Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fuel For The Tennis Fire

Tournaments can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Lots of things to consider, including weather conditions (how hot or cold?), number of events entered (how often are you playing?), and caliber of opponents (how long are you on court?). These and other factors can vary wildly, and all impact the athlete, so best be prepared for anything.

Of course the best preparation is to eat healthy and maintain a good level of fitness on an ongoing basis, regardless of your tournament schedule. Common sense, people!
  • Just Say No to fast food. Please resist the urge to reward your children with trips to Mickey D's. As a former parent of young children, I completely understand the temptation. Their marketing machine is powerful. Do your best. If that is too much to ask, try some other strategies, such as: 
  • Avoid sugar, soft drinks and other empty calories. Think of them as no different than offering your child a cigarette.
  • Check with your school to see how much physical activity is offered throughout the day. If it is not daily, supplement with tennis, soccer, dance, neighborhood play with friends.
  • Encourage physical activity such as the NFL's Play 60 campaign
  • If your budget allows, the kinetic video games(Wii, Kinect, etc.) are fantastic. Easy, fun, and the kids love 'em. Great for mom and dad, too!
  • Encourage family outings that include physical activities such as walking around the zoo, local fitness trails, swims, bike rides, etc. It doesn't have to cost much. Just get off your butts. 
Lead By Example
As parents and coaches this may be the most important thing we can do to encourage healthy habits. Some things I do on court include:
  • encouraging hustle - my students are probably sick of hearing this from me, but too bad: "There's no walking in tennis!"
  • the athlete mentality - I take every opportunity to remind them they are athletes now - no dragging booty during ball pickup 'because you're an athlete'. When they ask if I will be giving candy as rewards or incentives like some other coaches or teachers, I say 'no, because you're an athlete and athletes shouldn't eat that stuff'.
  • lead by example - hey, I'm not perfect, and I have the body I deserve. But I try not to eat or drink candy or soda in front of my students. I do carry a large water bottle with me at all times, wear a hat and sunscreen, proper footwear, etc. I am constantly amazed at how much my students model my behavior and remember so many seemingly trivial things that I say and do on court. They are little sponges. So make sure they are soaking up lots of good behaviors from you.
Tournament Prep
In the days leading up to the tournament, do your homework.

I don't like sports drinks. A friend
introduced me to these instead.
Inexpensive, easy on the stomach,
 and available at most drug stores.
  • Look at the weather and plan clothing and accessories accordingly. This is not exactly a nutrition topic but since we are here:
    • If it is chilly, layer, layer, layer. 
      • Protect a major source of heat loss and discomfort when cold: your head. This is also a personal preference - I hate it when my ears get cold! 
      • Keep your torso warm. 
      • Gloves/pockets for hands as long as the glove will not interfere with your ability to grip the racquet. 
    • If it is warm, remember hat/visor/sunglasses, sunscreen, hand towel, fresh change of clothes.
    • Experiment with different types of socks far in advance. The day of the match is not the day to try new shoes/socks. Level of perspiration, thickness of sock and tightness or looseness of shoe are all important factors to avoid excessive sweating or excess movement within the shoe which can cause blisters. 
      • While we are talking about feet - maintain those toenails to avoid 'tennis toe'. Keep them clipped short but not so short that they get inflamed. All that stopping and starting, and carrying the weight on the front half of the foot causes a lot of forward motion in the shoe. Which is another reason to make sure your player has plenty of room in the toe of the shoe.
  • Plan hydration - water should be your primary source of hydration. Don't assume there will be water on the courts. 
  • Electrolytes - so what the heck is an electrolyte, anyway? why are they relevant to athletic competition? Here's the scoop: electrolytes help carry electrical impulses across cell membranes. They exist in the body as different types of salts including sodium, potassium, and magnesium. When you exercise and sweat, you lose these important ingredients as you sweat. This is a major contributor to heat cramping. Sports drinks have made it convenient to replace electrolytes with liquids if you don't like eating solid foods during physical activity. Other options are electrolyte tablets and easy-to-digest bananas (for potassium). Be careful about consuming too many sports drinks when you are not planning on being active - they also tend to have lots of sugar.
  • Carbohydrates - you will hear that carbs convert to energy faster than fats or proteins, which is why some athletes 'carbo load' by eating pasta or other carbs a day or two prior to competition. This may be useful to your player. But remember tennis consists of intermittent bursts of activity combined with periods of downtime/recovery, so all three of those food groups play a part in tournament stamina.
  • Sleep - is sooooo important to all aspects of activity, athlete or not. Be sure you are rested in the days leading up to and through the tournament. Healing and recovery happens during the sleep cycle.

Bottom line: eat well, sleep well, play well. Common sense fitness tips will see you through on the court as well as off it.