I’ve received many questions of late and thought it might be interesting to share some of them in a post, along with my thoughts on some key topics. These queries come from players, coaches and even tennis parents.
As you read along, keep in mind that a lot of scenarios are circumstantial, so there could be more than one answer to a particular query. That being said, I will give the most direct, evidence backed response, that I possibly can.
Hope this serves you well and if you yourself have questions (or comments), please feel free to shoot me an email (email@example.com) or leave a reply in the comments section below.
The following questions aren’t in any particular order - i.e. not based on importance, relevance or any other factor.
Should any form of stretching be done in between 2 tennis sessions? Sometimes, (this player) has a split tennis session with a break of 60-90 mins in between sessions?
This is quite common in most academy and elite settings (and I get this question a lot). Can too much flexibility training be harmful? Is it helpful? Will it impact the subsequent session?
The short answer is yes - flexibility training can be beneficial when performed in-between 2 tennis sessions….but it depends on the type of flexibility training that a player is doing (and how far apart these sessions are).
In terms of static stretching (holding a stretch in one position for an extended period of time), most coaches and athletes (across a variety of sports) believe that these shouldn’t be performed before practices. Generally, this is due to the belief that it’ll result in a loss of power outputs. But why do athletes in speed & power sports - like athletics, weightlifting, gymnastics - perform long stretching sessions prior to sprinting, lifting heavy and flipping/contorting themselves on a balance beam?
Research on this topic has confirmed that after about 20 minutes (give or take), power losses are no longer seen. In fact, athletes may experience greater power outputs after this time frame because they are now capable of getting into greater ranges of motion (ROM) - and moving their limbs more freely during various power activities.
That said, flexibility training can also be quite taxing on the body. You may have experienced this yourself if you’ve ever done yoga or taken a specialized mobility class. You see, if we’re aiming to improve ROM, it might require that we use specific techniques - like isometric holds - to accelerate the process. But this in itself becomes a training session.
Overall, my recommendation is this - if you have 60-90 minutes between sessions, it can still be beneficial to perform various static stretches...but not forcing the issue in any way as to create additional soreness. This can be done by holding a position comfortably, anywhere from 1-3min and breathing deeply during the process.
This will not only help improve some range of motion (in a non-fatiguing way), but it can have a positive effect on relaxation and recovery - even if this is only a placebo, subjective feelings can never be totally disregarded.
If you want to increase ROM - that’s when a more dedicated session would be warranted (at other times of the day - like at the end of the day or as a stand-alone session at various times during the training week).
And of course, a warm-up (even if time-restricted) should be performed prior to the 2nd session - which would include a variety of dynamic stretches.
Sometimes while playing in the ITF circuit as well as the federation level tournaments, my son ends up playing 2 back to back singles matches (with a break of 60-90 minutes)...do you have any recovery tips to help him prepare for the next match? (from the nutrition and hydration point of view, we already have a program, so just from a physical standpoint.)
From a physical perspective, I would recommend some light stretching (again, with an emphasis placed on deep breathing techniques and targeting important areas that need the requisite range of motion for certain strokes to be optimized - like shoulder internal, external and total ROM.
But beyond that, a power nap may also be extremely beneficial. It’s important, however, that you’re aware of 'sleep inertia' - basically, the longer the nap, the longer it takes for the mind, body (and various biological systems) to ‘wake up’. You’ve probably felt sleep inertia in the past after a long nap. You don’t know where you are...you feel like you could sleep for another 5 hours and it takes (what seems like) forever for you to feel normal...but when you do get back to yourself, you’re more energized than before.
With only 60-90 minutes between matches, however, it’s likely best to stick to short naps - which is why they are called ‘power naps’. For example, if you only have a 60 minute break, 10-15 minutes of peace and quiet alone would be likely enough. If there’s 90 minutes, I'd say a maximum of 20-30 minutes would be appropriate.
