Tennis for Young Players
The road to becoming a top player
Training to train – the new conditioning
A method of developing the young players into adult champions. Using research and studies into biological development, training science and learning process psychology.The system enhanced the development of general physical performance, largely dependent upon age and help improve the individual talent and inborn abilities.First there was competition; then there was training for competition; then there was conditioning for training for competition; and now, it seems, we have pre-conditioning – a kind of continuous background activity designed to keep an athlete in prime training condition all year round, according to John Shepherd.
Unlike most training activities, pre-conditioning is not obsessively focused on performance enhancement. Rather, it is about analysing and understanding an athlete’s physical limitations with a view to correcting and compensating for weaknesses and imbalances and, crucially, keeping injury at bay.
In a competitive world where victories are measured in ever-shrinking gaps between top-class performers, such tactics are becoming increasingly important. Here is some of Shepherd’s general pre-conditioning advice, which can be used by coaches working with athletes from many disciplines:
• Use ‘home-grown’
tests – e.g. one-repetition weight training maximums and/or plyometric
(jumping) bests – to determine muscular weaknesses and imbalances;
individual biomechanics impact on sport performance is a crucial aspect
of successful pre-conditioning. And biomechanical faults are the key focus
of chiropractor Cherye Roche’s article. In the previous issue, Roche
homed in on the basic anatomical and biomechanical dysfunctions that can
lead to overuse injuries in the joints, and specifically at the role of
faulty foot mechanics. This time she goes on to consider a range of treatment
regimes for such injuries, focusing particularly on orthotic therapy.
Cherye Roche’s most crucial advice is to select a practitioner with specialised training, working in a practice which has a history of providing quality care, including regular orthotic therapy, to the local sporting community.
• Plantar fasciitis
(foot arch pain);
Long Term Performance Development in Tennis
Step-by-step performance development and important training principles.
Only through the knowledge of biological growth and as a result, the development of different methods of training at different age levels, is it possible to lay down a long-term successful performance development plan.
This development extends over a period of 15-18 years, from 5-7 year-old beginners up to individual top-class performance, which lies around the age 22-25 with male tennis players (somewhat earlier by women). From a beginner up to a successful professional male or female player one has to calculate a time-span of approx. 8-10 years with girls and approx. 11-13 years for boys. Exceptions are the rule, when some young players reach the peak earlier than others.
Only those, however, who have been meticulously trained in all areas, will be successful for a longer period of time. The destiny of most players is to drop out of the game. (The reasons will be discussed later).
Those who have reached the peak very early should not be seen as a model for others. In each generation there are a few exceptions worldwide. It is possible to subdivide the long-term performance development into the levels shown here:
Versatile basic training
There are to be seen as guidelines for the performance development during childhood and adolescence. Precisely expressed, training principles are based upon knowledge pertaining to sports science and upon experience from coaches and experts.
They are general guidelines for the controlling (planning and execution) of training. Before any planning and implementation of training begins, a so-called guiding principle should be considered.
Principle of development and health promotion
This states that an athletic training at no time should hamper the physical, mental and/or motor development, but rather promotes and takes into consideration the factor general health through the responsible avoidance or the best possible reduction of risks. With the help of fitness training, a wide basis of physical motor performance ability and resistance load capacity can be achieved.
On this basis, an increasingly specialized and performance-oriented training can be carried out. It is very important that the individual’s developmental age should be taken into account.
This table gives an overall view of the training principles within individual training levels.
Table: Training steps and the application of training principles according to the age.
Top-class competitive training from approx. 16/19 years
of effective motor stimulus
Training Principles of Basic Training for 6-10 years-old.
Principle of the effective motor stimulus
This principle states that training stimulus stages through which, regarding functional and morphological changes of adaptations, subliminal (= under the effective threshold), supraliminal weak, supraliminal strong and too strong stimuli are differentiated. Subliminal stimuli remain ineffective, supraliminal weak ones maintain the functional level while supraliminal strong ones (= optimal) cause physiological and anatomical changes. Stimuli that are too strong, harm the functions.
