As I write this article, the fourth Nor' Easter in the last three weeks is pounding the local area. Still, spring is finally here, and college and scholastic teams have begun to practice outside. Conditions are difficult to say the least. Players who are well-prepared for the challenges that cold, windy, sunny conditions on cracked irregular courts with the track team running by and baseballs hitting the court fence have an enormous edge over their opponents.
Preparation for difficult conditions is the road to success and here are the rules for how to triumph over the cold.
1. Dress for success
The three biggest obstacles to dressing for the cold are staying dry when you sweat, keeping full range of motion in your shoulders and keeping your hands warm.
►To stay dry, it's important to use synthetic garments that wick moisture. Cotton absorbs wetness and once wet, actually has a negative thermal factor which means that you are better off playing with no shirt than wearing a drenched cotton shirt! Two thin synthetic under garments are much better than one as they create a vapor layer which traps the air created by a warm body. Finish with a wind-blocking layer for extra warmth.
►As described above, you can dress in thin layers and still maintain a good core temperature. To maintain mobility in your arms, use a short sleeved layer closest to your body, followed by an elastic, but snug, second layer and finish with a short sleeve or vest type outside layer. Bulky clothes restrict movement so be sure to dress in clothing that allows movement and is heat retention efficient.
►Extremities get cold easily when it's freezing out and few thing are worse than holding a racket with icy hands. Gloves work, but make it nearly impossible to play with any sort of feel for the holding the racket. Focus on keeping your head extra warm (40 percent of your body heat escapes from the head) as well as your neck, ears and toes. This will encourage your body to send more circulation to your hands. Also, wear pants or an outer upper layer with handy pockets and include a small hand warming pack to use in between points to keep your hands toasty.
►Remember, cold air hold less moisture than warm air. It's easy to get dehydrated in the cold and less obvious so keep drinking when the temperature drops.
2. Adapt your game to tame the weather
►Play high percentage shots in windy conditions. The worse the conditions, the safer you should aim. Let the wind improve your shot by moving the ball around.
►Come to the net with the wind in your face. Your shots may land short and low which will provide little angle for your opponent to pass, especially when the ball they hit will fly further. Many opponents will become very frustrated as they seemingly tap the ball and it flies long.
►Use extra spin in the wind. Extra spin will counter the force of the wind and make your shots more predictable and reliable.
►Shorten your strokes, especially in a swirling wind, to make racket adjustments to an erratic wind-blown bounce.
►Get out on the court early so that you can choose to warm up into sun. Your eyes will thank you when you give them a chance to adjust to the bright light before serving.
►Cold air is dense, so a cold tennis ball is a less lively tennis ball. Hit out in the cold.
3. It's just you and the ball
►The worse off the court surface conditions, the less you can rely on the predictability of the bounce. Players have this same issue while playing on grass and they adapt in two ways. First, similar to playing in the wind, you can shorten you stroke to lessen the distance and time in which the hit is committed to and the ball is struck. Furthermore, in order to rely less on the predictable bounce of the ball, don't let the ball bounce. Volley any ball you can.
►When it comes to managing distractions while playing on busy school courts, it's worthwhile to remember that perception is selective. That means that you can pick and choose what you focus on and how you react. Such deep concentration is a skill and like all skills, must be practiced and refined.
As Sun Tzu famously said in his book, The Art of War, “Every battle is won before it's ever fought." Before battling in an early season tennis match, consider careful and thoughtful preparation.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation and executive director and founder of Serve & Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally-ranked junior players, 16 state high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.