What It Takes to Keep College Players Healthy

The following is Dr. Neeru Jayanthi’s presentation from the December 2015 ITA Coaches Convention in Naples, Florida. Simply click on the “pop-out” icon in the top right corner of the slide below, and the complete presentation will open in a new window for you to view.

In these slides, Dr. J talks about the specifics of keeping college tennis players healthy throughout the year. You can also listen to my latest podcast with Dr. J here. Parents, please view the slides yourself then share them with your child’s coach – these lessons apply to players at all levels of the game.

Sometimes You Just Need A Break

After playing 3 tough tournaments over the past 5 weekends – with 4 back-to-back tourneys looming ahead on the schedule – my son got sick.  Nothing serious, mind you, but just the kind of exhaustion-inspired viral junk that makes you feel like garbage.  It came on slowly at first but then hit like gangbusters the day before we were supposed to leave for the ITF event in South Carolina.  He begged me to call the doctor for an antibiotic in hopes that he could feel good enough by the next day to go to the ITF and perform well.  I urged him to super-hydrate, eat well, and visit the chiropractor in a last-ditch, non-antibiotic, effort to get him feeling better.  He skipped the meds, took my suggestions, but was still feeling lousy the next morning, so we made a joint decision to bag the ITF and take the weekend off.

It was the absolute right decision.  My son was exhausted, physically and mentally, from all the travel and competition.  He needed a break, and so did I.  He took four days off from tennis, four days off from physical activity of any kind, and just rested.  And rested.  And rested.

By Monday, he was feeling pretty much back to normal.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but my son is taking PE this semester.  And, because of his “Minimum Day” school schedule, he takes PE during Zero Period aka 7:10am.  Twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, his class has to do a 1.5 mile run.  He headed off to school Monday DREADING that run!

When he came home that afternoon to have lunch before heading off to drills, he told me that the run was “rough” – that every joint in his body was sore after doing nothing physically for four straight days.  He also told me that drills were going to be “rough,” too.  And, they were.

He only hit for about 90 minutes, much less time than normal for a Monday afternoon.  Afterward, he told me that it was definitely as tough as he anticipated.  I reminded him that his body needed the break.  I reminded him that the first day back on the court is always a little dicey.  I reminded him that he would feel stronger tomorrow.

And he did.  And I suspect that he will be just fine by the next tournament – mentally and physically ready to compete.  Sometimes you just need a break.

Back to Work

This week, I did something I hadn’t done for 14 years – I went to work for a boss other than myself.

When it was getting close to the time for my son to get his driver’s license, I had one of those AHA! moments and realized I was going to need something else to do with my afternoons once my chauffeuring skills were no longer needed.  While I was very content with my schedule of teaching fitness classes, playing tennis, Facebooking, Tweeting, blogging, and hosting my radio show, I knew my mental health was going to suffer if I didn’t find a reason to get out of my house for at least a few hours each week.  So, I started telling everyone I knew that I was looking for part-time work.

Part-time, for me, meant (1) I couldn’t work Mondays or Fridays or weekends because that would interfere with tournament travel with my son; (2) I couldn’t work Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday mornings because that would interfere with my yoga class and league tennis play; (3) I didn’t want a job that required me to bring work home, either literally or figuratively; and (4) most importantly, I needed to be home in time for dinner with my husband and son each night.  The ideal job candidate . . . NOT!  I knew it would be tough to find something that would accommodate my wonky scheduling needs, but I had faith that the Perfect Part-Time Job was out there somewhere.

My Facebook addiction paid off – a local magazine posted a job listing on its Facebook page for a young chiropractic office looking for an assistant.  The hours were Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 2:45-6:00pm.  Eureka!  I emailed the doctor my resume right away and almost immediately got a call to schedule an interview for the following afternoon.  The job description was right up my alley – answer phones, greet patients, and assist with patient communication.  The doctor and I hit it off, and he offered me the job the following day.

While it’s been a bit strange this week having to come home from my morning workout, take a shower, and put on Real Clothes and Make-Up, so far, I’m really enjoying the work.  I’m learning a lot about the chiropractic field and the different aspects of treatment.  I’m learning a lot about medical technology.  And, I’m learning a lot about building a practice from the ground up.  The people are great, and the social interaction is absolutely necessary for my mental well-being.

My husband and son have been great, too.  We had The Talk about how I wouldn’t be available to them on the afternoons I was working to run errands or drop off a forgotten book or extra tennis shirt.  So far, so good.  And, I’ve even managed to prepare food before I go to my job so we have that dinner to eat together that I mentioned above.

I know there will be days where I’m feeling rushed or overwhelmed, but I’m confident that my guys will help me find a good balance so we can make this work thing . . . well . . . WORK!  Wish me luck!

