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.