How to: Get the most from young players

Published by Nathan & Giselle Martin

SUCCESSFUL TRANSITION: German Alexander Zverev, pictured here as a junior at Australian Open 2014, is now a top-20 player; Getty Images

The earliest stage of a player’s development is the most important part of their tennis journey. It’s also when problems can arise, so if you work with young players and want them to achieve sound results and maximum enjoyment, it’s critical to understand a few key points…

Kids are not adults…
So don’t treat them like one. Coaches, trainers and parents need to be responsible for the volume and intensity of a younger player’s practice and preparation. Don’t compare them to adults or other kids; they all develop at different rates and they cannot do what adults do.

Know their limits
If a young player wants more and more, that’s great – but remember that everyone has their limit. Younger athletes often don’t know when it is time to stop as they find it hard to read how they are physically feeling and how they will recover from what they are doing. If we want them to achieve good results, we need to educate them on what is enough.

Over-use injuries
Most injuries in young athletes are over-use injuries – and they are called “over-use” for a reason: too much volume (excessive training, bad technique, fatigue) without enough recovery. In our opinion, fatigue is generally the main reason over-use injuries occur.

A lack of structure
If there is no one with knowledge running the show, kids often hit here and there, have a few coaches and do extra fitness sessions that their parents or friends saw their favourite player doing on the television or internet.

There is no structure and no means of managing injury prevention. The results we want to achieve won’t happen. It’s a mistake to push a young player to their limit without knowing what they have done the day before or what they have planned for the following day.

So what’s the best way to deal with injuries in younger players? Prevention. Every child is different; coaches and trainers need to learn to communicate effectively to gain a greater understanding of how each individual works.

Our tip on how to make that happen it to ask these simple questions at the start of each session or day:
1. How are you feeling? Have you been sick since I saw you last?
2. Any injuries or little niggles?
3. What did you do yesterday/today? Is there anything major on tomorrow?

Volume management
Someone needs to be responsible for managing the volume of a younger player’s training each week. This will usually be a parent but this can be problematical, as most parents don’t have the education to know what’s not enough and what’s too much. We recommend a team effort – that is, a coach or tennis trainer working with the parent.

Learn to read kids
If a young player is showing signs of fatigue and lethargy, lack of motivation, or constant illness and injury, there is a good chance they are doing too much or they are not getting enough recovery. Reaching a point where the player needs to have extended time away from tennis is a sign that the training schedule has been really mismanaged.

We’re not suggesting that you be soft on younger players or not push them – our young athletes will testify that we work them hard and, at the right times, they are worked to their limits. What we are saying is that it’s important to learn to manage and maintain a healthy balance of quality work with quality recovery.

Is it easy to get right? No it is not, but communication is the key. Getting young players to speak up and learn how to manage their energy levels and other important aspects of their development takes time and it is a team effort to get it all right.

The sooner you get it functioning effectively, the sooner you will have a happier and healthier athlete.

Nathan and Giselle Martin, of Tennis Fitness, have been in the health and fitness industry for over 20 years. They travelled on the WTA Tour for numerous years and also worked at the Sanchez Casal Tennis Academy in Barcelona, Spain. They’ve worked with Lleyton Hewitt, Casey Dellacqua, Sam Stosur, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Jennifer Capriati, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Monica Seles and Martina Navratilova. For further information visit tennisfitness.com. This article first appeared in Australian Tennis Magazine.

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