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Coaches’ Corner with S&C Coach Justin Pimm

1. Overview of hard court tennis - what stands out to you as an S&C coach? 

Hard Court tennis has in recent years highlighted the need for tennis players to be exceptional athletes. This encompasses all facets of athleticism: speed, endurance, strength, power and flexibility. Athletes like Djokovic for example illustrate just how supremely “fit” tennis players need to be these days in order to succeed at the top level of our sport. No matter what style a tennis player adopts, they need to have the physical characteristics to support that style, be it a power baseliner grinding it out from the back of the court, or the speed of movement required for serve & volley tactics. I would go so far as to argue that our youngsters need to be able to be proficient in all these areas irrespective of their chosen playing style. Due to the rigors of hard court tennis, the body is exposed to a high volume of physical stress - which highlights the need for the body to be conditioned adequately in order to cope with these forces. Not only from a performance aspect but arguably more importantly, from an injury preventative standpoint as well. 

2. Transitioning from grass court season to hard court season 

Coaches and players alike are all familiar with the concept of having to adapt to different playing surfaces. Apart from the obvious tactical adjustments a player needs to make, the physical conditioning of their body needs to be addressed as well. The hard playing surface of hard court tennis means the reactive forces experienced by the body are at a higher intensity than those of grass courts. Meaning we want our players’ bodies to be able to cope with these demands. If we look at COD (change of direction) on hard courts, we can see that due to the higher frictional coefficient compared to grass courts ( we want stiff compliant tendons and ligaments with which to transfer the reactive forces applied to changing direction. This is something that as S&C practitioners we must build in to our players’ programmes. 

3. Hard court training – Describe a ‘typical’ S&C program for a top junior tennis player

So what exactly does a ‘typical’ S&C programme for a top junior player look like? Well, as much as it irks me to say this, it really depends, and unfortunately there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Having said that, I like to see a programme which incorporates a PAP (Post Activation Potentiation) response in preparation for the hard court season. Obviously when we start talking reps/sets and weights, these will be specific to your athlete’s training history and capabilities; however the reasoning behind incorporating a PAP session is to ensure we not only work muscle fibre recruitment, but muscle firing frequency as well. This helps to condition the physical adaptations of the muscle fibres of our athlete. Bearing in mind we want a ‘stiff’ tendon in order to reduce energy leakage and maximise the return of stored elastic energy, we need to illicit a physical change in the muscle’s properties. This is where an experienced S&C coach comes into play as they will be able to work closely with the young athlete monitoring their progress and either regressing or progressing the programme accordingly. It is imperative that we illicit a state of over-reaching in order to achieve a super-compensation effect, and not a state of over-training which we leave our athlete fatigued and at a higher risk of injury

4. Take home message – your advice for S & C Coaches and tennis players summed in 4 -5 points:

In my experience, everyone is constantly on the lookout for the ‘next best thing’ or hoping for a magic bullet effect that will revolutionize the industry. While I’m not suggesting we don’t continually strive to get better, I think it’s important to pass on the message that there are no short-cuts and that hard work is the best approach. Crucially this doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, on the contrary, we as professionals and experts need to find a way to make the journey as enjoyable and as much fun as possible- after all these are still young children with whom we’re working with. 

So my take homes would be: 

• Enjoy yourself - the journey is a long one, so if you’re not having fun you will only start to resent what you do. 

• Work hard - it’s not rocket science nor does it have to be, put in your greatest effort all of the time.

• Be patient - success is not the opposite of failure. The biggest part of learning is failing, but getting back up from that failure and continuing on. 

• Reflect - sometimes you need to look back in order to see just how far you’ve come. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not where you want to be just yet.

Written by Mr. Justin Pimm, ASCC BSc (hons) Strength & Conditioning

Head of Fitness at Lime Wood

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