How to Prevent Overtraining of Junior Tennis Players

As I already wrote in my previous posts I was very surprised that very few parents and coaches conduct constant control of their tennis players’ health condition. However, I am also not that surprised because I see that there is no regular system regarding control of junior athletes’ health.

I have never heard of junior tennis players who play for 25 and more hours a week at a tennis academy and have regular medical control of their health, including biochemical blood tests and other routine tests which are very common for any junior sportsman in many European countries. My kid did those tests and had a medical evaluation in a specialized sports clinic two times a year.

What’s important to understand is that Sports medicine possesses a huge deal of knowledge that regular physicians are not aware of.

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If junior tennis players train for more than 10 hours a week and participate in tournaments on regular basis, then you are supposed to organize some kind of special medicine control for their health.

I’ve never witnessed a situation where a coach tells his player to get a two-three week break from tennis for active rest or suggest a blood test that shows a player’s condition. Maybe I am wrong and some tennis coaches definitely do that, but most ones do not.

There are some simple methods, such as the Ruffier test, which are easily applied to self-control of the very important system of the body – the cardiovascular system. You may do it on constant basis and use its results to plan training cycles for your kid or as a reason to visit a cardiologist or a sports medicine doctor.

There is a fast method for control of the junior tennis player’s condition. It is called the Ruffier index. It analyzes the condition of heart activity during training.  When I was a junior and college sportsman, we always used the method for estimating the current physical condition. It shows you how your organism performs with current training. It shows if an organism is overtrained, if there is a necessity for rest and recovery, as well as indicating other problems with the cardiovascular system of a junior sportsman.

All measurements are conducted in 15 seconds intervals.

  1. Sit down and rest for five minutes. Then measure your pulse in 15 seconds.  It is P1.
  2. Do twenty sits-up in 30 seconds and immediately measure your pulse in 15 seconds in standing position. It is P2.
  3. After that, sit down and after one minute rest, measure your pulse in 15 seconds again.

Formula for getting the result is: J= (4 x (P1+P2+P3) – 200)/10.

If J is less than 0, present adaptation for your training is excellent,
Less than 3 – very good,
3-5 – good,
6-10 – satisfactory,
11-15 – weak,
15 and more – unsatisfactory. Go to the doctor immediately.
Increase in the value of J shows overtraining conditions.

Let’s say, if your P1 is 15, P2 is 25 and P3 is 20. For you J is (4 x (15+25+20) – 200)/10 = 4.
It means that your current condition is good and your body performs well under your current training program.

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Nutrition for Junior Tennis Players

About nutrition for junior tennis players. I already wrote about my first impression on how junior tennis players ate during tournaments or all day workouts at some tennis academies in the US. Then I understood the essence and power of the fast food industry, so I just try to oppose it in everyday life.

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There is a proverb “We are what we eat”. Success in tennis also depends on what a player eats.

I very often see in tournaments the same picture: during a break between matches, players eat junk food, like fast food and processed food, as well as drink soft beverages full of sugar. It is very rare to see a kid eating banana, plain yogurt, fat-free fish, or whole grain bread. More often than not it is hamburgers and fries.

A couple of words about nutrition during a day of a match. A player should eat breakfast 2-3 hours before the first match. Ideally in the morning you need to have light breakfast with high-carbohydrate foods, like cereal with fat-free milk, dried beans, whole grain bread with marmalade or honey, banana and so on.

Do not eat a big steak before a match. You do not want your organism wasting valuable energy on digesting heavy food when it should be preparing to play. Eat your heavy protein food the night before, but keep your eating light right before a tennis match.

The key is to plan your sports diet, be very intentional about your intake. Do not take whatever in your fridge. Plan your nutrition around your tournament and training schedule and fuel up properly.

Remember, the most delicious foods are often the most harmful for a young tennis player. Always try to make healthy food at home, and bring it with you to tournaments. It better prepares you for the next match, saves you time, money, and your health.

There is a good idea to have a food diary in your training notebook. For one-two weeks write down everything you eat and when you it. Also, note at several intervals during the day, how you feel. At the end of tracking period, look at your notes and analyze the effect of certain foods on your organism. Do you find any patterns? Based on your findings, decide which foods are good for your mind and body.

Your health is in your hands.

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Athletic Scholarships for Tennis Players

There is a hot question for many tennis players and their parents. Imagine, your kid has played tennis for ten years from 8 years old; you invested some money in his tennis skills. Now, he (she) is a High School student, probably a sophomore or a junior. It is very clear for you that your player will not start playing pro tour after High School. So, you want to find a right college and get some return (athletic scholarships for a tennis player) on your tennis investment.

You have already known that if your kid is not blue chip or a five-star player, you need to make hard work to find a right college for him. The lower your kid’s level of play, the more efforts you need to make. I write here my thoughts about tennis players with two, three, and probably four star level of tennis.

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Blue chips and five stars players usually have invitations from more than one college and they just need to make a right choice.

First, go online. There is a lot of website like http://www.collegetennisonline.com, http://www.collegeboard.com and so on. There you find information about a structure of college tennis, understand the difference among Divisions I, II and III, etc. Then make a list of colleges your kid wants to go. May be 40-50 is enough for start a process. It is important to make the list, because it allows you to work closely with each of the targeted colleges.

You also need to systematize all information that helps you in searching right college and create: athletic resume and cover letter, college selection list, tennis DVD and college evaluation list.

I don’t want to write here detailed instruction about the whole process. You can find out everything from the Internet.

Second. Hundreds, maybe thousands foreign tennis players play college tennis in the US. Think, if they were able to get scholarship while living and playing tennis overseas, you definitely can do it for your American kid.