Our Impact On Our Children’s Development

The passages below are excerpts from a rather lengthy email I received this morning from sports psychologist, Dr. Jorge Valverde.  I am reprinting them with his permission.

Our responsibility as parents is like a mountain:  the bigger the mountain to climb, the stronger we must become, and our strength must come from wisdom and inspiration.

Dealing with discipline issues

–       Establish boundaries and natural consequences and follow them closely
–       Present one front as parents, avoiding the bad/good cop paradigm
–       Change behaviors and attitudes with extended metaphors/stories
–       Spend quality time with each child separate and together
–       Avoid comparison between your children
–       Acknowledge their good behaviors by describing what they are doing well right at the moment when it takes place
–       Use the Eight-to-One rule (see * below)

Motivational strategies that produce the best results

–       Interpret the innocent eyes of your children as saying: “Caution! Handle me with Care! Love me. Protect me! Give me a place in your heart.”
–       Expose your child to a collage of experiences
–       Observe carefully their gifts without judgment
–       Facilitate the development of their gifts
–       Focus on fun versus work at the beginning and slowly find the best coaches and mentors
–       Plan activities with your children that emphasize each one’s interest and individuality apart from their identity within the group. The one most in need of that distinction is often the kid in the middle. Remember, love is giving somebody your undivided attention.
–       Be reasonable, smart and fully awake: help children with homework, ask them about the day, let them cry if need be, support them when they’re down, help them to see options, teach them to handle guns safely if you have them, reward good behavior, provide meaningful consequences for unacceptable behavior, make reasonable demands, express moral expectations, talk to their teachers, hug them every chance you get. Don’t ask them to be like adults when they are just little kids, but model the importance of self-control.

Perfectionist approach:

Perfectionists act based on an illusion that you can do things perfectly. This tendency brings their attention to what is missing, so regardless of how well their children perform or act, they will always find something that was not done perfectly and point it out, usually without mentioning what was done well. This constant dissatisfaction with their children’s performance sends a clear message: “You are not good enough”. And since the majority of children want to make their parents proud, they will work very hard to please them but with a great deal of tension and anxiety. Eventually, children internalize their parents’ approach and become obsessive about insignificant details when performing a task, overlooking the forest by focusing too much on the trees, easily losing perspective of what really matters about the task at hand and life. Their tendency is to think too much when performing which impairs their ability to get into the “zone”.  Tension easily turns into negative anger which is the biggest obstacle preventing happiness and high performance. As a consequence, children of perfectionist parents find it difficult to find peace of mind, relaxation and enjoyment in life regardless of their success. I usually ask these kids a simple question: “How do you feel when your parent focuses on the mistakes you made?” Their answer is always the same: “Not good!” An irony, isn’t it, their parents making them feel bad so they would become good!

Pursuit of Excellence Approach:

The pursuit of excellence approach focuses on conquering the inner battle between fear and total belief in oneself. Parents systematically pay close attention to building their children’s self-confidence. They prepare their children to handle any situation in life. They focus on their children’s gifts and develop them without judgment and without preconceived ideas of what their children “should” do in life. They teach the core values by example, such as integrity, positive expectancy, respect, belief and spirituality, enjoyment, appreciation, gratitude, priorities, perspective, perseverance, passion etc. They teach their children the importance of preparation and giving 100% effort when facing a challenge, and to let go and let God handle the rest, the unpredictable circumstances. *When observing and giving feedback to their kids, they focus on finding the good first, in a ratio of eight to one. They first acknowledge eight things that their children did well and with great effort, and only then they mention one aspect that needs attention or more effort. This is a powerful formula for children to create drive and total focus on their inner positive forces in life and it is one of the keys to building self-confidence.

When focusing on your children’s gifts without judgment, reinforce their excitement and interests with the attitude of a silent witness. Logistically help them channel their enthusiasm. The first spark or excitement doesn’t necessarily translate directly into one’s call or vocation, but serves as a vehicle to develop trust in the inner voice that gives direction and purpose to one’s life. When I was a child I wanted to be a veterinarian. I was fascinated by animals of all kinds. My parents gave me a puppy that became my companion for 13 years. I called him “Happy.” For several years, I was around animals, taking care of them and playing with them. Eventually, my father gave me a book about animal behavior and how to train dogs. I spent countless hours training dogs on how to do tricks of all kinds. Without realizing, my parents were developing in me key traits that are very useful today in my profession as a psychologist, but, most importantly, they were teaching me to follow my inner spark. Later, when I decided to change from studying economics to psychology only six months before graduation, I did it with great confidence even though only a bachelor’s degree was offered at that time in my country.

For more information on Dr. Valverde and his programs, be sure to visit his website, The Valverde System.

