Exclusive College And Junior Tennis Series

with Sports Trainer


October 2006
One problem we face as college and university tennis coaches is that we have to retrain kids coming out of high school about what constitutes tennis fitness. When I coached the men's team here at the University of Massachusetts, the guys used to want to beef up so that their upper bodies were "cut." Some got into creatine and then they would get so muscle bound that they were inflexible.

The women seem to think that they need to burn the calories on the treadmill. Our treadmill at UMass is now off limits during the season and we handle the footwork/conditioning ourselves with rope ladder, resistance training, hurdles, cones, etc. I had to get the women to understand about lifting, as a lot of them thought they would become unattractively muscle bound.

My main issues are:
1. Long distance running to burn off calories is not what players need except in the off season to gain a base; 2. Flexibility and balance is critical to successful tennis; 3. Strength in the upper body is also critical. I think that because of the amount of topspin on the ball the women are dealing with hitting against higher ball which causes them to tire more quickly if they aren't stronger in the upper body; 4. Periodization - - The NCAA protects the kids from overtraining, but I find that High School players and their coaches want their kids to play more each day with no thought of burnout, injury, etc.

Judy Dixon, Head Tennis Coach-University of Massachusetts
(and Billie Jean King's former doubles partner)

A: 1.Long Distance Running: I think long distance running has a place in tennis, perhaps in the off season. That's especially true if someone is a little bit overweight and wants to loose a few pounds. But coaches have to be careful about ho much they run their players, and where they run them; tennis players need to run on grass or another soft surface because their legs are already under a lot of stress from running on the court all season. Your players can run all day, but at slow speeds.
Tennis is a sport in which the idea is to be quick during the point and to recover rapidly so that players are ready to play the next point. Training should be in intervals that are determined by the type of game you play, and the surface your players are playing on. The points are longer on clay, so obviously the intervals should be longer then if they are playing on grass or some other softer surface.

2. Flexibility & Balance: Players need good balance with their body to maintain consistency in their strokes. If they get to a shot and have good balance, they are going to be able to execute their stroke properly then and be able to repeat it over and over in the same way. Regarding flexibility, players need the kind of flexibility necessary to execute their shots. They don't need to be a gymnast to be a great tennis player, but they need sufficient flexibility to get lower to the ball without having to bend over from the waist. If your players have good flexibility in their hips, their calves and all those areas, they will be fine. Flexibility is critical, but it has to be functional for the sport.

3. Upper Body Strength: I think younger players tend to be weaker in their abdomen and upper body than in their lower body. And for them to be able to hit the tennis ball when they are out of position, they need strong shoulders, So you want your players to be strong in their upper body, particularly the shoulders. But you want top do exercises that apply to the stroke of tennis. We show many exercises and drills in the DVD series using rubber tubing and medicine balls. As you said, your players don't need to be bulking up to look good at the swimming pool. They should be doing exercises that will help them to hit well. And the bonus is that as they get fit, they're going to look good anyway.
At the same time, many players do the wrong exercises that actually interfere with their ability to hit their stroke properly. A classic example is the bench press, which may be good for a young man's ego, but not for his serve. As a rule of thumb, players don't need to be exercising with more than their own weight because that is what they will be carrying on the court during play. I find that more and more young players are trying to train more and more in a single session. More reps. More weight. More time. Quality is always better than quantity.

4. Periodization: Giving your players a day off here or there occasionally can be great. Tour players sometimes take a couple of weeks off at different times during the season. As a coach, you need to take a look at the whole schedule and figure out when to take time to recover. This is especially true for young players. If they over-train, they're going to get hurt. They burn out. And some of these injuries become chronic. Eventually they give up the game. Strategic time off will also help your players mentally.

I would like to thank Coach Dixon for her insights. It's easy to see why she has such a successful program at the University of Massachusetts.

Pat Etcheberry

Pat Etcheberry is one of the foremost sports trainers in the world, and is uniquely qualified to address the kinds of issues important to CollegeAndJuniorTennis.com. After spending more than two decades as the sports trainer at the University of Kentucky for all men's and women's teams, Pat left academia to train a young Andre Agassi for his legendary career. Since that time, Pat has trained more than two dozen professionals who have won more than 100 Grand Slam Championships and Olympic Medals. Pat operates the Etcheberry Sports Performance Center in Wesley Chapel, Florida, where he trains top tennis pros and junior players from around the world. For the first time, Pat reveals many of his training secrets in a 4-DVD series Strength & Conditioning for Serious Tennis that is available through his website at EtcheberryExperience.com.

If you are a high school or college coach and would like to ask Pat a question, send your comment and question to Pat@CollegeAndJuniorTennis.com.

May 2006 Column: Training High School Players

April 2006 Column: Preventing Injuries in College Players

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