Even if you don’t necessarily fall asleep, laying down, shutting your eyes and disconnecting (especially from the phone and social media) can provide regenerative effects.
Staying away from screens and not engaging in other ‘stressful’ activities (like studying or anything that requires higher levels of mental strain) may also retard the recovery process. Remember that stress is stress. Studying is stress. Screen time is stress. Too much input from the coach is stress. Disengaging for a period of time is key.
Lastly, a good warm-up is an absolute MUST... especially after a nap. Before hitting the court for the pre-match warm-up, you should aim to get the heart rate elevated, put the body through a variety of dynamic movements (one’s that you’ll see in a tennis match), prime the nervous system with some short, reactive efforts and overall aim to be in a light sweat prior to playing.
Would you happen to have posted any agility drills for someone who is a little stiff in their movement or perhaps any suggestions to find them. There are so many. Should I stick with ladder and cross over steps?
Here are a couple drills that can help improve general change-of-direction (COD) abilities (the physical portion of agility).
And here are a couple drills that can help improve agility (physical + cognitive/perceptual) abilities, both directly and indirectly.
As far as ladders go, truthfully, I don’t use them. This is a broader topic that probably requires a full post but in a nutshell, exercises and drills are simply the means. The backbone of the means are the methods and principles behind them - which are used to target specific qualities.
A ladder drill could be useful to satisfy some quality but it’s just a tool, nothing else. Perhaps it could help a young junior work on low level plyometrics - priming reactiveness/stiffness. But we can also do that without the use of a ladder.
Agility and change-of-direction in tennis have unique characteristics - ones that I don’t believe ladders will satisfy. They confine movement to a small area, which restricts both kinematic and kinetic factors important in the success of those abilities.
And just remember, agility and COD aren’t the same thing. One can be trained without a stimulus present, the other cannot. I’ve written a full post about this previously which you can take a look at here.
For high level - top 10 in South (USA) - juniors aged 12-14, how many sessions/days a week should we *ideally* dedicate to athletic development training?
This isn’t the easiest question to answer given I don’t know where these players are in their season, what their strengths & weaknesses are, their stage of maturation and so forth. That said, given my experiences with juniors over the years - and the fact that most are underdeveloped when it comes to physical prep - I’d suggest that during a general preparation period, 4-6 days a week off the court is not unrealistic.
Again, we’re talking about high-performance juniors here. Now, these sessions would be a mix of a variety of qualities - speed and acceleration training, plyometrics, general strength, med ball variations, flexibility and so on. Most, however, won’t do this. I think that’s a mistake and a short-sighted approach. Imagine what the tennis coach could do with a player that just spent the last 6-8 weeks preparing themselves to be a better athlete? Hmm...
During the specific prep phase (as competitions begin to approach), the number of sessions off the court would obviously drop - in the early part of the specific prep phase, it might be 3-5 days per week of physical training (but now you’re incorporating more tennis work...closer to a 50/50 split). As you progress, more time is spent on the court and less time is spent in the gym (perhaps 2-3 days off the court is enough).
It’s all dependant on the players schedules and how much time they have for development. But given they are between the ages of 12 and 14, and not playing a tournament week in and week out (or at least they shouldn’t), a plan can be structured to include dedicated physical preparation.
In both of my resources - HPP and HPS - I offer guidelines on how to best adjust each program based on the number of days they’ll be training. I also walk through a step-by-step approach to planning - and how tennis and physical development interact with one another during this process.
I’m interested in ‘tennis-specific’ training for my players - what does that look like for you?
I get this type of question a lot - especially from tennis coaches. The term ‘tennis-specific’ is at best, loosely defined and in general, poorly understood. To start, we should look at physical training (and the demand it's imposing on various biological systems) from a generational perspective - i.e. how close is this exercise, drill, activity etc. to the sporting event in question?
