Updated: Nov 21, 2021
Many young players tend to think that what they do on the court it’s ultimately what matters in their tennis career. They don’t begin to comprehend that what they do off-court can significantly impact their future and their success. Numerous talented young players never make it to the professional tour due to injuries, burnout, lack of preparation, ignorance, and sometimes uncontrollable hardships. Getting the body ready to play and perform at a high level takes more than just hitting tennis balls. When it comes to off-court training, every player should be thinking about injury prevention, strengthening, fueling the body, mental preparation, and having a balanced personal life. Getting prepared outside of the tennis court is something that every player can control, and that should take very seriously.
#1) Injury prevention and getting the body ready to step on the court.
Injuries are a common factor in tennis players. These are specific preventions that a player can take to avoid injuries and keep the body in good condition.
It all starts with an excellent warm-up. Why are kids rushing to get to practice these days? Getting there just on time to rush a warm-up it’s just not good enough. Players need to make sure they arrive on court at least 15 minutes prior to their practice to have time for running, dynamic stretching, bands, and even some footwork exercises. Making it to the pro tour involves being a professional in every way.
As a former junior and professional tennis player, I got used to hearing the word “stretch!” all the time from my coaches and parents. I don’t think that young players seem to understand the importance of it. Stretching is not something people do to act professionally; it’s something that’s necessary for the muscles in the body. Muscles get tight—especially after several days of tough practice or long matches. Stretching avoids tight muscles, maintains flexibility, and prevents common muscle injuries.
Another one of my favorites, and this is something I tell my students a lot! Is “make sure you ice if you have some pain” Icing reduces inflammation; it’s just that simple. Players who are lazy to ice when they have pain end up having to miss a lot of practices due to injuries. It’s also important to know that the body is not a machine, and when we are having long and challenging weeks of training, it’s always good to go to the trainer and get a massage. Don’t let the muscles get so tight that they contract. Take care of yourself.
Consequently, eating properly before practices and tournaments is key to a good performance. Tennis players burn a considerable number of calories that require a diet high in carbohydrates to stay on the court for long periods. Don’t let your body get to the point where it’s starving. Eat a snack during practice, and make sure you keep drinking enough water. The first symptom of young players having headaches and lack of energy it’s due to dehydration. Don’t let it get to that point. Drink water on and off the court.
Lastly on injury prevention is, strengthening. Tennis is getting more and more demanding with time. Successful players are in phenomenal shape. They strengthen and get their body ready to reach their maximum potential. But, are you doing enough fitness? It’s not enough just to hit the tennis ball. In fact, it’s more beneficial to train fewer hours on court and have an excellent fitness session almost every day. Professional players spend more time doing fitness and getting stronger during pre-season time than on the actual court.
#2) Mental preparation
Every mind is a different world when it comes to competing. Some players are natural competitors, others develop into great competitors, and others struggle to control their nerves in crucial moments. Players express their nerves differently as well. Some of them get angry and frustrated when they miss. Others get incredibly anxious and tight. Some make up all kinds of excuses to avoid the pressure or act like they don’t care to cope with their nerves. And many more situations that may not make much sense when we are looking at it from the outside. No matter the type of competitor, all players should be provided with mental tools from early on so that whenever their time to flourish comes, they know exactly what to do. Meditation, visualization, breathing techniques, practice and match analysis, on-court routines, and many more are examples of tools that players should learn and apply. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the mental side of this sport. The tougher the players are mentally, the bigger their chances of succeeding against adversities and competition.
#3) Balanced life
This last point may seem a bit less relevant, but it isn’t. If a player is not feeling good in their personal life, they will reflect it on the court. Young players must keep having a social life where they can disconnect from tennis for a little while and have some fun. Having other hobbies or other activities that make players excited is healthy! Professional players who are still on tour have enjoyable lives where they choose to keep playing tennis because they are happy doing it. Unfortunately, many others who had a traumatic upbringing with their tennis career ended up quitting before they reached their full potential, and some quit even after making it to the professional tour.
Last but not least, tennis players are not machines, and they do need to rest. More is not always better. Most injuries come from over-training and overdoing it. Players who train seven days a week in a full-time schedule are “NOT” more successful than players who train five and half days with rest in between. In fact, the second kind of players end up training a lot more effectively because their bodies have a chance to recover. Sleeping well and resting enough is critical for good performance.
You thought tennis was just about hitting the tennis ball around? There is a lot more to it that people don’t see. Professional players devote their whole lives to keeping their bodies and mind in optimal condition. Will you do what it takes?
by Former Professional and tennis coach Gabriela Paz