The earliest stage of a tennis player’s development is the most important part of their tennis journey. It’s also when problems can arise, so if you work with young tennis players and want them to achieve sound tennis results and maximize enjoyment, it’s critical to understand a few key points:
Kids are not adults… So don’t treat them like one. Coaches, tennis trainers and parents need to be responsible for the volume and intensity of a younger player’s practice and preparation. Don’t compare them to adults or other kids; they all develop at different rates and they cannot do what adults do.
Know their limits If a young player wants more and more, that’s great – but remember that everyone has their limit. Younger athletes often don’t know when it’s time to stop, as they find it hard to read how they are physically feeling and how they will respond to what they are doing. If we want them to achieve good tennis results, we need to educate them on what is enough.
Over-use injuries Most tennis injuries in young athletes are over-use injuries – and they are called “over-use” for a reason: too much volume (excessive tennis training, bad technique, fatigue) without enough recovery. In our opinion, fatigue is generally the main reason overuse injuries occur.
A lack of structure If there is no one with knowledge running the show, kids often hit here and there, have a few tennis coaches and do extra tennis exercises that their parents or friends saw their favorite player doing on the TV or Internet. There is no structure and no means of managing tennis injury prevention. The results we want to achieve won’t happen. It’s a mistake to push a young player to their limit without knowing what they have done the day before or what they have planned for the following day.
So what’s the best way to deal with tennis injuries in younger players? Prevention. Every child is different, tennis coaches and tennis trainers need to learn to communicate effectively to gain a greater understanding of how each individual works. Here are our simple tips on how to make that happen.
Three simple questions At the start of each session or the start of the day, ask each player: 1. How are you feeling; have you been sick since I saw you last? 2. Any injuries or little niggles? 3. What did you do yesterday, today; is there anything major on tomorrow?
Volume management Someone needs to be responsible for managing the volume of a younger player’s tennis fitness training each week. This will usually be a parent but this can be problematical, as most parents don’t have the education to know what’s not enough and what’s too much. We recommend a team effort – that is, a coach or tennis trainer working with the parent.
Learn to read kids If a young player is showing signs of fatigue or feeling lethargic, lack of motivation, or constant illness and injury, there is a good chance they are doing too much or they are not getting enough recovery. Reaching a point where the player needs to have extended time away from tennis is a sign that the tennis training schedule has been really mismanaged.
We’re not suggesting that you be soft on younger players or not push them – our young athletes will testify that we work them hard and, at the right times, they are worked to their limits. What we are saying is that it’s important to learn to manage and maintain a healthy balance of quality work with quality recovery.
Is it easy to get right? No, it's not, but communication is the key. Getting young players to speak up and learn how to manage their energy levels and other important aspects of their development take time and it's a team effort to get it all right. The sooner you get it functioning effectively the sooner you will have a happier and healthier athlete.