Principle of the optimal ratio of workload and relaxation
This principle takes into consideration the fact, that after an effective training load (training unit) a certain time is necessary for the individual to recreate himself in order to carry out a new similar load (next training unit) under favorable conditions. Load and relaxation should be viewed as a whole. The biological result is the phenomenon of super-compensation, through which, through the application of a strong load stimulus not only a compensation or re-establishment of the starting level occurs but an overcompensation of the demanded energy storage (creatine phosphate, glycogen) appears. The increased level does not survive through a one-time load but recedes. On the other hand, it is the phenomenon of the connection between performance ability and fatigue (= two factor theory), which means precisely that after a training load, a rise in fatigue takes place with a simultaneous rise in performance.
Principle of the variation of training load
Within the framework of an effective training load, the role of the sympathetic vegetative nerve system must not be overlooked. The sympathetic nervous system sets the body into a state of readiness for high performance, which is a necessary prerequisite for effective training loads. Through continuous similar stimulation, the sympathetic nervous system is subject to the stimulus stage rule and a decrease of its ergotrope (performance increase) effect takes place. Similar training stimuli over a longer period lead to a stagnation and concomitant fall off in previous stage of stimulation. This variation must relate within the practical sphere of training, not only to changes in intensity but above all to a change in training contents, dynamics of movement, the organizing of breaks, in other words, training methods. They constitute an interruption of the load monotony within the vegetative nervous system and cause, as unusual motor stimuli, additional homeostasis interruptions with subsequent adaptations.
Principle of age suitability
Meaningful performance development can only adjust itself according to biological age (above all the so-called “sensitive phase”) and the individual biological circumstances. Physical conditioning, psychosocial and coordination-technical abilities and skills can only receive optimal promotion in this context.
The additional principles of development training (1) of 9 to 13 years-old
Principle of repetition and performance continuity
To reach an optimal adaptation it is necessary to repeat the load several times in order to achieve stable adaptation, because the organism has to run through a series of radical changes to its functional systems. The final adaptation is reached when not only the enrichment of substrates (= high energy materials) but also adaptations in other functional systems (e.g. enzyme system, hormone system) took place and, above all, that the central nervous system as the leading stage of load performance has adapted itself. It is well known that the metabolic and enzymatic adaptation proceedings are carried out relatively fast (2-3 weeks). Structural (morphological) changes take longer (at least 4-6 weeks).
The steering and regulating structures of the central nervous system need the longest period of adaptation (months). If regular and continuous load stimuli fail to appear, a retrogression of functional and morphological adaptations take place (de-adaptation). By already executed adaptation, stability loss of control and regulating system occurs.
Principle of priority and purposeful coordination
In tennis (as in all other sports) the concern is with the priority of individual abilities, either conditional or coordinative. With training it is possible to achieve the dynamic stereotype (goal oriented coordination).
It is however possible
to differentiate between the following:
If, consequently, individual conditioned and/or coordination elements are improved, they must be immediately integrated into the real time a defence structure of the movement to be worked upon. This happens through numerous repetitions of the whole movement, at first with a mean required and/or somewhat reduced velocity, gradually building up to a correct simulation of the shot, as it would be played in a match.
This is achieved by following the steps as outlined below:
• The use of
partial elements with immediate integration into the overall movement,
whereby the latter is always the most important element in the coaching
Principle of progressive load increase
When training loads remain equal over a long period of time, the player adapts to them and therefore the same load stimuli ceases to become less effective and as a result there will little likelihood of an increase in performance. The consequences of a progressive increase of the training load over a certain period of time may be twofold.
1. The increase may
occur gradually or suddenly depending upon the player’s biological
age, training age and the level of his sport specific skills. The increase
in small steps (gradually) always makes sense as long as by using this
method an increase in performance is usually achieved. However, if a slight
rise of the training load doesn’t achieve improved performance then
a sudden load increase may be necessary at high training level.
Compared to a development in small steps longer periods of time are necessary to reach stability within an increased adaptive training situation. The possibilities of progressive load increase are given through a change of the load components, through higher coordination training and through the number of competitions the player is required to play in.
On a long-term basis, the changes of the load components are usually presented in the following order:
training frequency (training units per week).
