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Junior Tennis Players: Addressing Physical Deficiencies, Part II

November 14, 2005 03:58 PM

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

In our previous Sport Science article, we looked at five physical attributes necessary for young tennis players to reach their full potential. In today’s column are five more — agility, flexibility, coordination, cardiovascular fitness, and vision — and how to improve them.

Agility
Agility drills should be a part of training for every athlete who has to change directions while moving. It is an important component of athletic talent and one that can be improved with the appropriate training. If you are not participating in tennis-specific agility training, ask your coach about adding it to your practice routine or referring you to a strength and conditioning coach who is certified (with a C.S.C.S) and who has experience working with tennis players.

Flexibility
Flexibility is often an underrated and underdeveloped component of talent. A comprehensive program of dynamic stretching is the best way to increase range of motion and, at the same time, reduce the probability of injury. There is not a direct connection between stretching and injuries, but there is an indirect relationship because athletes with a greater range of motion are less likely to sustain soft tissue strains and sprains. In other words, stretch to increase range of motion; increase range of motion to avoid injuries. There is an increasing body of evidence showing that traditional, static stretching conducted immediately before practice sessions and matches may be counterproductive to performance. Again, a qualified tennis professional or a certified strength and conditioning coach should be able to prescribe a sport-specific, dynamic stretching program. There is still a place for static stretching, and most experts think it should take place after strenuous exercise, not before.

Coordination
Hand-eye, foot-eye, and overall coordination are perhaps the distinguishing characteristics of talented athletes. It is difficult to measure, but definitely a skill that has innate and learned components. There are few quick-fix coordination drills. Rather, repeated and often contact between a racket and a ball and is the way to improve coordination. "Touch the ball" almost every day is advice given to young athletes in many sports. It also applies to tennis players and is especially important to young ones going through the developmental stages.

Cardiorespiratory Fitness
Cardiorespiratory fitness is the most improvable of all physical skills. Yes, there are genetic limitations, but every athlete can achieve observable and measurable results through a program of aerobic training. Without any of the other nine physical skills discussed here, it is possible to be great in at least one sport by simply being more aerobically fit than the competition.

Whether aerobic fitness is necessary for every athletic endeavor is another issue. Tennis, baseball, and football players, to name a few, don't require high degrees of cardiorespiratory fitness. They are seldom, if ever required to perform at high levels of intensity for extended periods of time. They are basically stop and go athletes. No less talented, but not necessarily aerobically fit. That does not mean that their overall health would not be improved or that better cardiorespiratory fitness would indirectly benefit their performance. It probably would. However, running long distances after practices or matches won’t do much to make you a better player. Establishing a base aerobic fitness level before a season begins is a better approach.

Vision
Vision, the last of the ten attributes of gifted athletes, is the one about which we know the least and the one that is the most controversial. All of the dimensions of sports vision are critical in determining the success or failure of athletes in many sports. However, whether or not it can be improved is a subject that still divides the sports vision professional community.

There is no evidence that visual acuity can be improved by training. A tennis player cannot go from having 20-100 vision to having 20-20 vision by training the eyes. There is a growing amount of evidence that vision training may improve certain aspects of athletic performance, such as tracking an object, but the methods for achieving this goal are not available to most athletes. Dr. Joan Vickers, one of the world’s leading experts on sports vision and a professor at the University of Calgary, has conducted promising research with tennis players and other athletes. There are other vision specialists who offer programs and there are plenty of anecdotal accounts in support of those programs, but there is not a scientific body of evidence behind their claims.

© 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
sportsmed@mindspring.com.

 

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