Long Term Athletic Development: Considerations Within Tennis – A Practical Approach, Part 2

The aim of this group of articles is to provide evidenced-based practical considerations on how LTAD can be implemented within tennis clubs, regardless of facilities, number of players or coaches working in the program.

Part One of this series emphasized the importance of how motor skill and strength development should work alongside the delivery of tennis coaching. As discussed, strength is a key component of motor skills (Lloyd et al., 2016). A second consideration focused on using tennis clubs to promote lifelong health and well-being. Strength and conditioning, mental skill training, nutritional education and lifestyle support – alongside coaching – provide a holistic approach to the health and well-being of young people.

Now in this Part Two article, we will look at more considerations.

Consideration Three: Monitoring tools can be implemented within programs, with parents and players being educated on their use.

Long-term athletic development programs should put tools in place to monitor each young athlete’s physical performance, psychosocial well-being, growth and maturation (Lloyd et al., 2016, iTPA 2012). Factors such as facilities, expertise and cost, however, may influence the methods used.

Physical Testing

Physical testing allows coaches to determine improvements in physical performance. Testing is likely to focus on areas such as speed, agility, strength, power, endurance and movement competency. Procedures and protocols may be adapted to meet the varied ages or the number of players. Testing can occur quarterly or during each term, ideally with players tested in a similar environment (such as court surface, temperature and warm-up routines). Furthermore, based on the equipment available and expertise, testing tools may range from a tape measure and stopwatch to low-cost smartphone applications (such as My Jump and My Sprint) to high-end technology such as Optojump and timing gates.

Regardless of the methods used, if the testing is standardized the results can provide useful feedback. But the test outcome isn’t the only important information to glean.

To monitor performance, coaches should also be aware of movement efficiency. Movement competency can also be assessed through a checklist that highlights important technical components and whether the young athlete demonstrates them. (For example, when the athlete jumps, is their landing balanced?) As discussed in Part One, movement competency and body awareness are essential to fundamental movement skills and the development of sport-specific skills.

Growth and Maturation Assessments

It is important to remember that young people should not be trained like “miniature adults” (Lloyd et al., 2016). Growth and maturation – including peak height velocity (PHV), the period of time in which a child experiences their fastest upward growth in stature – are important considerations when coaching junior tennis players. As a player grows taller, both before and during PHV, their rapid increases in growth may put them at risk of increased overuse and traumatic injury (Sluis et al., 2015).

Individual differences in maturation should lead to each player’s program being customized to manage volume and session content (Ochi and Kovacs, 2016). A player experiencing a rapid growth spurt, for example, may have to “relearn skills” and learn about their “new body.” This may manifest itself as changes in coordination. A player’s spatial orientation may be altered due to changes in limb length, and thus perception and contact points on groundstrokes may be different.

With permission from parents and players, coaches should regularly measure players’ height, leg length and weight, and monitor this accordingly. Peak height velocity in girls has been noted to be around 8.3cm/year; with boys it is approximately 9.5cm/year (Strandjord and Rome, 2016).

The use of non-invasive measures may also provide coaches with an estimation of the age of PHV and the predicated height of adult stature (PHA) (Khamis and Roche, 1995, Mirwald et al., 2002). The equation devised by Mirwald et al. (2002) can provide a predictive measurement of PHV using measurements including height, leg length and weight. This has shown to have an accuracy of ± 6 -12 months, but may provide a useful tool for coaches to provide greater insight when PHV may be occur.

The equation is available at:
(University of Saskatchewan, 2017)

Furthermore, awareness of the current maturity of players predicted by PHA may also provide coaches with information about players’ current growth rates. Khamis and Roche’s (1995) method takes into account parental heights, height, weight and age of the individual providing a predicted adult height. The method has also been shown to be a reasonable predictor alongside invasive, costlier and medical professional methods measuring skeletal maturity through radiography (Malina et al., 2007). PHV has been shown to occur between 88-96% PHA, with largest gains at around 92% PHA (Cummings et al., 2017). Therefore, having a multitude of data may help provide greater clarity when PHV is occurring. The PHA equation is available at:
(University of Washington, 2017)

Given this dynamic situation, coaches may want to consider the combination of once- to twice- monthly measurements of height, weight and leg length, alongside periodic use of equations predicting the age of PHV and PHA. Equations. This will allow more evidenced-based considerations when planning training blocks for individual players.

