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Helping Young Tennis Players Relax

April 19, 2007 11:55 AM

by Robert Heller

In our increasingly hurried and worried lives, squeezing more things into fewer hours seems to be an epidemic that effects not only athletic performance, but the physical and mental well being of children and parent’s alike. Participating in multiple sports, having extra practices, and specialized coaching need to be balanced with time to “chill out”. Kids who don’t learn how to relax and unwind are at risk of becoming “human doings” rather than “human beings”.

By relaxation, I don’t mean staying home and playing video games. I do mean learning how to quiet the mind and slow down the body. Many methods and techniques are available. Formal approaches include practices such as Meditation, Yoga and Tai Chi.

Due to it’s growing popularity, acceptance in the West and practice by many movie celebrities and pro athletes, Yoga for Kids classes are popping up all over. The slow stretching and incorporation of relaxed breathing with body awareness are well suited to aspiring athletes who need to develop physical and emotional regulation under the intense pressure of competition.

Tennis legend Chris Evert reportedly meditated before each match and pictured how she would play each point during her upcoming match. She credits her mental skills as being a key reason she won many of her matches.

Relaxed or diaphragmatic breathing can be easily learned and practiced and quite useful in taking the edge off of anxiety or worry quickly. The individual’s focus is on the breath and on gradually inhaling-slowly, smoothly and deeply through the nose, then smoothly exhaling out the mouth. A few minutes of relaxed breathing should definitely be a part of any pre-game warm up.

Because tension is often held in the body and muscles, learning how to recognize and release tight muscles is key to relaxation and optimal performance. A series of isometric exercises commonly called Jacobsonian Progressive Muscle Relaxation Training provides a systematic way to relax the body and release tension from specific areas. For example, the right hand is gradually clenched into a tight fist, held for 15 seconds then gradually released. This is followed by the left hand and then various other muscle groups throughout the body.

Most relaxation methods can be easily learned with proper instruction and supervision.

It’s a small investment of time and energy that produces big returns in the future both on and off the playing field.

 

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