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Ask the High Perfomance Lab

May 25, 2008 12:25 PM

PLEASE NOTE: The medical opinions in USTA.com's Ask the High Performance Lab are responses intended for the average player. Please consult with your primary physician before beginning any new exercise program.

If you would like to submit a question that may be answered by our Health & Fitness team or want to share an idea for a future column, please click here.

This week's Ask the High Performance Lab come from Anne Pankhurst, the Administrator of Coaching Education for the USTA Player Development Division. Ms. Pankhurst is an expert on the topic of athlete development and age appropriate training - making her the perfect person to answer the following questions on training young tennis players.

From Jackie Evangelista of Harrisburg, PA: My daughter is 13 years old and is playing in tournaments. I am also her coach and training manager as well as assistant coach for our school district's tennis program.

The type of cross training we do is biking, running hills (we have two acres in a mountain development), light weights to strengthen the forearms and wrists and she does Pilates with her father -- More for his benefit, but she's the perfect exercise buddy.

My daughter also plays piano and trains very hard in both piano and tennis. Tennis is 4 to 5 times a week with two to three hours of playing and drills. My daughter hopes to play at the National level at least once but has a goal to play in college.

Is this enough for her age or should we be in the weight room and doing more strenuous exercises? I see other kids' parents putting them into very rigorous training programs at younger ages than my daughter. I have heard about the growth plates and about not weight training prior to puberty.

Pankhurts: Thank you for the email. It looks as if your daughter has a full and varied program. She is taking part in a variety of activities and does not concentrate entirely on tennis. Here are a couple of thoughts based on the information you provided.

  • The length and number of times that she plays tennis is about right.

  • Playing the piano is important, too, because it is a very different activity.

  • Clearly your daughter is moving through puberty and so it is especially important to monitor her physical activity program and make sure she has enough rest. It would be sensible to have at least one full day off a week and as much as 3 to 4 weeks off during the year. You do not say how many tournaments she plays but the 3 to 4 week break would be sensible.

  • The question of weight training is an important one and the determining factor must always be the developmental age of the young person. This is because there can up to two years difference between the developmental and the chronological (actual) age of a child. During puberty this difference is important because at that stage young people of the same actual age can be so different developmentally. So starting weight training could be suitable for some, but not for others. As you say, young people are still growing. For tennis, any weight training with young players should involve performing a high number of repetitions against light to moderate resistance. It is important though for all young players to take part in strength training – perhaps with the use of resistance bands.

It is great that your daughter has clear goals for her tennis and seems to have a good program to help her reach those goals. I hope this information is of help.

From Joseph Ostheller of Alpine, Utah: I have four kids ages 7, 9, 11, and 12. They all love tennis. I want to be able to provide them with every opportunity to be successful. How much, and what kind of physical training should I promote? Jog one mile per day? Hit for two hours per day? 60 sit-ups on the big ball per day? What do you think?

Pankhurst: Thank you for the email. It is good to hear that your children love tennis – the vital thing is to have a program that is fun and enables them to develop into good players.

Your children are obviously of different ages and you do not say if they are girls or boys. If the older one is a girl she could be moving into puberty so it is especially important to make sure she has a good balanced schedule that takes into account her development.

It is always difficult to know whether a child will be successful – and all four of yours are still very young at the moment. However, what will help them most of all is to give them a good schedule where they play other sports and take part in physical activities that will help them develop basic sports skills. These are balance, coordination and agility.

In addition, they are all at the age when it is the best time to learn motor skills – the technique of different sports skills. If they take part in a wide range of sports and activities they do not really need specific physical training as you list it. The jogging would be for endurance – but this could also be done in a more fun way with another sport or activity. At this age sit ups are not necessary if the children have a varied and balanced program.

Any sport activity at this age should be fun so while hitting for two hours a day could be fun, it is a rather long time for a 7 or 9 year old - about an hour would be best for them.

Again, to take part in different activities other than tennis has actually been shown to help the development of tennis players. Concentrating on one sport at an early age is unlikely to be the best way to develop tennis players! If you follow a varied program with them all it is more likely they will become successful in sport – even if they decide on another sport than tennis!

If you would like to submit a question that may be answered by our Health & Fitness team or want to share an idea for a future column, please click here.

Click here for USTA.com's Health & Fitness Archive.

Also, click here to visit the USTA Player Development website!



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