Recently the Journal of Sports Sciences published a Systematic Review detailing the factors associated with injury in Elite Junior Tennis players. It is important that coaches and parents of such athletes are aware of the findings (Oosterhoof et al, 2018).
Risk Factors for Lower Back Injury
Previous Lower Back Injury:
Previous injury is often a good predictor of future injury. Why? That is not clear, but one reason may be that rehabilitation of injuries is often not done to the level that it needs to. Rehab is often done adequately to get a player back on the court, but functional deficiencies can remain. This can predispose the athlete to recurrence, or to injury of another part of the body due to compensation. Elite Junior Tennis players should undertake their rehabilitation under the guidance of a Physiotherapist and Exercise Physiologist that are experienced in this field.
Training Loads > 6hrs p/wk:
Elite Junior Tennis players will be training and playing at least this amount. So how do we mitigate against this as a risk factor? For one, the athlete needs to have a good recovery repertoire and be diligent with it. A recovery program should be personalised for the athlete, but some common features of an athlete recovery plan are; adequate sleep; good diet, hydration and nutritional support (protein especially); massage; stretching and cold-water immersion. Secondly, Functional Resistance training can help build strength in muscles and tendons, mobility in joints, stability in movement, balance and spatial awareness. If your child, or an athlete under your guidance does not have a recovery plan, and/or is not undertaking a quality, personalised functional strength program I would speak to a qualified and experienced Exercise Physiologist to help them build one.
Risk Factor for Upper Extremity Injury
Fewer Years of Playing Experience
The authors do not specify what it meant by ‘fewer years of experience’ so we can only speculate. But generally speaking, when a young person starts at a new sport, their body is going to be exposed to forces that they may not be conditioned to deal with. I recommend that young people new to tennis undertake an overall movement capacity assessment, such as the ‘Movement Screen’ (Movement Screen ). This will identify any functional limitations that can be corrected through a functional strength training program. We use the Movement Screen with all of our young athletes at iNform.
Risk Factor for Lower Extremity Injury
Interestingly, in the studies included in the aforementioned review players that regularly stretched the muscles of the lower body had an increased risk of injury than those that didn’t. This is counterintuitive for most, as stretching is supposed to be good for us, right? Stretching can be useful for increasing the mobility of a restricted joint. However stretching can also acutely reduce our muscles responsiveness and power. So there are pros and cons to stretching for athletes. If an athlete is going to be prescribed stretches, they should be recommended only for areas that display movement restriction (and have shown a positive response to stretching) and should be timed so that performance is not impacted negatively. The Exercise Physiologists at iNform can easily identify whether a young tennis player would benefit from stretching, and recommend when is best to do it.
Whilst there are injury risks associated with playing Elite Level Tennis at the junior level, they can be mitigated by taking an intelligent and strategic approach to the young athletes programming. The Exercise Physiologists at iNform have extensive experience helping Elite Young Tennis players stay strong and healthy and on the court.