The principle of dividing into periods and cycles
An athlete cannot be in top-class competitive form all year long because he finds himself at the borderline of his particular capacity. This is dangerous, because the anabolic (= restorative metabolic process) total can change into a catabolic one i.e. dissimilation. For biological reasons a load change is necessary. The phase character of the course of adaptation with intensity, stabilization and reduction phase, demands long-term, after division of the training year into developing, stabilizing and reducing load periods (preparatory, competitive, transition period) and medium-term, in the frame of mesocycles, a change of load increasing, load containing and load-reducing micro-cycles. Thereby on the one hand, over demanding load can be avoided and on the other hand a higher peak of performance can be reached at certain times.
The principle of individuality
For an optimal performance development, starting at approx. the age of 12-14, the personal situations of the players have to be given the coach’s full attention. This in particular pertains to the various genetic components such as technical abilities, motor learning, plus physical make up, type of temperament, character, intellect, trainability, etc., in addition to more environmentally influenced components like motivation, resolution and others.
The principle of the regulating interaction between individual training elements.
What is discussed in this section here is the measured coordination of physical training and training technique. This is an important basis for the development to an individual top-class performance athlete, since different training elements can influence the outcome in a positive or negative manner. Physical training, in the area of top-class sports is to be seen mainly in relation to sport specific technique training. Therefore, it also seems appropriate to consider principles of technique training during the planning of the type of loads to be applied and the implementation of fitness training. Experienced and successful trainers state ten basic and proven practical rules, of which two are commented on here:
The principle of complexity
In the area of top sports a combined specific training must be predominant, often with simultaneous technical, tactical and conditioning goals. The necessary performance requirements must be stimulated in such a way as to be very close to technique and such manner that learned pattern of movement can be recalled under the highest demands of competition. This means that both coaches and players need a great deal of experience and intuitive feelings to successfully achieve this.
The principle of quality and precision
Since top class performance in tennis is combined with a very high quality of realization, players also have to get used to this precision pressure during training. This can be achieved, for example, through matches and training competition.
The principle of cyclic regeneration
Assuming that performance control was optimally completed experience tells us that the high level performance life in tennis from beginner to the top-class player lasts 8-15 years. If the players reached international level, this has to be grooved in through extreme training and competitive loads, it is therefore quite normal that after 2-6 years small performance losses occur, this despite an increased training. The causes of this situation are still not fully understood. Attempts to explain this problem, which relate to so-called “coordination barriers”, technique stagnations, over-training of the different human systems (central nervous system, vegetative system, muscular system etc.) and stagnation, are but some of the reasons. Furthermore, next to these possible physiological causes, mental signs of fatigue (training and competitive weariness, no “bite”) can also appear or be the actual cause.
A recipe used by many world-class athletes to overcome such a phase is to take time to regenerate. Olympic champions like Lasse Viren (5k & 10k) , Alexander Pusch (fencing), Rolf Milser (weightlifting), many world-class tennis players like McEnroe, Wilander etc have all taken 6-12 months breaks from competition after producing top-class performance over 3-5 years and have severely reduced their training intensity, concentrating more on regenerating measures. In the time following, these athletes have again shown (and partially even increased) absolute top-class performance.
Further to this there will be an explanation put forward to cover in grater detail the individual steps involved in long-term performance development, and to this end the following will be covered.
• General suggestions
( and special aspects)
Step 1: Versatile Basic Training (Approx: 4-7 years old)
Children at this age achieve their first motor combinations that are predominately quantitative with less qualitative movement and with frequent unnecessary movements. They experience rapid increase in fast movements, speed and in terms of coordination as well as aerobic endurance. The leg muscles are well developed in contrast to those of the torso, the shoulder and arms. With regard to young children of this age it is not appropriate to use the term “training”. Children should be given age-suitable and versatile motor training which has a very high level of play involved.
For this reason, the following motor forms are suggested as being appropriate:
Regarding concentration, children of this age can’t sustain long training sessions. For this reason the program has to change continuously, be diverse and encompass the whole body. It is very important to give the children a fair degree of choice in what they do and one cardinal rule is to accept the wishes and initiatives of the children !
Training goals and contents
• In any training
regime for the young children versatile general basic training with non-specific
and varied ways of playing and complex motor forms around all body axes
should take pride of place.