For instance, tennis itself is the most specific form of physical training for tennis...and a tournament match is more specific than a practice match which is more specific than a hitting session. Anyone who’s ever played at a fairly high level can attest to that - there’s nothing quite like matchplay in terms of the physical exertion it demands from the body (not to mention the mental side of things...but that’s another topic altogether).
So a tournament match would be first generational...a practice session, would be 2nd generational...specialized med ball throws (like side throws) might be 3rd generational....weight training would be 4th generational and jogging would be 5th generational (the least specific form of physical training for tennis).
You see, every time the activity becomes less specific, it moves down a generation - this is important! So coaches will often argue - "these players should do more weights or plyos etc". Fair enough, it could help - in fact, I believe 3rd and 4th generation training is severely under-utilized in tennis settings.
But we must ask ourselves, “what does their first and second gen training look like?”. Because if I improve a player’s ankle and leg stiffness - through reactive plyometrics - will that automatically improve a players split-step ability?
Probably not. They have to train that same quality, with the same intent, on the tennis court. Those reactive jumps have to translate to reactive split-steps - and that can only be achieved via a conscious effort to do so. That’s how the process of cellular adaptation (and motor learning) unfold.
From my perspective, to improve the physical components a player needs on a tennis court, we need to look at tennis practices from a physical lens. And if a player lacks a certain quality, then we look to specialized activities that can be addressed off the tennis court. But ultimately, we’ll have to come back to the court for that quality to fully manifest itself.
How do you optimize groundstroke biomechanics?
Another popular question I often receive - how can I improve mechanics, technique, power on the forehand side etc. I think many are missing the point. And to gain a better understanding, it’s worth outlining what a typical ‘shot cycle’ looks like (and how each one affects the other).
I’m not going to go in too much detail here because this could literally be an entire chapter in a book, but here’s the basic cycle - in other words, what the player is doing during the receiving portion of an incoming shot, through the sending portion, until the ball is back on the opponent’s side of the court:
You’re preparing to position yourself for the incoming ball - i.e. movement
You’re preparing to strike the incoming ball - i.e. body/racquet prep
You’re striking the ball - i.e. from accel, to contact, to follow-through
You’re recovering from the strike - i.e. getting back to the most optimal position for the next cycle
And within each of these ‘main’ phases, there are a number of underlying factors - each affecting the next one and the one after that and so on. Technique/mechanics - like elbow positioning during the preparation phase - is only one factor in this entire cycle. Is it important? Sure, it can be...but are we at least doing the other things leading up to that point well? Are we perceiving the oncoming ball correctly? Timing our lower-body set-up optimally with the bounce of the ball?
I think it’s important that we teach players the entire cycle first, before digging into the details. Not to mention linking this cycle with good decision making skills. Believe it or not, when you do this well, a lot of the technical stuff starts to take care of itself (this is what constraint-led learning is all about...where discovery learning is prioritized...and how children learn a variety of skills).
For instance, during the actual striking portion of the swing (when the ball meets the strings), if a player isn’t hitting the ball clean, no amount of technical cueing will help. They simply have to practice centering the ball (there are many ways to do this btw)...but how often do you see players putting in purposeful, un-interjected focus on seeing the ball better and striking it pure?...Seldom. What you’ll see instead, is an over-analysis of their arm position at impact, or trying to force a wrist lag during the accel phase.
What about timing the split-step appropriately? If it’s mis-timed, that can have a negative cascading effect on the entire shot sequence? How so? Well the player won’t be set for the ball, they won’t be able to load their rear leg, thrust their rear hip and strike the ball with that amazing technique they’ve been working on.
I’m not saying there isn’t a place for so-called ‘technical training’, because there surely is. But as it stands, that area is emphasized a lot more compared to the other factors we just mentioned. So how about we get players perceiving the ball better? Or perhaps trying to set-up sooner? Or grooving a more repeatable impact point?
I don’t know the answers for sure, but I can tell you that I’ve seen massive improvements in players technique - without actually focusing on technique directly.
I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have a question of your own, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below, or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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