You Gotta Have Faith

A big thank-you to my amazing yoga instructor, Lisa Jones, for the quote above.

Sometimes I get a major wake-up call which catches me totally off guard.  This weekend’s tournament was one of those.

The week leading up to the tournament was a rough one for my son.  He came down with a cold/sinus infection on Monday and immediately started taking a antibiotic in hopes that he would feel significantly better by the Saturday start day.  All week, he shortened his practices, even resorting to hitting with only me one of the days, trying to conserve his energy.  I begged him to drink Emergen-C – my go-to when I start feeling a cold coming on.  He drank one, maybe two, all week.  I begged him to drink protein shakes at the end of each day.  He drank one, maybe two, all week.  I begged him to amp up his hydration efforts in prep for a scorching hot weekend of tennis.  He didn’t really do anything outside the norm in that regard.  I wasn’t happy.  I was preparing myself for another tournament where he wasn’t 100%, where he would have an excuse for losing early, and where, once again, my weekend was shot.  And then we saw his draw – the 9 seed first round – ugh!

We drove to the tournament Friday afternoon, got checked in to our hotel, got checked in to the tournament, then needed to get some dinner.  My son told me he wasn’t very hungry but knew he needed to eat something.  We found a local restaurant, ordered our meal, then my son proceeded to eat about 2 bites before declaring himself full.  I wasn’t happy, but I suggested we take everything back to our room and maybe he would eat later.  He didn’t.  We both went to bed angry and frustrated – me because I didn’t think he was taking proper care of himself to be ready to compete the next morning, him because I’m not very good at hiding my anger and frustration (though I’m really good at nagging)!

The next morning, we were both still angry, so breakfast was a quick and quiet affair at the hotel before driving to the warm-up courts.  While he was warming up with 3 of his buddies, I called my husband and vented.  Once we arrived at the tournament site, I set up my chair in the shade while he got ready to play the 9 seed, a boy, by the way, who he had beaten a few weeks earlier.  Let me say again that I didn’t have a very good feeling about the morning’s match, feeling pretty confident that my son’s second match would take place in the backdraw.  Credit to me that I kept those negative feelings to myself!

I sat pretty far away from my son’s court during his match, so I couldn’t really see much, but I could tell that my son was winning . . . handily.  Somehow, he mustered the energy and the willpower to beat this boy even worse than he had previously.  My son came off the court after the win feeling very positive and pumped up for his next match.  I was still a little angry at him, but I kept it to myself.

Obviously, my son figured out what he needed to do to be ready to compete.  He knew what his body needed and what his brain needed, and he did it.  All of my worrying and nagging was a complete waste of energy.  Even though I didn’t see my son doing the prep that *I* felt was necessary to get ready for such a big event, *he* knew what he needed to do.  He had moved into a new phase of the maturation process, and I needed to recognize that and acknowledge it to him.  I needed to have faith in him and his ability to prepare for competition.  I needed to trust the depth of his passion and the power of his angels.

Another lesson learned.  I’ve gotta have faith.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat . . .

For the past several days, the outside temperature has moved into triple digits here in Atlanta, so I figured I’d write a little about how to help our junior players stay healthy in the extreme heat.

What is heat-induced cramping?  According to Dr. Scott Riewald, USTA’s Administrator of Sport Science, heat cramps come from dehydration and electrolyte loss that result from sweating.  There are other factors (e.g. anxiety, psychological stresses) that can contribute to heat cramps as well.  The end result is there is a change in the way the nerves communicate with the muscles – the nerves send inappropriate electrical signals to the muscles that cause them to contract or spasm.  The cramps often begin as subtle “twitches” in one or more voluntary muscles and, unless treated quickly, can rapidly progress to widespread debilitating muscle spasms that leave the afflicted player on the court writhing in pain.  If you’ve never experienced this type of cramping yourself or never seen your child go through it, let me just say it’s frightening.  It can cause even the toughest player to scream out in agony.  And, just when one muscle cramp subsides, another can burst onto the scene in a completely different area of the body.

It goes without saying that being fit and well-hydrated are the first steps in preventing heat exhaustion and heat-induced cramping.  But, oftentimes, drinking plain water isn’t sufficient.  According to several scientific articles I’ve read, the real culprit behind cramping is sodium loss, and the only way to prevent it is to take in more sodium than you sweat out.

One case study from March 1996 looked at a 17-year-old, nationally ranked, male tennis player who had been suffering from heat cramps during match play. His medical history and previous physical exams were normal, and his blood work showed normal levels of all minerals and nutrients.  On-court evaluation and an analysis of a 3-day food journal showed that his sweat rate was extensive and that his potential daily on-court sweat sodium losses could easily overtake his average daily intake of sodium. The combined effects of excessive and repeated fluid and sodium losses predisposed him to heat cramps during his matches.  The good news is that he was ultimately able to eliminate heat cramps during competition and training by increasing his daily dietary intake of sodium.

