Like many of my peers, I viewed the coronavirus lockdown as an opportunity to improve my game. My rationale was obvious—a decrease in social and school-related responsibilities was an opportunity to increase my hours playing and training. With courts and practice partners available, I meticulously organized daily training plans that would maximize my chances of improvement. Included in these plans were what I and many others in the tennis world consider to be the most important components of tennis development: Hitting, match play, conditioning, strength training, and recovery were all built into the daily plans.
What I failed to include in the plan, however, were the mental and mindfulness considerations of myself.
Members of the tennis world have seen the story unfold all too often: A once phenomenal player loses the desire and motivation to compete in tennis, and is forced out of the game temporarily, or sometimes altogether. During the lockdown, I found myself with many of the symptoms of a burnt out player. For a period of time, my effort and attitude dropped from intense and happy, to sloppy and irritable. No longer did I enjoy consuming tennis media on the internet or talking pro tennis with my friends. At one point, I didn't even want to hold my racquet. I felt as if I was allergic to it.
My experience with burnout is minor compared to professional players and even many of my peers. After only a week of taking myself out of the sport, I was once again itching to play and consume tennis-related content. Having watched good friends of mine, and then finally going through it myself, I decided to share some of my thoughts on how parents and players can keep themselves in the game to the fullest and healthiest extent possible.
Listen to your body
In tennis, there is constant pressure from parents, peers, coaches, and within to win and improve. With psychological pressure mounting, the health of the player often comes second to improvement. Players must place an emphasis on finding a balance between pushing themselves and injuring themselves due to overly exerting or overusing their bodies. Just as a player monitors how they are hitting their shots on a daily basis, they should monitor their soreness and pain levels.
At the time of my burnout, I was too ambitious in the amount I expected myself to train. My body was simply not used to this exertion and demanded I stop playing. I started feeling better about my training regimen when I monitored my soreness and mood after playing and training a certain number of hours, and made necessary adjustments based on these observations.
All too often, junior players will be seen simply going through the motions during practice, or even tanking their practice sessions altogether. Not only do these acts hurt fellow players during cooperative drills, but they create a problematic disconnect between the players and parents. When parents pay for expensive clinics and lessons but their children do not demonstrate improvement in competition, a strain develops in the relationship between parents and children. To combat this issue, players should place an emphasis on getting the most out of their training, or seek out help and motivation if they are not putting strong effort into their practices.
One realization that I had when I was burnt out was that there was a major disconnect between the kind of effort I thought I was putting in, versus what I was actually putting in. I realized that fewer hours at the right intensity was more beneficial for development than more hours at the wrong intensity.
Limit expectations and identify your personal needs
Many tennis players have experienced the pain of losing to a player they were convinced they would beat. On the other hand, players will go into matches doubting their chances of winning, but somehow pulling it out. This same theme applies to player development. Oftentimes, putting in hard work does not result in more wins or an increase in UTR. This is one of the hardest things for players to grasp mentally—the idea that you can dedicate a sizable percentage of your life to hitting a ball on a large string bed, yet still hit it on the frame. Tennis development is a long journey that has so many different paths. A player must work and experiment with their coaches to select the best one.
Sam Goidel attends Newark Academy in Livingston, NJ, where is a captain of the Newark Academy Minutemen. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org