COACHES' WORKSHOP
13 December 2009

Fitness training for young tennis players

Why?
The most obvious answer is that to do any sport on a competitive level you just have got to be fit. Technical skills are of course necessary, but fitness is getting more and more important in all sport - as they are getting faster and/or require more strength/stamina. Ten years ago soccer players in England and other countries believed it was enough to play soccer to have the necessary fitness level - today most teams have their own fitness coaches. The same goes for tennis players competing on international level.
A not so obvious answer, but not the least important, is that you need to do fitness training to prevent injuries. Tennis is one of the sports where injuries very easily can ruin a talent's sporting career - and a new research in England shows that many young players practising tennis a lot get irreversible injuries to theirs spines. Some might feel that it is a waste of money to pay for non-tennis exercises or having a tennis coach giving fitness training during coaching sessions, but how much money have they wasted if they have to quit tennis because of injuries?
Another answer to why you need to do fitness training is the mental aspect, because you play to win. Your brain needs to be sharp to concentrate throughout a match, but without sufficient oxygen to your brain the sharpness will be fast gone!
It is also fun to do fitness training when you get into it; you get less sick, you are feeling and looking better and have the good self-esteem of being a true sports person.
How?
Tennis is a sport with a lot of all-round movements, and the fitness training should also be all-round related. There is no need for young people to go to an expensive gym or buy weightlifting equipment: Your own body is in fact all you need. Different kind of running exercises and stretching after the running is the basis for young tennis players. And then you can slowly build up the strength using the body as weight.
Remember to use proper joggers when running!
A few words about warming up: Running 10-15 minutes to get the body temperature up a bit, plus stretching and movements to prepare body (and mind) is so important to prevent injuries, not waste expensive time on the court by "playing yourself warm" or give away points at the beginning of a match.
When and where?
To get the most out of technical training as well as fitness training it is common and wise to do the fitness training after swinging the racket on the court - it can then be hard to concentrate on the finer technical details if your are exhausted after running. Most of the fitness training can be done on the tennis courts (if they are free), but it can be nice to do the exercises at another suitable place. Long distance running can be done almost everywhere - and to run around and around a tennis court can be less inspiring than a track at a stadium or in the nature.
How often and much
To built up your aerobic capacity, heart and lungs, running is the way to go. 20-30 minutes of long-distance running with 75 percents of your maximal speed three days in a week is often set as a minimum, but other ways of running can give better results using less time. Interval training consists of running fast a number of times over short distances, with a slow jog for recovery between the fast runs. This can be done on the courts, preferably with tennis-like movements. Stretching to improve the flexibility and prevent injuries should be done as often as possible. It should be the last part of warming up, and always after technical training or fitness training like running or strength exercises. All kind of serious sporting activity should be followed by stretching!
Off season is of course the most important time for serious fitness training for tennis players on a high competitive level, but younger players should make fitness training a natural part of their weekly training. Also for them it can be wise to step down on the most strenuous exercises close to the competitive goals of the season and it is also important with periods of rest and recovery. It can also be wise to vary the normal fitness training, often at the start of the off season, with swimming and other fun sports.
Fun - no fun
It is no fun to play tennis with injuries, or have to stay off the courts or quit because of injuries, so all younger players should learn that fitness training is an important part of their tennis training. Fitness training can be a lot of fun - as everything can be fun with an positive and exploring attitude. There are quite a few fitness exercises made to be fun for young people, even if it is can be hard for the even best coach to make static stretching exciting. Tennis is fun - fitness training is part of your tennis!