Malta Tennis Tour: Review

A review of 9 days of Tennis conditioning with 6 boys aged 15-18 and two girls aged 14-16. The account is from my perspective as a Performance Coach as I consider factors that could affect performance and training quality as well as future athletic development. It is in no way a subjective portrayal of the players whom I oversaw. I see this as a snap shot of how tennis can be improved in the UK.

Considerations that may affect physical performance

Travel: Flight was delayed causing us to arrive arrive at our villa at 5am in the morning with training scheduled the following day for 11am.

Food at the airport during the delay was minimal and restricted to junk food: sandwiches, pasties, sweets and cereal bars. With total traveling and sitting time equating to 14 hours of inactivity.


Temperature: started off cool and windy but progressed to be very warm and high 20s. Dehydration was a factor as well as not in taking in enough electrolytes and salts in their water. Over heating was the causation of two medical complaints, partly due to several hours training in the morning, followed by sunbathing and resuming training again in the afternoon.


Hydration: started off poor and an after thought for most players. Insufficient amounts consumed lead to several headaches over the week which hydration sachets managed to rectify.


Diet: a sugar addiction was ever present throughout the week. The speed at which the players energy levels peaked and troughed was alarming. Breakfast was cereal, toast, fruit with an option of a meat & vegetable omelette most days that few took up. The preference for a high protein, clean carb breakfast had to be discarded as the players would simply not intake enough energy to produce an effective training session. There was an over reliance on junk snacks instead of fruits and nuts for energy supplementation throughout the day. Lunches consisted of salads with egg, hams, tuna and cheese as well as fruit. Evening meal ranged from salads, pastas, BBQ with fruit as a post meal snack. The speed at which the players craved a sugar kick after highlighted the sugar addiction they all have and an immaturity to change was a key factor in them not embracing the nutritional guidance as much as they could have.


Injuries that occured

Only two complaints occurred, both of which were in the knee.

One player complained of a lateral knee pain around the patella when performing an externally rotated back lunge for a retreat forehand shot. Mobilisation of sub talar joint into eversion rectified the foots dysfunction on landing. Muscle testing highlighted weakness in the Vastus Lateralis and the gastrocnemius which was manipulated out resulting in no knee pain. Internal rotation at the hip was exercised during right foot loading to retrain the landing sequence in the right leg.


Another complained of medial left knee pain. On analysis of his movement it was apparent that his left first ray was stuck in plantar flexion preventing the talar navicular to lock and unload the foot. Releasing the left first ray underneath the arch of the foot allows the flexors of the first ray to become activated.


Physical observations: all the players lacked a degree of competent footwork. I still hold the belief that their footwear whilst playing tennis is a significant inhibitor to the foots movement ability. The structure of the sole of the shoe prevents the bones in the foot from being allowed to translate in their desired motions, this inhibits the feelings of the joints and causes an ineffective movement pattern developing from the foot and progressing further up the body.


This results in a foot that is unresponsive, heavy on landing, ineffective at moving on its toes and poor at dorsiflexing, resulting in hyper flexion in the knee, ineffective glute recruitment and excessive reliance upon the lower back and hamstrings when the players has to reach down towards the ground. This also is a precursor to a lack of thoracic extension and an over reliance upon using the arm a power generator opposed to a effective all body coil from which the power can be derived.


Players that had focused more on resistance opposed to movement, like deadlifts, bungee sprints and sled pulls, demonstrated poor proprioception and an inability to move their feel with any real pace and dexterity, resulting in coordination drills being challenging as well as being unable to move their feet quickly enough to set themselves to a receive a ball.


Another challenge was that of vanity. Too much time was spent trying to look good opposed to functioning effectively. Previous injuries to the upper hamstrings & obliques I believe were exasperated by a over reliance upon training the chest, which in turn protracted the shoulder blades and deactivates the upper back muscles. A lack of retraction, thoracic extension and rotation results in a player over using their arm when performing a shot. It’s also deactivates the latissimus dorsi muscle group which postural effects the loading of the glutes and the over use of the hamstrings.


The final observation is that they are too keen to over compensate when a movement restriction occurs. They require a stronger discipline to perform the desired movements effectively with control opposed to rushing a movement and allowing the body to utilise the movement patterns it’s used to. A lot of this comes from maturity, although the sooner the player is able to analyse their own movement patterns the quicker they will develop and improve, as well as enhancing their own body awareness.


ITF Competiton & Training Observations


When comparing our players to that of the other competitors that had travelled over from across Europe there was a significant difference in body language, attitudes and professionalism. Our players seemed inexperienced, immature, overwhelmed and unconfident in comparison to players of their age. It was obvious which players from abroad had bought their way into the tournaments off their parent’s backs and those who had worked hard to be there. Those players who had worked hard to attend the tournament had a greater appreciation of the other competitors and an underlying confidence and motivation that allowed them to play with more purpose. Where as a lack of experience and possible maturity caused our players to portray a negative body language and quickly doubt their abilities before they have even hit a ball, as they were often intimidated by what the opposition was wearing, size of bag or stature.


Certainly in training there was a distinct lack of arousal control demonstrated by our players, with performance being significantly affected by the players being either to pumped up/ angry or deflated and under confident to truly find their optimum performance and arousal level. Maturity will develop this further, however mental toughness is often the key to players succeeding or not. An over reliance to pass on blame from themselves also means that they are cheating themselves and unable to identify their weaknesses and thus inept and changing their approach, be that in training, in a match or off court.


With regards to the mental approach of ours players. I believe the society most junior tennis players operate within and the cultural stereotypes that influence them cause more harm then good. Tennis shouldn’t be an affluent sport, but the costs involved at competing at the highest level means that it is. An abundance of money around a player can make them become extrinsically motivated and fail to grasp and work hard at the key values that will forge a future athletic career. As soon as times get tough, most players from an affluent background appear to crumble. I can only assume this is because if anything normally goes wrong, an alternative can be purchased. This ties into the inability of the athlete to appropriately label blame and thus will significantly inhibit athletic development.


I was impressed how many of the other athletes took it upon themselves to do their own S&C work during their off court time, focusing on their exercise application and ensuring they were as physically prepared as possible. This area, out of everything is where our players let themselves down. Their was very little initiative shown and only when pushed would they do their warm ups or maintenance sessions. Some at the beginning of the week felt too fatigued after the warm up to compete to the level they felt they needed to, such was their poor fitness levels.


As in any tournament there will always be a varied amount of injuries, although, as mentioned in previous blogs I’ve written, I believe an injury should be a thing of the past with effective training and physical preparation. With Tennis being such an aggressive all body sport, injuries were seen throughout the body. Common problems were presented in knees & quads, shoulders and shins.

Overall a very productive trip that raised lots of questions and enlightened me in the standards that are expected and required to become a successful junior tennis player.

The trip was arranged by the organisers of The Algarve Open, where players can train and compete in an LTA Grade 3 tournament, where by I deliver the fitness component of the academy.

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