mean find a complete program that has everything your child will need to have the best chance to achieve their athletic goals – and whose sole focus is just that.  If you program is not complete or is focused on many different things other than your child’s development, and you have to outsource aspects such as a fitness trainer, sports psychologist or nutritionist, make sure you do your do diligence and ensure they are a specialist in their field.

Far too often, I have seen families settle for a generalist rather than seeking out and working with a specialist.  At least in the fitness training realm, a generalist will typically work at a club and work with anyone that will pay them for their services.  They could train a 60 year old man with the goal of stress relief at 4 pm, a 45 year old woman that wants to lose 30 pounds at 5 pm, and then your child for tennis at 6 pm.  Does this make sense?  Is this trainer really specializing and devoting all of their time to developing the best tennis players?  Or are they just taking on any person that will pay them, regardless of that person’s goals?

When searching for a fitness trainer for your child’s tennis, I would suggest asking these questions (and similar ones) to ensure you are picking the best:

  • How long have they focused on training tennis players only?
  • What sort of education do they have? Do they have any tennis specific training education?
  • What are some of their results? Can they furnish exact results of what they have helped the athletes they train achieve?

Do not be afraid to ask the tough questions, challenge their assertions and take a hard look at your child’s program.  Realistically, your child only gets one opportunity to play tennis as a junior.  It would be a shame to look back and wonder, “what if?”

Mallorca: Final Chapter

IMG_1409My son’s month in Mallorca came to an end on August 30, 2013. He returned home to Atlanta safe and sound, maybe a bit taller, more than a bit stronger, and definitely more mature and responsible.

As we expected, additional information about his time in Mallorca has come to light since his return. My son has shared his experiences with the other players training there and his experiences with the various coaches – both on and off the court. We found out that he had a narrow escape with an early exit his first week, something neither he nor the coaches informed us about at the time. Instead of calling home in a panic, my son handled the situation himself, making amends for his transgression, and was allowed to stay and flourish for the remainder of the month. Whew!

We also found out that the first week was really tough – even tougher than my son let on when we spoke to him – but that things got progressively better as he became acclimated to the expectations and intensity of the Global Tennis Team program. He played a tournament each week of his stay, progressing and even eventually winning his final event, beating a player he had lost to in the early days there. The coaches were very pleased with his development over such a short period and encouraged him to keep working hard once he returned home.IMG_0986

Perhaps one of the best things that came out of this experience was my son’s recognition that his version of 100% effort really wasn’t 100%, that he had more inside of himself to give. It took some tough words from Jofre to spark that realization, but once it hit, my son was able to train at a much higher level and to see that he could set his goals a bit higher because he had it within himself to reach them with hard work and commitment. He brought that realization home and shared it with his coach, Julius, in hopes that they can continue to build on that foundation created in Spain. My son told Julius that he now understands that what happens on the court should stay there, that just because a coach is harsh during training doesn’t mean he can’t be your friend and confidant once the training is done. Because Julius is generally such a nice guy, my son wasn’t sure Julius could be tougher on him during their training, but Julius assured him he can be as tough on him as he needs!

My son has met with both Julius and his fitness trainer, Marcus, to discuss the specifics of his daily routine at Global. While he was still in Mallorca, he even went so far as to write notes about the drills and workouts each day so he could replicate them at home. He has seen what’s available to him internationally, tennis-wise, and he wants a piece of it! My hope is that his enthusiasm stays with him as he faces the inevitable ups and downs of being back at home and back at school – the rules and laws here are certainly much different than what he experienced in Mallorca. To his credit, though, he has adapted well and is even getting himself up on time for school – an enormous improvement to our morning routine!

