As sports are becoming increasingly competitive, coaches and parents are striving to get their athletes to the highest level of competition as possible. The fear of being left behind other competitors or losing out on a college sport scholarship is causing a trend of early sport specialization. While the idea to specialize athletes at an early age is intended to maximize their potential in a specific sport, this notion may actually hinder your athlete’s growth in the long run.
Many coaches and trainers are too quick to copy the training they see the pros doing and apply it to their own athletes. Quick multi-lateral movement, a strong core, rotational strength, and the ability to be explosive are all physical qualities expressed in elite tennis players. These physical qualities are expressed through a highly developed level of agility, power and metabolic conditioning. While training these qualities can be beneficial, it’s important to understand how to train these in ways that are developmentally appropriate. The saying, “The widest base leads to the tallest pyramid” is especially true when it comes to athletic development. When training young athletes, it’s important not to specialize too early, and rather, focus on a broad development of motor skills. These are our ABCs of training (Agility, Balance, Coordination, and Speed). Solely focusing on training the physical qualities of a singular sport will leave gaps in your athletes’ physical literacy.
Physical literacy is the ability of an athlete to express their fundamental movement and general sporting skills—it’s the key to any young athlete’s long-term development! Athletes who have the greatest fundamental motor skills and body awareness are often multi-sport athletes. By being exposed to different sport-specific demands, athletes are forced to improve their movement quality and physical fitness. This is why athletes who specialize is just one sport are much more likely to get injured and develop overuse injuries. Their physical parameters have become unbalanced in an attempt to build tall, not wide.
Fundamental movements in tennis involve dynamic balance, turning, stopping, twisting and stretching.1 By focusing on these movements, along with training the physical qualities and movements found outside of the sport of tennis, you will not only develop multi-laterally, but you will also drastically decrease your susceptibility to injury and increase your levels of physical fitness. To help build these fundamental and general sport skills, start incorporating integrative neuromuscular training into your program.
Integrative neuromuscular training includes general and specific physical activities to enhance both health and skill related components of fitness.2 Be sure to cater to the chronological and training age of the athlete, but again the idea is to build up our ABCs and our broader skills while keeping the focus on tennis.
Here are some sample exercises to include into your tennis players practices and workouts.
1. Rotational Med Ball Slams
►These will develop rotary explosiveness to assist with twisting.
►This is applicable towards any forehand and backhand strike.
2. Med Ball Squat and Toss
►Promotes leg strength through a full range of motion.
►Builds coordination between the upper and lower body.
3. Kettlebell Swing
►Increases overall power.
►Promotes good hip mobility, kinetic chain connectivity, and reinforce athletic stance.3
4. Pallof Press
►This will help create core stability to retain your power as you transfer energy into the racket.
►Core stiffness allows for increased efficiency in movement.
5. Single Leg Cone Hops (both lateral and forward)
►Promotes dynamic stabilization.
►Plyometrics develop eccentric strength, which is used for deceleration. This is essential when quick cutting.
6. Single Leg Balancing
►Increases ankle stabilization.
7. Turkish Get Up
►Develop a sense of body awareness.
►Promotes shoulder stabilization and core strength.
8. Bear Crawls
►Increases coordination of reciprocal movements.
►Improves rotary stability.
►Develops core stiffness and muscular endurance.
►Tennis involves repetitive transverse movement and overhead movement. Rowing exercises will improve the muscular balance of your rotator cuff.
►Increase upper body strength.