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Junior Tennis Players: Addressing Physical Deficiencies, Part I

October 31, 2005 12:46 PM

By Jim Brown, Ph.D., Executive Editor, Sports Performance Journal (athletesperformance.com)

There are at least ten physical qualities that can enable young tennis players to reach their potential. The boundaries of those attributes are established by genetic considerations, but how much improvement that takes place within those boundaries depends on the athlete. What to do about size, speed, quickness, strength, and power are discussed in this issue.

There are three things parents, coaches, and athletes can do about size or the lack of it. The first is to be aware of family growth patterns and to monitor growth. A pediatrician can provide information about normal and abnormal growth patterns and he or she should be consulted when there are questions or concerns about the size of a young athlete. Predicting growth is not an exact science, but there are charts to help you determine the percentage of adult height that is normally reached at each age. Even though full adult height is supposed to be reached by 100 percent of the population by the age of 18, a very small percentage continue to grow after that age.

The second thing that parents and coaches can do in regard to size is to provide direction and support for an age-appropriate resistance training program. Resistance training cannot make a child taller, but it can increase the size of muscles and body mass when that is desirable.

The last thing to do about size is to not let it get in the way of athletic enjoyment and excellence. There are examples in every sport of great athletes who performed at the highest levels even though they did not meet the established guidelines for height or weight.

Speed is a genetic gift, but those who don’t have it can improve it. Under the supervision of the right coach or teacher, tennis-specific training to improve speed is an advantage, if not an essential part of athletic development. If you are working with a young player, record running speed occasionally just as parents informally record height on a wall or door at home. The increments will occur in fractions of seconds, but every fraction translates to ground covered on a tennis court.

The indicator of speed is not a great time in the 100-meter run unless that is the specific event for which the athlete is training. Each sport has distances peculiar to it and speed training should be undertaken with that in mind. A defensive back in football may need great speed over a distance of 40 yards. A tennis player needs speed mostly for a few steps.

For most sports, quickness of feet and quickness of reaction time are as important as the ability to run fast. Both can be improved. Plyometric exercises — those that involve explosive movements such as hopping and jumping — have been proven to increase quickness of feet.

"Reaction time," according to an article in Perceptual Motor Skills, "must be considered a skill dependent upon experience and learning." So while some players may react faster than others, there is a learning component that can help the slowest reacting tennis players. There will always be individual differences, but each person can learn to reduce reaction time. Quickness and reaction time movements that are practiced in match-like situations are the ones most likely to be used in competition.

Strength and Power
Strength is one of the most obvious athletic skills that can be improved. If a child is old enough to play an organized sport, he or she is old enough to begin a resistance training program. Power, which combines strength with explosive movement, is developed in the weight room as well as in drills that are sport-specific. The key for both is to find a qualified professional, preferably one who is certified as a strength and conditioning coach (C.S.C.S.), to develop a program that meets the needs of each player.
In the next column: agility, flexibility, coordination, aerobic fitness, and vision.

© 2005 HMS Publishing, Inc.
Jim Brown will be contributing new content to this site on a monthly basis. If you have a question for Dr. Brown please feel free to email him at




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