Another “best thing” that came out of the trip was the post-training evaluation sent to us by Jofre. I’ve never received such a detailed report on my son’s training and competitive strengths and weaknesses, including not only his tennis strokes and movement but also his attitude and “mentality” as Jofre dubs it. And, coaches, take it from me: this kind of thing goes a very long way with us parents. The report was formatted in 4 sections: Introduction, which included a summary of his progression and commitment; Technique, which discussed his forehand, backhand, return of serve, and volley; Tactical, which addressed the pattern of his game, strategy, tactics, and mentality; and Conclusion, which finished with this very thoughtful statement: “Well-aimed ambition helps us grow as human beings.”

If you are considering a program like Global for your junior, I am more than happy to chat with you in more detail about my son’s experiences. All of my contact information is on the About Lisa page of this site, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Boys Will Be Boys

boys fighting

Three weeks ago, I got a call at work from my son.  “Mom,” he said, “I woke up this morning and my right knee was killing me.  I can’t bend it without it hurting really bad.  Can you please take me to the doctor?”

Of course, my first question was how did he injure it.  His answer was that he didn’t know, that he just woke up with it hurting, that maybe he slept on it funny or something.  Given that he had spent the night at a friend’s house, and given that some other boys had been over hanging out with them earlier in the evening, I was highly doubtful that his knee just magically started hurting for no reason.  He had played a tough tournament the weekend before and was physically fine, so I knew there was more to the story.

Turns out, there was.  My son had gotten into a physical squabble with one of the other boys (I’m still not clear on how it started!), and the other boy threw my son onto the floor, banging his knee directly on the patella.  My son didn’t want to tell me about the fight because he knew I’d be furious that he was fooling around and risking an injury in the middle of a busy summer, tennis-wise.  He knew he had done something really stupid and felt badly about it.  I think his coach had already given him an earful about personal responsibility and taking care of his body once he heard about the knee trouble, so my son didn’t want to have to hear it again from his mom!

My husband and I both figured he had probably simply bruised it pretty badly and that it would take a few days to feel better.  In the meantime, we told our son to rest it and ice it to speed up the process.  He called his coach who agreed to feed him balls so he wouldn’t have to do any lateral movement on the court but would be able to maintain his strokes and timing while the knee healed.  That went on for several days.

Once he was feeling better, he decided to test out his knee in practice.  He played a set against one of the other boys and seemed to be feeling and moving just fine.  But, then he took an awkward step to the side and felt a twinge.  Not a good sign!  Luckily, he had an appointment with the orthopedist scheduled for the next morning, so he could have it checked out a bit more thoroughly.  The xrays came back normal – no ACL tear (thank goodness!) and no other visible damage.  The doctor said there is a slight chance that my son has a micro-tear in his knee cap, which wouldn’t show up on an xray, so he ordered an MRI for the following week.  In the meantime, he said, my son could continue hitting as long as the balls were fed directly to him, but no match play and no hard-core drills until after the MRI.

The drive home from the doctor’s office was rough.  I was really upset over the possible patellar tear, and I guess I didn’t do a very good job of hiding my emotion.  My son said, “Look, Mom, don’t you think I’m angry about this, too?  Don’t you think I know how stupid it was to get into that fight?  But, it’s in the past – there’s nothing I can do to change it.  Now, I just have to focus on getting better so I can get back on the court.”  My response to him: “I’m proud of your attitude and that you’re taking responsibility here, and I’ll try to be as mature as you over this, okay?  But, no promises.”

Since my dad is an orthopedist, too, I immediately got in touch with him to report on what the local doctor had told us.  My dad reassured me that, based on my description of the injury, it’s likely just a bruise that will heal over a few days.  But, he emphasized, it’s important to follow the recommendations of the doctor who actually examined my son and to take the necessary precautions until an MRI could confirm what’s going on with the knee.

Standing in the same spot and hitting forehands and backhands is great for keeping your timing sharp but it does nothing for maintaining stamina or leg strength, so it was time to engage my son’s fitness trainer for some ideas.  The trainer told him to get in the pool and do some very specific interval training – that way, he wouldn’t be putting stress on the knee but would still be able to keep up his endurance level.  Swimming is NOT my son’s favorite way to exercise, and he certainly wasn’t excited to trade court time for pool time, but he complied.

