Not long ago, I received the following question “What are some fitness tests I could run my tennis players through. Just some measurements they could aim to improve?”.
This question actually comes up time and again. For me, the question has layers…
You see, I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of testing on many occasions - you know what I’m referring to...going through a battery of tests, recording sprint times, jump heights and so on…
And never really using the data in any meaningful way.
From both experience - and the wisdom of some of my mentors - I can sum up testing by using a simple equation:
Testing = Training AND Training = Testing
You might be asking yourself, “how can that be?”. Don’t fret if you’re confused, let me elaborate.
How Coaches and Trainers Normally Conduct Tests
Normally, testing sessions in collegiate, academy and federation settings are done in the following manner: organize a long list of tests, schedule them every 8-12 weeks, and never see the results again.
Ok so that list bit I added for effect. But it’s not far off is it?
I’ve been around these environments in the past (I’ve personally conducted hundreds of tests with players from all levels and in a variety of settings). And I was pretty organized. I’d go through all the various tests - 5, 10 and 20m sprints, agility/COD drills, jump measurements, joint angle assessments, med ball power readings and so on. I’d record all the results on spreadsheets, send them to the coaches, parents and players and then…nothing much happened.
You see, there are many problems with this set-up…but 2 that are truly worth mentioning…
First, most coaches (let alone the players) rarely ever see the results. I was once doing some freelance work for a federation and the tennis coach I was working alongside was waiting months (yes months) to get the testing results for one of his players? How will that help the coach plan their training program right NOW?
And second, the results of ‘X’ test (and the associated ability) is just a snapshot…in other words, it only reflects that particular day and moment in time. What if the player had a bad night’s sleep? Or what if they just got back from a tournament? Or they’re sore from the previous day or week’s workout? Do you think those factors will have an impact on their results? HELL YES!
Ok, I’ll attest, there are some very organized coaches out there that send the results out (like I did) and have meaningful discussions with the rest of the staff (and even the players). Unfortunately, this is NOT the norm.
And even if this WAS the norm, in most settings, these testing periods are so far apart that we don’t really know if our training intervention was successful and which factors contributed to the results. Did they improve because of training? Or a growth spurt? Did their scores diminish because of fatigue or because of a previous session?
As you can see, the way testing has traditionally been done is anything but effective.
The approach I’m advocating is different….
Training is Testing and Testing is Training
Everything a player does is a test. Their volley technique session is a test. Their strength workout on Wednesday is a test. Their flexibility training on Friday morning is a test. Their speed work is a test. Even their warm-up is a test. How about matches and tournaments? Well, those are actually midterms and final exams.
You see, we should think of training as a daily and/or weekly process of monitoring. A process where the results feed into our training programs and form what’s called a ‘feedback loop’.
Do this instead of quarterly testing, and you’ll gain a lot more insight into your player - and what truly requires attention. And then you can make minor adjustments to the training program, the tennis schedule, their diet or a host of other relevant factors, right that instant.
How does this look practically?
There’s different ways to set this up - I use a simple spreadsheet for each player that I’m coaching with all the relevant performance factors that I want to measure during that particular training block.
For instance, if I’m aiming to improve longer distance acceleration (usually something we work on during a general prep cycle), well firstly, I’ll program acceleration drills into the training period. In this case, let’s say we’re doing 10m linear accelerations - I’ll simply keep tabs of the times using a stopwatch and record the fastest time into my spreadsheet.
Note, some coaches take averages (which can also work). I take the best values as this provides me insight into their capacity. If you do it this way, just make sure the athlete can stay within the 90th percentile of their best time on that particular day. If they start to drop off, the intensity is too low and it’s best to terminate the session.
I do the same thing with movement assessments - like shoulder internal + external rotation, along with total shoulder ROM - and daily or weekly training load questionnaires. In fact, I get more insight from weekly training load values than anything else - especially when incorporating the acute:chronic (A:C) workload ratio. Charting A:C workload ratios gives us a good indication if we’re training too much, too little or we’re in the right zone.
Even certain tennis measures can be more objective. For instance, I often set-up serving targets and record how many times out of 10 or 20 or 30, the player can put their slice, flat, kick etc. serve into the appropriate target area. I input those scores on their spreadsheet as well.
The point is, I want to get enough meaningful data points where I can make informed decisions. If it’s too complex, takes too much time and isn’t consistent, I won’t use it - and I prefer getting small, regular insights, then not get any info at all.
That means that I’m not tracking every single exercise or drill...but I am tracking the exercises & drills that are key for the athlete I’m working with, at that particular moment in their training block.
Are there more in-depth systems? Sure there are - but those are generally quite complex and are reserved for the top 0.01% of tennis settings, where budgets aren’t a factor - and specialists are working on data collection and analysis around the clock. For the rest of us...simple wins every single time.
Additional Monitoring Benefits
Beyond being more practical, consistent and backed by research (yes there’s actually a large body of evidence to confirm it’s efficacy), there are a few other reasons monitoring various key exercises and drills on a regular basis is beneficial, including:
Accountability - I ask the players to input most of the data on their own. The aim is to foster a better sense of responsibility (and include them in the training process).
Motivating - When players see their stats on a regular basis, it motivates them to try to do better. Serve bigger, lift more, jump further, run faster, sleep better, eat healthier…
Make Informed Decisions - Sometimes players aren’t doing better. Sometimes they are getting weaker, constantly feeling fatigued and sore etc. Having some objective data beats telling them just to ‘take a day off’. Which feeds into the next benefit...
Spotting Trends - When you get enough data, you can make correlations. “Look, when you practice 15 hours a week (versus 20 hours), you’re healthier, more motivated and in a better mood”… “when you serve 200 serves a week, you’re hitting your targets better than when you only hit 150 serves a week”.
I don’t know about you, but for me, this is WAY more valuable than seeing a few numbers on a spreadsheet twice a year….
Beyond the Numbers
As a coach, you might already be monitoring key variables with your players. If you’re a player, perhaps you have a training journal where you record your feelings on a daily or weekly basis. If so, congrats, you are the minority.
You see, most don’t. After working with players and alongside coaches for years, what I’ve found was that everyone wants to get better... but they either don’t know how, or their systems are simply too complicated and too restrictive to implement.
It’s not necessarily the just about the numbers themselves. It’s the process behind it. It’s putting pen to paper (or in today’s day and age…fingers to keys).
It acts as a reflective process - that in itself is worth the extra 15-20 minutes it takes per week to input a few values and answer a questionnaire or two.
Are You Ready for Real Improvements in YOUR Tennis?
Most coaches and players want to see real results, and a lot of them are already doing a great job with exercises and drills. What many lack, however, is a system that helps them better monitor and plan the entire training process…from the gym to the court.
That’s one area I worked diligently on when creating High-Performance Specialization (HPS). I spent years doing things the wrong way before I learned (through trial & error, research and colleagues) that there’s a better way.
With HPS, not only do coaches and players get a ready made system where they can input their results, track their progress but I show them - step-by-step - how to schedule their weekly plan based on their tournament schedule AND the most relevant areas of their game that need attention.
If you’re ready to take yourself (and/or your players) to another level of performance - that means being more explosive, more resilient to injury, and better prepared for tough 3-set matches - check out more info on HP-Specialization here.
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