Another study from 2003 shows that “although a variety of other mineral deficiencies and physiological conditions are purported to cause muscle cramps, evidence suggests that, when a tennis player cramps in warm to hot weather, extensive and repeated sweating during the current and previous matches and a consequent sodium deficit are usually the primary contributing factors.”

Contrary to popular belief (even by the pros), bananas are NOT the cure for cramping.  Yes, bananas are high in potassium, but they are not high in sodium which is the mineral responsible for keeping heat cramps at bay.  Therefore, sports nutritionists agree that taking a salty snack – such as pretzels – on court to eat IN MODERATION during changeovers is a great preventive tactic.

Also, drinking a sports beverage high in sodium and other electrolytes – such as Gatorade, PowerAde, or Pedialyte – can help replenish sodium as it’s sweated out of the body.  The key is to drink enough fluids (minimum 2 ounces every 15 minutes during practices and/or at changeovers) to prevent excessive salt and fluid loss.  The best way to gauge fluid intake and loss is to weigh yourself immediately before stepping foot on the court then again immediately after play – any change in weight will be due to fluid loss and should be replenished immediately at the rate of 16 ounces of fluids for each pound lost.

According to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, the prevention and the cure for heat cramps is salt plus fluids.  Please note that Pedialyte contains almost twice the amount of sodium as Gatorade which contains almost twice the amount of sodium as PowerAde, so to increase the sodium content of either Gatorade or PowerAde, just add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of regular table salt per 8 ounces to ensure adequate sodium intake.

If your child has taken the proper precautions and still cramps either during or after a match, move him to a cooler environment and get him to drink at least 8 ounces of a high-sodium sports beverage right away.  Usually heat-related cramps go away on their own once the athlete has cooled down and taken in enough fluids and salt.  But, if the cramps become worse or if your child begins vomiting or develops dizziness and shortness of breath, get him immediate medical treatment.

If you or your child have ever experience cramping, please share your experience and the steps you’ve taken to prevent a recurrence in the Comments box below.

Help Yourself!

Have you noticed all the medical time-outs and trainer visits the pros seem to be having during their matches in recent years?  Sometimes they’re necessary,  but sometimes they’re a strategic move on the part of the player to shift the momentum of the match or take a time-out to regroup after a rough patch.  In either case, I think it’s time for professional tennis to take a lesson from the juniors and teach the players how to care for themselves court-side or just resign themselves to the fact that the fitter, healthier player is going to win that day.

Very few junior tournaments have medical trainers on staff – it’s just too expensive for the tournament directors – so it’s really important that your junior player understands how to take care of any minor (let me stress the minor part) ailments or injuries on court.  What constitutes a “minor” ailment or injury?  Of course, this is a very individual thing, but things like blisters, muscle aches, slight muscle cramps, a scraped knee, or a headache can probably be handled by the player at the side change as long as he is prepared.  If there is any question regarding the severity of an injury or illness, the player should seek IMMEDIATE medical attention.

Part of being prepared is making sure your player has the proper first aid components in his tennis bag.  A few things that my son always keeps on-hand are BandAids of varying shapes and sizes (including the special blister-relief ones), first aid tape and scissors, Super Glue (great for blisters!), Advil, Tiger’s Balm, and an old tennis ball for massaging tight or cramping muscles.  During tournaments, he also brings plenty of water and PowerAde as well as pretzels and either grape tomatoes or blueberries to stay hydrated and keep his sodium levels within a safe range to help prevent cramping.  A Frogg Togg Chilly Pad towel is a necessity during the hot and humid summer months – keeping it in a cooler with ice really helps it do the job of bringing down your player’s body temperature on those brutal days.

If you think an injury might warrant a visit to the doctor, Orthopedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine/Spine Specialist, Carl Goodman, offers this advice:  “Stay fit and stay strong has been my mantra for preventing and treating most tennis ailments.  Lower back pain and shoulder problems are the primary complaints I hear in my orthopedic practice- light exercise will usually resolve these problems and allow you to continue your tennis activities. Complete rest is a no-no for me if you want to get well fast!”

He goes on to say that, for junior players, “lower back pain that does not resolve after 2 weeks may represent a stress fracture in the spine. Consultation with an orthopedic doctor is advised at that time.”

When it comes down to it, it really is your child’s responsibility to take care of himself while on court.  Whether it’s taping up a blister or rolling out a tight muscle, knowing how to “treat” those minor ailments during a match could be the difference between getting to play another round or going home.  That said, no match is worth risking a long-term injury or illness, so knowing when to say, “Sorry, but I need to retire!” is vital, too.