Float like a butterfly or bounce like a wind-up toy?
USPTA and PTR Master Professional
Junior athletes in all sports have a 41% chance of experiencing at least one injury related to their sport. In tennis, primary injuries are arms and legs, with feet, ankles, and knees leading the list from the lower extremities.
Combine this fact with the decades-long concern about hard tennis courts being much harder on a player’s legs as compared to clay court and grass play and red flags fly up like fireworks on the 4th of July.
Despite these facts, we’ve all seen the proud faces of coaches and parents as a 75-pound 10-year-old girl is bouncing non-stop with the intensity of a jack rabbit all over the court. Now, we’re not questioning whether or not quick and efficient movement is a requirement for higher and higher levels of play. It certainly is. But, what about the risk of injury due to the constant wear and tear on young ankles and knees? And, more importantly, what can be done about it?
Click photo: To compete with high level college scholarships players like these, juniors are slugging it out on hard courts the vast majority of the time.
The dilemma is apparent. To be competitive and fight for the more than 10,000 college scholarships in the United States, juniors are slugging it out on hard courts the vast majority of the time, playing weekend tournaments that often demand an incredulous three two-out-of-three set matches each day of singles alone. Yes, nearly 50% of these children will get injured and most of those injuries are feet, ankle, and knee injuries that are impact related.
When I was growing up in competitive junior tennis in the late 1960’s, it was mainly a 5-month summer regimen, with much less play during the winter months due to limited indoor facilities. Nowadays it’s different. Year-round play is the norm as even in colder climates indoor courts are everywhere. Plus, thousands of elite juniors now train 12 months a year in any one of the multitude of academies climatically positioned in sunny North American states like Florida, Texas, and in Southern California. Money has mainstreamed tennis.
Think of Mohammed Ali. Think of Fred Astaire. Think of Roger Federer. Think of Yvonne Goolagong. In their prime, they would all float like butterflies. And, you know what? They were all pretty much injury free. Light is right!
Click photo: Roger Federer seems to glide around the court, one reason he has remained remarkably injury free.
But What about the split step? Is it necessary on every shot?
While a well-timed split step can certainly help when moving forwards to volley and also on when returning serve, many players are moving from the conventional and relatively heavy-footed split step to an agile shuffle to change directions on the baseline. If this shocks you, think of basketball or soccer. Both demand relentless, multi-directional movement, and the split step as we know it in tennis is non-existent.
Avoid Over Training
While competitive players are more fit and train harder than ever before. The tendency nowadays is for too many junior athletes to over-train. Fitness and sports training centers are opening up on every corner, selling the promise of a fitter and more successful athlete. But with that promise comes an untold price that many will pay. It’s called over-training that often results in injury-plagued muscles and joints.
And most juniors seem to do all their sprinting and movement training on hard tennis courts but this is not the only way to do it, nor is it the best, it is just the most convenient and it is a big mistake made by coaches.
It only makes sense that ankle, knee, and hip joints will take more abuse on hard courts as compared to training on soft surfaces. Note that this doesn’t mean clay courts. There are plenty of options, including training on grass or rubberized track surfaces. In other words, if a player is training on hard courts for two hours a day, why would they want to do running drills on those same hard courts for another 30-60 minutes?
Some high school teams or academies insist on mandatory fitness programs. If this is the case, sit with the coach and see if he or she is open to some adjustments. If not, move them to another program.
This may sound over-reactive, but sometimes parents have to make difficult decisions. All group programs are designed for the group and not for the individual. If someone you know and love is in a program and is being over-trained to the point of regular fatigue and injury, pull the plug on the program immediately. If you don’t, chances are they’ll be sidelined anyway and with much more severe consequences.
Playing on clay courts can make a huge difference in a players life on the court, not only in terms of injury avoidance by minimizing bodily wear and tear, but playing on clay courts is also skill-building for anyone accustomed primarily to hard court play.
And shoe inserts and extra socks can help! In fact, many professional players wear two pairs of socks along with custom orthotics in their shoes. They do everything possible to minimize wear and tear on their feet, ankles, knees, and hips. Unfortunately, if a very active junior tennis player waits until their late teens to start taking precautions, the damage is often already done.
Some juniors live on the court, they love to play and practice seven days a week! But this can be a big mistake. Recovery time is essential to good physical, mental, and emotional health. Take at least one day a week off from all physical activities, on and off the court.
While total injury prevention is the goal, it is also impossible. However, everyone should agree that making the right decisions to minimize the risk of injury is possible.
- Players should learn to be light on their feet.
- Minimize heavy split steps.
- Don’t over train and conduct training on soft surfaces.
- Wear two pairs of socks and very supportive shoes.
- Remember to take a minimum of one day off each and every week.
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
The Integrated Serve and the Lower Body Coil
The serve is the most important shot in tennis, and perhaps the most difficult to master. Yet, at every club, you can usually find a twelve-year-old boy who can really crack it. The key to all that power lies in the coiling and uncoiling or the body parts in sequence. In the first of this two part series, Doug King addresses the the lower body and it's roll in creating a powerful pro type serve.
Hitting Groundstrokes While Moving Backwards!
Tennis is a game of movement. It's about getting into the optimum position to execute a stroke. Most players are pretty comfortable when it comes to lateral movement. Where most problems arise, at least at the club level, is when we are forced to move backwards. From a technical aspect, your momentum is going away from the net while you are trying to get enough racquet speed to hit a shot towards your opponent. And, from a strategy standpoint, you have to give up “territory” or court positioning.— Dave Kensler
ProStrokes 2.0 — Grigor Dimitrov, Backhand
Grigor Dimitrov, is the most successful Bulgarian male tennis player, both in terms of ranking and prize money. He enjoyed a very successful junior career, in which he held the World No. 1 ranking and won the boy's singles titles at the 2008 Wimbledon Championships and the 2008 US Open, but he is still looking for a breakout year on the ATP tour.. Dimitrov plays right-handed and has a single-handed backhand. His game has been compared to Roger Federer's (earning him the nickname "Baby Fed") due to the similarity in their ground strokes, particularly off the backhand side but he has a long way to go before that name has relevance. New this issue, Dimitrov's backhand.
TennisOne Writers Store
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