Masterclass 3 – What does it take to play?

There’s more to tennis than just trying to hit a ball over a net!

As we reach this time of year, for two weeks the UK gets struck by tennis fever as the grass courts of Wimbledon hit our screens once more. Playing tennis in the UK however is a far bigger thing than Wimbledon alone, as a sport which is played year round it is a great activity to get you fit and active. For many families who have children that play competitive tennis it becomes almost a way of life for them as the children spend their weeks training hard and the weekends travelling to tournaments to compete. Many of these families probably have somewhere in the back of their minds the same dream which is that one day their child may be involved in professional tennis and may get a chance to play at the most historic and famous tournament of them all; London’s SW19, Wimbledon.

Whatever level you are aspiring to with your tennis, in this article I would like to discuss what I believe are some of the many benefits of choosing this as a sport to get both yourselves and your children involved in.

Tennis is one of the more difficult sports to learn and certainly a very difficult one to master. But don’t let this put you off because once you have got the basics, tennis is a frustrating yet addictive game, which when played with people of a similar standard (whatever that may be!) truly is great fun and will give you a sport for life. It is an exciting and entertaining sport to play and will keep you fit and active throughout your years.

If you can play tennis you can probably play any of the ball sports so it is a great one to invest your time in learning to play. It encompasses lots of rules and challenges, you have to learn all the different strokes and as an individual sport it teaches you lots about not only success and failure in sport but also helps to teach some great lessons about life which I will come to later.

Tennis is a sport which once you have learnt will stay with you for life. Many sports have a shelf life which means as you get older it is no longer possible to play them. However with tennis I know of people in their 80’s who can still play a mean game, to a pretty good standard.

Tennis is also a great sport to play for developing your fitness and if you become a more serious player and you start playing competitions this should help motivate you to really work hard at developing your overall fitness levels.

When playing a game of tennis your body uses different energy systems to allow you to play. It uses both aerobic respiration (with oxygen) which helps you maintain a steady level of energy over a long period of time and anaerobic respiration (without oxygen) which is used for short, explosive bursts of energy. This anaerobic respiration can only last in 10 second bursts and fatigues the body more quickly, whilst your aerobic respiration system allows you to continue moving and working at a steady pace over long periods. These two different energy systems when combined with all the different movements, lunges, changes of directions and stroke actions which are required to play tennis mean your body is getting a complete, full body workout during a game.

If you were to take your tennis to a level where you start to play competitively in tournaments, then to be successful you will need to develop and improve not only your strokes and match play but also your overall levels of fitness which we refer to as strength and conditioning training.

If we take a look at the professional game to give us an example of what levels of fitness aspiring players would require to compete and to achieve on an international stage. Here the explosive speed and power required to not only compete at a high tempo but to be able to maintain this for up to 5 hours or sometimes more is immense. On top of this these players also have to play back to back matches, day in day out and to compete in tournaments week in week out, with no real off season to allow their bodies time to recover. When you take all of this into consideration it means tennis players are some of the fittest athletes in the world, and what great role models for the kids!

A great example which some of you may be aware of where developing physical fitness made a big improvement to someone’s game is with Andy Murray, who as many of you may know struggled with his fitness early on in his career. (Remember the cramps he used to suffer forcing him to retire or hampering his performances?) His biggest breakthrough where he shot up the rankings reaching the top 5 in the world came after spending a winter (6 weeks over Xmas) in the States working on strength and conditioning, where he was eating 10,000 calories a day to keep his body fuelled. (That is what is recommended for a man in a physical job to eat in 4 days!!) So hopefully you get an idea of just how intense and physically demanding his training must have been!

As I mentioned earlier it is not only the physical and fitness benefits which can be gained through playing tennis, there are also a great number of life lessons which can be learnt from the game; Independence, self confidence and belief, as you are playing on your own there is no team to hide behind in light of any successes or failures, it is all down to you and you alone! You have to learn to make decisions and trust your own judgements and this helps give you the ability to stand on your own two feet when making your tough decisions. (There are no referees in a tennis match, you call your own lines and do your own scoring!) Then there is perhaps one of two most difficult lesson’s to learn and the one which all of us find difficult and that is the ability to learn that sometimes you lose even when you have tried you’re hardest. This one is perhaps the most unfair, but as with life, things just sometimes aren’t fair!

If as a child you stick with playing competitive tennis you will also learn that through determination, hard work and lots of practise that you can and will improve. If you can do this with tennis then you can do it with anything else you put your mind too and that with this mindset, over time you can achieve things you do not realise you are capable of!

Finally the last life skill which every single tennis player must learn, is the ability to lose and hopefully for most of us, the ability to lose graciously! Whether you are Federer, Nadal or a social player at your local courts, you have to spend a lot of time losing before you learn to win, and so learning to deal with these loses can help prepare you to deal with other situations throughout your life where this will occur!

And you thought it was just about hitting a small yellow ball over a net!

Whatever level you take your game to, tennis is a fantastic sport and I hope this article has in some way motivated you to either dust off that racket you haven’t used in years, or to get you and your kids out on the court having a go at playing?

If you would like some help and advice for you or your family about getting into tennis or if you would like some lessons then please feel free to get in touch with us at tennisMAD via our website www.tennis-mad.co.uk or call 01752 893700.