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Ask the Lab: Training for Young Players

May 25, 2008 12:25 PM
PLEASE NOTE: The medical opinions in USTA.com's Ask the Lab are responses intended for the average player. Please consult with your primary physician before beginning any new exercise program.

Click here to submit a question to our team of experts.

Question: What type of training, and how much of it, is appropriate for my son or daughter?

Dr. Scott Riewald: For the record, this is a "made up" question but it reflects a wide range of questions we commonly receive for the "Ask the Expert" column. The Sport Science Department receives a number of questions each month related to training for young payers and what is appropriate for their stage of development.

These questions are frequently posed something like this:

"Are there certain exercises my 10 year old daughter should be doing to improve her strength?" or "My 12 year-old son practices four hours each day. Is this too much training, or is it not enough?"

These are difficult questions to answer because the response will likely differ depending on the specific needs, and the development, of the individual player. There can be large differences in players as it relates to the physical, mental and emotional development.

For example, did you know that in a group of three 12-year olds, one may have the physical development of an "average" 12-year old, but another may also have the physical development of a 14-year old, and the third may have the maturity of a boy who is 10? The response to the above questions would differ for each of these boys.

Despite the many potential differences, players do develop in much the same way – in other words, there are phases that all players go through. Consequently, there are some general guidelines that can be provided to help coaches, parents and players navigate the developmental pathway.

Additionally, there are what we call "Windows of Opportunity" during which players can make rapid gains in certain skills and abilities. These windows open and close in different phases of development and it is important to take advantage of them when they are open, for two reasons.

One is that the player will make faster progress in a skill or ability when the window is open, and secondly, if a window is missed, it may never be possible to make up for that lost "opportunity".

Recently the USTA’s Coaching Education Department developed a poster that outlines the "Progressive Development of a High Performance Player."

This document presents developmentally-specific guidelines on what should be targeted at each stage of a player’s development. These guidelines include the physical, mental and emotional, technical, and tactical skills that are important to work on in each phase. The chart also provides information on the volume and type of competition and training that is appropriate for players of different ages.

These guidelines can help answer some of the questions about what is best for your son or daughter - like those presented at the start of this column. The information contained in the chart can help guide the content and scope of what is appropriate as a player grows and develops.

We encourage you to download the "Progressive Development of a High Performance Player" chart. Use this information to help better understand the growth and development process and how tennis training can be maximized and made appropriate for every player.

About the Author:

The answers to this week's column come from Scott Riewald, PhD.


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