Subjective measure continues to be considered one of the most effective ways to monitor training stress placed upon an individual both from chronic (longer term such as over weeks) and acute (one session) training (Saw et al., 2016). Both the Recovery Stress Questionnaire for Athletes (RESTQ-S) and Profile of Mood States (POMS) questionnaire have been shown to be appropriate when working with young athletes (Saw et al., 2016). These questionnaires consider stress, feelings of recovery and mood profile of the individuals. Due to potential time constraints, it would be unrealistic to complete these after each session, but coaches, particularly those working with players at high volumes of play, may wish to consider using these every two weeks. Combining this with regular anthropometric measurements may provide a regular monitoring process.

Coaches working alongside strength and conditioning/sport scientists may also wish to consider devising their own subjective questionnaire that suits their program and the players they support. Such a questionnaire might help gauge each athlete’s feelings of fatigue, muscle soreness, sleep quality, illness, feelings of stress and motivation, social well-being (e.g., time with friends/family) and other parameters that may be affecting the individual’s wellbeing (such as school work).

Training Loads

Training load is an important focus when working with junior tennis players in relation to injury risk. In recent years Jayanthi et al., (2013) and Ochi and Kovacs (2016) have suggested that age minus one is the maximum volume of tennis activity hours that a player should participate in each week. This is further backed up by effective tournament planning, which consists playing no more than 18 tournaments per year, and two or less per month for players in a Training to Compete Age (Jayanthi et al., 2013, Ochi and Kovacs, 2016). Ochi and Kovacs (2016) continue emphasizing the importance of effective long-term planning with junior players taking two full days off per week, with “down” weeks of training in which the intensity and/or volume is lower.

Despite having a range of internal (heart rate) and external measures (GPS) that are often used in sport, subjective measures like ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) (Figure One) continue to be used by top practitioners (Gabbett, 2016). Not only is this a cost-effective and simple measurement to use, it also allows young people to begin to understand how their bodies develop and what training intensities may feel like. The use of arbitrary units through RPE and Time can give coaches a training load:

RPE (of the player during that session) x Duration of Training (minutes) = Load (Figure 2)

Despite little evidence in tennis – and particularly with young individuals – Gabbett (2016) suggested that players were 50-80% more likely to be injured with weekly training loads of 3000-5000 units during preseason. Of course, with young athletes we should consider these numbers with caution and make no generalizations. However, the use of RPE X Time can be an effective way in which to measure training load, allowing training to be planned and adapted very quickly. Although it is important to state when units increased weekly by more than 10% a greater risk of injury was shown. Therefore, training loads should be well planned, managed carefully with regular download weeks.

Figure 2: Training Load RPE X Time Performance Junior

Technical Elements

A final but obvious consideration is the coaching of effective technique within tennis. Despite there being individual differences in techniques based on anatomical and physiological variations, to maximize performance and reduce injury risk, biomechanical principles of stroke production are agreed (Elliott, Reid and Crespo, 2003). However, it may be worth coaches having a “checklist” of effective stroke mechanics that may reduce the risk of injury when coaching junior players. Excellent work has been ongoing focusing on stroke modification following injury (Jayanthi and Tzakis, 2016).

Areas to focus on during the serve include reducing lumbar (lower back) extension to less than 20° and ensuring that knee bend is greater than 10°. Furthermore, focusing on scapular retraction (shoulders pulled back) and effective torso rotation during the loading phase are also important considerations during the serve (Jayanthi and Tzakis, 2016, Kovacs and Ellenbecker, 2011). Reducing excessive ulnar deviation (movement of wrist, little finger side dropping excessively to body) and “wrist led shots” on groundstrokes may also reduce the risk of injury with additional lower body strength to lunge and load through the kinetic chain of the body (Jayanthi and Tzakis, 2016). Coaches – with parent permission – may wish to film players and then use applications such as Coaches Eye or Dartfish to analyse areas of technique potentially at the start of every term.

The aim of part two of this blog was to provide an overview of how monitoring tools can be used within tennis programs – with a focus on one of the pillars from the excellent NSCA Position Statement on LTAD (Llloyd et al., 2016). Tennis coaches are at the forefront with players and parents; because of this they are the “secret warriors” whose mission is to emphasize how sport science can be integrated into training – not only to benefit performance but more importantly for health and well-being.

Arguably, sport science and tennis coaching go hand in hand and should be considered equally important as a collaboration for LTAD. They should not be separate entities and this where the certification process by the iTPA helps bridge the gap. Not all the suggestions made in this article (summarized in Table One) will necessarily be utilized by tennis centers – mitigating factors include the participation levels of players, the available facilities, and the expertise of the coach. However, as a duty of care to players – and to make sure we use tennis as a channel to promote health and well-being to young people – a robust monitoring system can certainly play a part.

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