In the last issue of Long Island Tennis Magazine, I, along with several other local tennis professionals, was asked “What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a Long Islander at nationals?”
In response to this question, a few parents have remarked about their concerns with the daunting economic reality of supporting a developing player on Long Island. That is, the weather necessitates that much of the training be indoors. Aspiring players need a lot of indoor court time and it is very expensive.
As a club owner, I am well aware of the economic limitations of families, as well as facilities, and believe me, both are a challenge. The simple economics for upcoming players and clubs is similar. The way to make a small fortune in tennis is to start with a large one!
Given these circumstances, I have composed several suggestions for players as to how they can make the most effective and efficient use of their time in order to train, learn and improve optimally.
1. Be ready to play
To play your best tennis, your body needs to be physically ready to play before you hit a ball. Specifically, your respiration and core body temperature levels should be elevated and your stabilizing core muscles need to be activated and firing. You don't want to waste valuable court time to achieve this readiness state. Furthermore, if you do try to accomplish these goals by playing, your initial movements will be compromised and you risk a poor performance, as well as an injury. A routine of movement preparation and core activation is a more effective and efficient way to ready yourself than hitting tennis balls.
2. Be a student of the game
Perhaps the best way to learn to master the intricacies of the game is through actual competition, but it is not the only way. Education about tennis theory is a valuable and low cost way to improve.
Watch the best players and study their stroke mechanics, court movement, match tactics and court demeanor. Go to the Dartfish slow motion video analysis on USTA.com to learn a step-by-step visual breakdown of the best strokes in the sport. Read books and articles on sports performance, tennis technique, mental training and nutrition. Read the autobiographies of great athletes to learn their methods and motivations for success. By the way, studying the performance records of the top 200 players on Tennisrecruiting.net is not going to further your game!
3. Be fit
Tennis is becoming increasingly athletic and fitness-intensive as speed and power become the dominating factors for success. The best players in the world are tremendously fit and well-conditioned. The benefits of strength, stability, flexibility, balance and high aerobic threshold are significant for performance and injury reduction at every level. The good news is that huge gains in these areas are achievable off-court safely and inexpensively. I recommend a functional movement screen evaluation to the players I work with, to identify weak links in movement patterns. From this “snap shot” of dynamic movement patterns a program which includes a movement preparation routine, speed training program, power, strength, mobility, and conditioning workout and recovery support program can be designed. Such a program can be followed by players at home when given outside guidance and motivation as well as internal self-discipline.
4. Be a hard worker
You don't improve on the court by osmosis, you develop your game by getting work done. Given the limitations of court time, it will likely be the quality, intensity and focus of your practice that will lead to gains, rather than the quantity of your training. Practice with passion, purpose and a plan.
In warmer weather climates like Florida and California, efficient practice habits are an asset for national caliber players. Top Long Islanders and others in cool weather areas with finite court time resources, however, must learn to optimize training opportunities to compete successfully. While these habits require effort, discipline and desire, they are accessible and achievable.