The hours of exercise must be well planned: a regular training plan, however, does not exist at this age because fun, enjoyment and improvising should always be the main ingredients.
• The percentage
portion of tennis-specific training should be no higher than 30% of the
total exercising time. Basic training is of prime importance. Tennis or
tennis-similar exercises are merely a part of the total program.
Step 2: Basic Training (Approx. 6-10 years old)
This age constitutes a phase of harmonious growth and physical differentiation in which above all, rapid progression in learning ability, in the development of coordination, reaction time and speed, of movement and aerobic capacity, are all seen. The ability to concentrate over long period of time as well as performance directed motor abilities are yet strictly limited.
Now, tennis specific training can begin. This does not mean that from now on, only, or to a major part, tennis is played! Completely the opposite is true! Again the term “basic training” points to the major content of this stage.
In this, as well as in the next phase of development (step 3), is known as the best motoric learning age, the actual basics must be established for later, performance-oriented tennis. Therefore, continuing general training, with increasing intensity, exist in the foreground on the one side, and on the other side emphasis must be laid on the quality of stroke production. It is important that what is learned now doesn’t have to be changed in a toilsome and time consuming manner in the future. Having an eye on the quality of tennis techniques also means looking at running, jumping throwing technique and other motor processes, which are important to performance tennis.
Training goals and contents
Three main goals are
paramount during this phase:
A suggested training plan
• Training and
tournament plans don’t play a role at this stage yet
• In the beginning
so-called mini-tennis tournaments should be played. Mini-tennis is the
best form between the coordinative tennis specific pre-exercising; short
tennis is vital in the process of learning the total court technique.
Mini-tennis tournaments should not be overrated. It must be fun for the
children to compete with an opponent, motivate them, give them the first
tactical bases and strengthen their mental capabilities.
Step 3: Development training (1) (Approx. 9-13 years old)
General reference and special aspects
This is the time of the best motor learning ability, the most harmonious growth and differentiating process; rapid advancement is shown in inter-muscular coordination, reaction time, movement speed and also partially in speed strength. The maximum strength and anaerobic-lactic capacity are relatively weak.
This step is the first decisive stage for the later performance development. Mistakes that made at this stage can hardly be corrected in the future. Now, a high quality in basic technique has to be strived for. Thereby the final technique is, as yet, not reached but a clear execution of the basic forms. Quality also dominates other exercises (like throwing etc.)
All strokes techniques in their basic form have to be in place before the age of 12. Dependent upon age, slice, the topspin, drive, volley, smash, drop shot, two types of serve etc. should be used in a match. This means that in the second half of this stage the tennis specific elements slowly become more important. This does not mean that general training becomes less important. It only means that because of time constraints the training has to adapt to the specific demands of tennis. This means that more orientation in the direction of specific physical training for tennis has to be considered. Training of coordination as well as physical conditioning has to support and optimize tennis specific work of the trainee on the court.
Please note that the
following examples are still unfortunately happening on the ground:
Training goals and contents
Since the brain and the central nervous system have now reached maturity and a harmonious growth situation exists, the following training goals are important:
• A qualitatively
high standard technique training of all stroke and motor forms in tennis.
Up to the 12th year of age, optimal learning of all techniques must have
On the basis of the given shortages in the maximal strength area (unstable skeletal system) and in the anaerobic-lactic energy availability, no overtaxing (e.g. long rallies) should take place.
Proposed training plan
• A training
plan for the whole year, with detailed stages, monthly and weekly plans,
will be carried out for the first time (otherwise there will be too much
leeway for improvisation).
• At this age
a sensible tournament plan should be set up, which in reality means a
limited plan, because children should neither be overloaded nor confronted
with difficult tournaments. Taking part in older categories should only
be allowed where the child, performance wise has the possibility of a
number of victories.
Recommended number of matches per year
Approx. 40-50 matches, in addition double matches.
At this age doubles should be played regularly. In doubles, numerous details of technique are practiced, which are of great importance for modern singles tennis, for example, the short cross return from both sides and with both kinds of strokes (forehand, backhand), first volley near the T-line through direction reduction etc.
Based on decades of experience the above suggested yearly plan is certainly not set in tablets of stone, but should be seen as a possible model. As mentioned, development and training of most factors has to be continued during the period of competition.