The MRI is scheduled for this afternoon with a follow-up orthopedist appointment tomorrow morning.  At that point, we should know the status of the injury and whether or not my son can resume his regularly scheduled training program.  Of course, we’re hoping the MRI shows a normal knee – no tear in the patella, no strained tendon, no micro-fracture.  My son is supposed to head down to South Florida on Sunday for a week of tennis camp with Carlos Goffi.  I’m hoping he can go.  I’ll report more after tomorrow’s appointment.

 

The More Things Change . . .

change-wordle

While I was away on vacation, I received an email from the office manager at the club where my son trains.  It seems the head coach of the tennis program has sold his ownership in the club to my son’s primary coach and one of the other coaches there.  I assume he decided it was time to move on to the next phase of his life, to attend to some health matters, and to spend more of his time fishing and enjoying his grandchildren – after all, he has been at this tennis thing for many, many years, helping hundreds of young players reach their goals both on and off the court.  There may be more to the story than that, but, frankly, it’s of little consequence to anyone except those directly impacted.

But, this new wrinkle means it’s once again time to evaluate my son’s coaching and training situation, and, given the timing (summer vacation and all that), it seems the best course of action, at least for now, is to wait and see.  Wait and see where the other players land.  Wait and see what coaching staff is added (or not).  Wait and see what changes the new owners will implement.

My son is heading down to South Florida for a week of tennis camp after the July 4th holiday.  Then, it looks like more travel is in his immediate future (I’ll elaborate in a future post).  That means we don’t have to make any decisions right now.  We can let the dust settle a bit over these next several weeks, and, in the meantime, my son can keep hitting with his coach and the other players who are in town, continuing to work on his game and his fitness.

Once my son is back in town for a while, we’ll need to ask some tough questions of ourselves and of the coach.  I’m hoping that these next few weeks will give all of us time to devise those questions and come up with some answers.  We’re hoping the answers lead us right back to Olde Towne and Coach Julius – as I’ve written many times before, my son (and his parents) loves his current coach and would really like to keep things as they are now.  For those of you who have been through a recent coaching change with your child, I would love to hear the questions YOU asked – please share them in the Comments box below.

Oh, The Sacrifices We Make!

My oldest daughter, Emma, didn’t come by the acting bug by accident.  Oh, no!  She inherited that vital gene directly from her momma.  And, believe me, it’s a STRONG one.  In my LBT (Life Before Tennis), I owned a fitness business and spent many, many hours promoting it as an “expert” on the radio, the Web, tv, and in front of live audiences.  I never passed up an opportunity to be on camera (or on mic), even when it meant schlepping my infant son across the country on an 8-city promo tour with an athletic shoe company.

So, last week, when I was given a lead for a new reality television show about Tennis Moms (a la Dance Moms), I jumped on it.  I called the producer and spoke with her at length about my experiences in the Junior Tennis World as well as with the media, thinking I would be the perfect candidate for her.  The thought of being on tv again excited me.  I was already trying to figure out how I would squeeze in more workout sessions before the show taped so I would be at my fittest and strongest on camera and how in the world I was going to afford new clothes.

And then my son came home.

And I told him about the tv show.

And he begged me not to pursue it.

And this is one more tiny little sacrifice I will make for one of my kids.  Because that’s what we parents do – we sometimes put aside our own wants (and even needs) for our kids.  In this case, it was an easy decision.  My son has worked too long and too hard for me to risk jeopardizing his efforts because of my own narcissistic tendencies.  He’s right – by being part of a show that will magnify the already-huge personalities of some extreme tennis parents, I would be putting him in an awkward (at best!) position with his tennis peers, their parents, and the governing body.

I honored my son’s wishes and stepped away from the tv project.  I figure that just frees me up when the Tennis Channel comes calling!

