Tips on how to avoid common mistakes in junior tennis:
Grant Jenkins has been involved in developmental sport for over 12 years. Below he describes some common mistakes he sees in junior tennis.
A common fallacy is tennis is that a player needs to ‘hit up’ (i.e. hit with players better than them) to improve. The simplest argument against this is to note the improvement that Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have undergone over the years, with almost no chance to hit up. On a more serious note, while hitting up does have some advantages there are some potential negatives that could occur. Hitting up may reduce the player’s opportunity to generate their own pace and can disrupt their swing techniques. It could also possibly affect the player’s ability to create their own training intensity. Players should aim to hit up about a third of their training time; hit at the same level about a third of the time and ‘hit down’ about a third of the time. This break down will allow players to balance their training to allow maximum improvement.
Emphasis on Winning
On the continuum between ‘winning’ and ‘development’, a common mistake in junior tennis is to emphasise the ‘winning’ aspect. This is an unfortunate situation as there is a lot of evidence to suggest that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve elite status. The implication of the 10,000 hour rule is that players need this amount of time to develop, and when this is sacrificed in favour of winning their development is stunted. The junior tennis player needs to master the technical and tactical aspects of the game. They need to develop physical attributes that will allow them to compete with some of the best athletes in the world; as well as enhance their mental strength.
It is important that those surrounding the young tennis player focus on the process rather than the result. A win is not something to celebrate if the correct tactics were not implemented, or if technical changes regressed. Likewise, the player should be commended if they demonstrated in the match what they were working on in practice, regardless of the result.
Incorrect Tournament Schedule
For a young player to develop, and to enjoy their journey, it is imperative that they set a tournament schedule that suits their level. Too many wins and the player might get bored due to the lack of challenge; too many losses and the player might lose confidence and give up. Remember, the tournament schedule is to help the young player develop, and is not to feed the ego of the coach or parent. The coach should set up a tournament schedule where the player is winning two to three matches for every one that they lose. This ratio should be judged over a period of about six months.
Winning too many matches? Time to move up a level. Not winning enough? Enter some lower level tournaments for a while (there will be opportunities to return to a higher level later). Never lose focus on the fact that the junior player’s needs and welfare are our biggest priority. Happy hitting.
Grant Jenkins is the Physical Performance Coach at Tennis Australia’s National Academy in Brisbane. He oversees the physical development and rehabilitation of some of the world’s top junior players as well as managing Sports Science aspect of the program. Follow him on Twitter @Grant_Jenkins or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.