What has to be adhered to are the individual preparatory periods, without taking part in tournaments. Because so many areas are not sufficiently stabilized, young players and their coaches should, at least once a year, have a sufficient long time to build, improve, stabilize or even change, with restrictions eventually resulting (loss of form, performance decrease). Additionally it would be an advantage if approximately twice a year a shorter period of time is available for the same purpose. These preparatory periods automatically change within the next phases and the tournament periods become longer, therefore leaving less time available for necessary changes or adjustments.
The major points of the individual periods as well as the necessary regenerating phases without tennis must be adhered to.
4: Development training (2)
General reference and special aspects
It was stated during the previous step that the first decisive leg, so this next step is the first critical one in the development of a young tennis player. Through the start of the first puberty phase and the following physical and mental changes (accelerated growth, sex diverging hormonal changes, restructuring motoric abilities and skills, reduced motoric learning ability etc.) it can lead to setbacks, temporary stagnations, to mental and physical as also to other personal problems.
It is however important to remember that this is not inevitable. By all means, this age is a challenge for every coach because he is confronted, as a rule, for the first time with opposition, contradiction, disciplinary problems, desire to be independent, knowing better etc. the start of hormonal change can lead to gender specific differences as well as to development differences in respect to acceleration and retardation. Thereby on the one hand, performance leaps occur, on the other hand stagnation is possible.
Caution is urged when dealing with successful girls:
They are pressed too fast toward in almost 100% entry into adult and WTA tennis. It is hoped that on the basis of explanations, the great danger of a too rapid entry into professional tennis has been made clear.
It is without question that a combination between the own age category, the older category and partially adult tennis, is to be suggested for very successful girls.
One just has to know where and how the higher tournament load can be justifiable and above all, beneficial. Here, sensibility and experience is asked on the part of the coaches. Must can be destroyed, that has previously shown to be developing well.
Training goals and contents
In spite of the above problems, not only do previously developed abilities and skills have to be further intensified but also new contents have to be taken up, such as the start of a purposeful muscle development and the promotion of aerobic capacity.
• In the second
phase of this step, speed strength and endurance training has to be intensified
and correct training system must be introduced in the area of work. In
other words: increased force development training (general and specific)
as well as a balancing of possible muscular imbalance (as a result of
increased training matches and participation in tournaments).
In the area of technique:
• If technique
is systematically developed in the previous steps, all techniques should
be available in relative high quality. Now it is necessary to continue
to perfect the player’s potential and above all, to bind together
the coordination and the conditioned elements, as well as to further increase
the complexity in training.
Therefore more attention must be put upon the nutrition in girls and young women. Male adolescents are normally 1-2 years biologically behind girls.
Suggested training plan
• The yearly
training plan and its cyclical subdivisions should now be more closely
scrutinized. Without detailed planning, up to and including stringent
training units, no optimal performance control will be possible.
in this phase, should still be seen as feedback required to control performance.
No pressure to succeed should be exerted. Tournaments should confirm the
correctness of training methods, contents, extents, intensities etc. and/or
give reasons for change.
Also tactics which are schooled in training, reach a necessary high grade quality only through tournaments.
Suggested number of matches per year
Approximately 60 matches in addition to double matches.
5: Connecting training
This step is the second decisive leg for the future performance development in tennis, and perhaps the most important one of all. Because it is so decisive it has to completed very successfully. Responsible for this are not only the age level implementing professionally correct training contents, but also the already prescribed systematic long-term development in the previous steps which has to be seen as a prerequisite! The adolescent, as seen from the point of view of his development, can,, on the basis of his gradual pubertal growth, undertake even heavier training loads. All areas can already be included in the training.
This step is also decisive for the development of the player’s individuality, for the perfection of the tactical abilities and for the moral attitudes during a match. For this reason, a strongly increased participation in tournaments is necessary and for the first time, the tournament results play an important role. If up to now, tournament results and positions in the ranking list only served as a form of feedback providing training control which had little meaning from the players perspective, success in tournaments now presents a certain criteria and prerequisite for a successful career. The player now has to be able to successfully apply his long-term achievements in a match.