How To Find A Qualified Fitness Trainer

Today’s article was contributed by our friends at the International Tennis Performance AssociationResearch continues to support the need for outside fitness training for athletes, especially those who are specializing in one sport and one sport only.  While there is an on-going debate regarding the “right” age to start training, the consensus is that junior athletes need to do work in the gym each week in order to keep their growing bodies in balance.  When you have time, be sure to look at ITPA’s website, blog, and Facebook page for more information regarding tennis-specific certifications for fitness trainers and coaches looking to have a better understanding of all the physical aspects of tennis.  

Finding certified, competent, qualified fitness trainers to work with your tennis-playing child is one of the most important decisions you will make as a tennis parent. Finding the right fitness trainer (also called a tennis performance specialist) could be the difference between the success or failure of your child as he or she develops through the tournament tennis journey. These individuals may have a background as a personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, athletic trainer or physical trainer, but the most important component that they need to have is an understanding of the sport of tennis and also an understanding of growth and development issues as children progress through pre-puberty, during puberty and post-puberty.

When interviewing potential tennis performance specialists, it is important to take into account the following major areas:

Work Experience And Area Of Specialization

Ask how many years of experience the individual has working with athletes, but specifically working with tennis athletes. There are many great professionals who do not have tennis experience, but with the right education could become great tennis performance specialists because they have a strong background training athletes in other sports. Do they have experience working with young athletes at different stages of puberty?  Do they have appropriate certifications? In the fitness industry, many certifications exist. Some are very good, while others are very limited. In general the base certifications include the following major organizations (in no specific order):

National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA)

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

American Council on Exercise (ACE)

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

International Fitness Professional Association (IFPA)

National Council on Strength & Fitness (NCSF)

National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)

National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association (NESTA)

All these organizations have different goals and objectives in their certification programs. The NSCA is aimed at certifying individuals who will predominantly train athletes. ACSM is an organization focused on education and training for individuals who will be working with the general population and major or minor chronic diseases. The other organizations fall along a spectrum between these two industry leading associations.

Although all these organizations provide a good base certification for a personal trainer, they do not go into the specifics needed to train tennis athletes. The International Tennis Performance Association (ITPA) has the only internationally-recognized tennis-specific performance enhancement and injury prevention certification. The educational program involves a tennis-focused curriculum which assesses an individual’s knowledge in 20 tennis-specific competencies framed in three broad areas:

1)       Tennis-specific performance enhancement

2)       Tennis-specific injury prevention

3)       Tennis-specific leadership/communication

Education

While a base fitness certification from one of the organizations listed above is vital, it is also important to look for an individual with a college degree in exercise science (kinesiology) or a related field. A master’s degree is definitely a bonus. This lets you know that your future hire has a solid educational foundation in exercise program design.

Ask For References

Ask the individual for names, phone numbers and even testimonials of other clients he/she has worked with, particularly those who share similar traits and goals. If available, call previous clients to see if they were satisfied with their training experience and results. Inquire whether the individual was professional, punctual and prepared, and performed a very high level of service.

Talk To The Tennis Performance Specialist

Developing a personal, yet professional relationship with your tennis performance specialist is very important. Trust your instincts. Ask yourself if you think you could get along well with the trainer personality wise, but also from a philosophy and training standpoint. It is important that the communication between the tennis performance specialist and the tennis parent is outstanding. The physical training of a tennis player is not an isolated occurrence. The work that occurs during training sessions carries over onto the court and seamless integration among the parent, coach and tennis performance specialist is paramount to success.

Summary

Hiring a competent tennis performance specialist to work on all aspects of physical training for your tennis playing child (or children) is important and requires an appropriate vetting process. Spending time making sure that the person has the right background to work with young tennis players is a very important decision and hopefully this article has provided some simple tips to help you make a great choice when deciding on your tennis performance specialist.