Importance of Periodization for Development of Tennis Players

There were more injuries and pull outs in the Australian Open this year than any other slam. With the season having been shortened to give the players more rest, surely there should be less injuries you would think?

Over eagerness and poor preseason periodization planning is causing many ATP and WTA tennis players to arrive to the first Slam of the year already injured and exhausted! I explain you why it happens.

Just this month I turned down working with two WTA professional tennis players ranked inside the top 50 due a disagreement.

Now, I love working with the best, and the one player is certainly an exciting up and coming star for sure, but I won’t compromise on what I strongly believe in.

So, what was the disagreement you ask?

They wanted to start their preseason training already in the first and second weeks of November. After I went through the reasons, previous players mistakes, respecting rest and explaining the disadvantages, they still stuck (and their coaches) to their own plans.

Being a specialist for over 18 years in the field and trainer to 11 Grand Slam winners, you would think that my advice and experience would be taken, when I suggested that it was far too early to start, as they had just barely concluded this season (2 weeks before).

One common thing I see when I am in Australia for the lead up tournaments to the 1st Slam of the year is this:
– Players already taped up like Egyptian mummy’s, falling to pieces physically and looking mentally drained too;
– In fact, there were more injuries and pull outs in the Australian Open this year than any other slam.

Here’s the new dilemma: After years of the players pushing for a longer off season, the ATP and WTA season’s have now been shortened by between 3-5 weeks. However, now what we find, are tennis players starting their preseason training even earlier. Some even throwing in a few exhibitions too.

What we have on our hands is an even bigger issue, but with the same implications – ‘Over training’ instead of ‘Over playing.’

What we also see most of the time, especially from inexperienced trainers and coaches is ‘over zealousness’ – wanting to ‘push it’ harder than the year before thinking that by doing this, it will yield more results. Usually the opposite occurs: Athlete feels great mid December, but come January like a donkey, when it matters most. What we also see occur in these off season activities, is athletes picking up injuries and niggles doing unfamiliar exercises and activities they don’t usually perform in-season.

One thing that really makes me cringe, is trainers taking these tennis players into the gym, (keep in mind the players having been away for extended periods on the road), loading weights on the bars with the goal of getting the player ‘strong’ 4 weeks without gradual progression.

In the past, periodization (planning of an athletes season) hasn’t always been the easiest thing to plan for a tennis player, but one thing that’s pretty cut and dry now, is that we have an off season and a confirmed start date to new season. So no more excuses towards adequate rest and training.

In my experience working with numerous ATP and WTA players, if I’m aiming at having them peak come Australian Open time, they aren’t starting their training until at least 1st week of December. They could start mid November with some off very light off court work, fun stuff like hiking, swimming, biking etc..) but they wouldn’t go near a court or do any tennis specific work.

The ultimate goal is to have them fresh come Australia, physically and mentally. I want them healthy and hungry to go and not the opposite of what we see happening – Tired and carrying injuries or niggles.

In my experience, and probably 90% of the players will agree with me here, the month or period after the Australian trip, is when the players feel most exhausted out of the whole year! And they’re only 4 weeks into the new season – why? Easy, here’s why: Add their preseason training load which is usually tougher than their normal routines on the road, to the long hot Australian trip (matches, more training in between if they lost early between tournaments), that’s already between 8-10 weeks already! – Get my drift?

In the conditioning and sports performance world, when planning a program, we usually break training down to 6 weeks blocks for peaking an athlete. If an athlete has been in intensive training, a breakdown will usually occur by week 6 or 7 (sometimes even sooner if athlete has been not respecting recovery and rest enough). So, if you back date the training from Australian Open time, that means training should only start training around 1st week December.

What we see come Australia time (and I encourage you to keep this piece), is already an injury list getting longer than great wall of china!!

Here’s 5 common mistakes tennis players make:

  1. Too much too soon. They start to soon having not yet fully recovered from previous season.
  2. Don’t respect rest as much as work. They under estimate the physical and mental fatigue factor.
  3. Some players are still carrying injuries from previous season into preseason training.
  4. Some Coaches/trainers getting paid yearly – player feels they need to ‘utilize’ them.
  5. Over zealous and enthusiastic trainers and coaches.

As a Sports Performance Specialist for almost 19 years now, I’ve learnt from my own mistakes in competing professionally as well as working with some of the world’s best.

I always listen and respect athletes, coaches and trainers I work with or come into contact with, but will not always agree. I also won’t buckle or discard my own principles and beliefs to what a player/athlete feels is right in an area that I specialize in, no matter how many slams they might have won.

As coaches, It is our duty to educate and teach the athlete on what is right and what is best for them, but at the end of the day, it’s their choice what to do with that advise.
But sticking to your principles, core values and staying true to yourself is what matters most.

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