The true is for some college tennis coaches the level of play is not the main reason for selecting a player to their tennis team. I personally know a half of dozens payers who got scholarship for Division II, and whose play’s level is like U16 TOP 50-150 of Southern California. Try to make a good contact with a coach, and if your kids’ SAT (ACT), GPA is at least on minimal level for the college, the coach will accept him. Tennis coaches look for team players; it is a very important factor when they consider a candidate.

Think twice before sending your kid to college on an athletic scholarship. He (she) will be supposed to train and play tennis 20+ hours a week. Does your kid have a capability to play tennis and study successfully at the same time? What is your kid going to do after college: find a job and work as a professional, or go to coach tennis with major in Political Science or Economics?

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Choosing a Tennis Academy

Before you send your kid to a tennis academy, just ask yourself, why? Why does your tennis player need a tennis academy? I guess these are some possibilities:

  1. The player is really gifted by nature. He is born for tennis. His results are some of the best in his age division in the country and he definitely needs to have a highly qualified tennis coach and fitness trainer. He and his family want to see him become top 10 in the world.
  2. The player is pretty good. He likes to play tennis and has good results. Both he and you dream about a professional career.
  3. The kid likes to play and asks you to send him to a tennis academy (actually he just wants to leave the house and his parents). He is a teenager and you are glad to send him away.

If you have a kid who’s really good, then many tennis academies will accept him for free or give you a significant discount. Any tennis academy needs some stars, and it is much easier to simply attract a star rather than develop one from a beginner.

If your kid is not a star, there is no reason to pay huge amounts of money for a famous brand. The chances that an average player will develop into a star are very small.

Many tennis academies are like a pyramid. It needs money to train some talented kids for free or give them a discount and then use them for promotion. Average players are the main source of money. Any academy has a couple of stars, a small group of pretty strong players and many regular kids.

Many, not all, academies are not interested in the development of champions. They are businesses and they act according to business logic. Demand is still higher than supply on the market. Look at statistics – only individual programs (they may be at an academy also) with a private coach produce professional players.

Saviano students - Choosing a Tennis Academy

How do you find the right tennis academy for your kid? The main rule is to choose a coach who will be responsible for your kid’s development. Look at some tennis academies’ websites, you can easily find the names of one or two coaches, but what about the other ones? Why aren’t they represented on the website? Often, the secret is very simple: there are no constant coaches.

One more important thing. Look on the Internet and figure out which academies advertise themselves in a very aggressive manner. Ask yourself, if a tennis academy is really good, why does it spend so much money for advertisement? An academy has a fixed number of courts and a constant tennis team. If it continues to attract new players, how can they keep high quality?

Something is wrong with that, right? OK, just relax. They have their own business model: aggressive advertisement attracts new clients (players), so it is not very important for them to keep high quality. New clients always come, while the old ones leave. I call this business model “the leaky bucket.” The quantity of incoming clients is the same as the number of clients who are leaving, thanks to advertisement.

My advice: never call an academy that places paid advertisement on each page of the Internet. Really great academies have good coaches who are not worried about spending a lot of money for promotion.

After you choose an academy, visit it and talk to some parents whose kids play there. Read the contract very carefully. If the management promises you that ratio of the coaches to players on the court is 1 to 4, ask them to add this to the contract. Always bargain, you can save money. Ask an assigned coach about a player development plan. Do not pay money in advance for sessions that will last for a long time, because if you decide to take your tennis player away from the academy, it will be difficult to get your money back.

Look closely for tennis academies that were founded by really good coaches with a proven successful record. Be careful with academies founded by businessmen.

Remember that one of the most famous tennis coaches Robert Lansdorp is not sold on academies, although he does concede their value as far as practice and competition, and had kind words for the atmosphere and opportunities at Bollettieri’s. He was very critical of all the “academies” that start as a coach and one or two good players and then suddenly have 30 juniors of varying levels doing nothing but drilling.

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A Tennis Academy. What Is It?

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

“An academy is an institution of higher learning, research, or honorary membership. In the western world academia is the commonly-used term for the collective institutions of higher learning”.

As we can see, the definition of an academy suggests that it provides the highest level of education, or when we talk about a tennis academy, the highest level of tennis coaching. Is this true? Not really. Most champions are developed through individualized programs.

Before final

I researched the Internet and easily found more than 100 tennis academies just in the US. I am guessing that the final figure may be much more.

I tried to classify them into groups. There are three main groups:

  1. Tennis academies with a pretty long history that are well-known in the tennis world, like Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, Nick Saviano Tennis Academy, Evert Tennis Academy and so on. All of these tennis academies have been around for a while and have proved themselves through years of success. Most of these tennis academies were founded by famous former pro players and coaches. Some of them are pretty big and train hundreds of players at the same time, while others only have a couple dozen players.
  2. Tennis academies that were founded by players, coaches and entrepreneurs like some Californian and Texas tennis academies. They are not very big, and you hardly find famous names among their coaches, except for Dent and Gorin tennis academies.
  3. There are actually individual coaches who proclaimed themselves as a “tennis academy”. They do not have boarding programs and use “tennis academy” like a common brand definition. But among them you can see famous coaches like Robert Van’t Hof’s Pacific Coast Tennis Academy.

By the way, there is a quote from the Zoo tennis website, talking about Robert Lansdorp.

“Lansdorp is not sold on academies, although he does concede their value as far as practice and competition, and had kind words for the atmosphere and opportunities at Bollettieri’s. He was very critical of all the “academies” that start as a coach and one or two good players and then suddenly have 30 juniors of varying levels doing nothing but drilling.

Lansdorp believes one-on-one coaching is the foundation of development but although it may be tempting to reduce development principles, like I just have, into bite-size morsels, it’s ultimately misleading. “It’s not that simple,” he said. “It’s complicated.”

In my next post, I will talk about my advice for those who are looking for a tennis academy for a junior tennis player.

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