Oliver Stephens. MTPS, PTR, USPTA.
It’s often stated that junior tennis tournaments are more challenging to the body and the mind than playing a professional event. In some ways this is true. At a junior tournament, you may be expected to play 3 or 4 matches a day, both singles and doubles and you are officially only entitled 1 hours rest in between matches. I would rather play 1 match a day or even 1 every 2 days on the professional tour than do that.
Take into account the facts that:
- a) Some juniors might drive several hours to get to the tournament so are also tired from a long journey.
- b) Young tennis players are still growing and developing both physically and mentally so this adds to the stress on the body and the mind.
- c) Some junior tennis matches can last around the 3 hour mark as often the points are longer than on the professional tours.
What is listed above can be a recipe for injuries, fatigue and burnout.
These are simply the facts of life as a junior competitive player. Until all schools across America grant 3-4 days off every weekend, lots of the tournaments have to be finished in 48-72 hours so you just have to learn to deal with it.
So, what can be done? Here are some guidelines to make your life easier as a junior tennis player:
- Make sure you are prepared physically. This means several things. Firstly, DO NOT underestimate the importance of being rested. We have all had homework before, but staying on top of your studies will enable you to get more sleep and more rest. Also, make sure you eat a sensible diet in the week before the tournament, plenty of healthy carbs, lean proteins and lots of vegetables (sorry!). Stay away from sodas, fatty food and fried food especially.
- Hydrate, hydrate and then hydrate some more! Did you know that you can sweat out more liquids than you can replace during a match? This means that you have to arrive to your match overly hydrated. Lots of water, some Gatorade/powerade etc. Also coconut water is recommended as its great for hydration however make sure you don’t try it for the first time in a match as a small percentage of people get an upset stomach from coconut water.
- Make sure your bag is packed properly. Prepare for battle. Your tennis bag and travel bag are YOUR responsibility. It is definitely not your parents or your coaches. If you are old enough to read this, you are old enough to take responsibility for your tennis bag. You should have at least 3 rackets freshly string and freshly gripped. Your bag should also contain: A complete change of clothes, spare shoelaces, spare strings and grips, a stretch band, your tennis diary, any medication you may need (asthma medicine etc), some candy for an energy boost should you need it late in the match, more spare socks, sweatbands, jump rope, practice balls, WATER and recovery drinks etc…..
- Make sure you arrive for your matches with plenty of time to spare. Check and then double-check your match times, you don’t want to rush onto the court or be penalized games because you are late for your practice.
- Go onto the courts sweating! You MUST develop the routine of a good dynamic warm up before each match. Jumping rope is a great way to warm up if you have limited space available.
- After the match, win or lose, develop a good 15-25 minute static stretching routine. Even if you have a match in 1 hour’s time, take 10-15 minutes to stretch and then warm up again before your next match.
- After your match REHYDRATE! Drink plenty of fluids and also it may be a good idea to have a healthy protein shake, and yes, chocolate milk is great if you cant find one you really like.
- If you have limited time between matches, try to eat a healthy snack, remember to pack something beforehand in case there is nothing to eat nearby. Recommendations would be low fat muesli bars, home made sandwiches, dried fruit, fruit cups etc. If you do have a few hours, I would recommend a shower, a complete change of clothes, a healthy meal and some down time to relax your mind. Bring a good book to all tournaments!
- Scout your opponents. If you know who you are playing next and they are playing, take the time to spend 20 minutes watching them, try to identify 2 things they struggle with and develop your game plan around these weaknesses.
- Lastly, make sure you are prepared for the next day! You may finish late and have to start again early the next day, go through the routine of packing your bag the night before, eating a healthy meal, hydrating and getting a good nights sleep.
ALL of the above things are in YOUR control. There are no excuses for poor preparation. Tennis is a mentally and physically demanding sport, you will find it gets easier if you are prepared. Be professional and mature about your preparation and you will find the matches themselves more fun.