Sports Medicine for the Masses is excited to feature a guest blog by Ian Westermann, founder of www.EssentialTennis.com! Ian and I first crossed paths In 2011 when we made a series of injury prevention videos together. Ian’s product has gone on to become one of the top tennis online instruction sites internationally (featured in Forbes Magazine). The principles behind his discussion can be applied to many athletes in addition to those who play tennis. Proper acclimation (adjusting to environmental change) is very important for any athlete changing sports seasons and/or playing/training surfaces and environmental elements. Example: your dear friend, Shin Splints, is a good example of poor surface acclimation.
Take it away, Ian…
“Many tennis players all over the country (and around the world) are confined to indoor courts during the winter season. Others are completely unable to play at all during seasonally cold months. Now that things are finally starting to warm up for millions of players, we must consider what are the best things to keep in mind as we start to get out into the open air to get our games back in gear? Here are my top three suggestions.
1) Surface Acclimation
This is mainly for those of you who play indoor tennis during cold winter months, but it absolutely applies to players that are stuck without any options as well. You must get comfortable with your “home” outdoor courts as quickly as possible once spring arrives! Indoor courts are typically always faster than outdoor courts, but even when that isn’t the case I can promise you that the type of bounce and speed of play is at least somewhat different. This change in the bounce can wreak havoc on the timing of all tennis players regardless of level of play, especially so for those who aren’t very experienced making surface changes.
As a general rule of thumb, indoor courts (either clay or hard) are going to produce a faster, lower bounce. Outdoor courts are typically more weathered and gritty, which means each time the ball bounces it will slow down more and produce a higher bounce than on the indoor surfaces you’re used to. Typically this leads to players being out of position, being uncomfortable with their timing, and ultimately hitting much weaker return shots than they’re used to. Even if your positioning and timing are great, you’ll more than likely feel you have to swing twice as hard at the ball to get it to travel through the court quickly, simply because everything naturally slows down outside.
Obviously the best way to overcome this issue is to play on the outdoor court when possible, but beyond that I would simply say that you need to commit to your new surroundings as early as you can and not go back for the rest of the season, at least not for any long periods of time. If you hit outside the very first week it’s warm enough to hit outdoors, then you head back indoors for a week or two when the temperature drops a bit, when you have to play your first team match outdoors again immediately after I can promise you that you won’t feel comfortable. Decide to make your change to outdoor courts and then stick with it. Switching back and forth will only make the acclimation period twice as long.
2) Don’t Avoid the Wind
When you’re used to completely calm conditions indoors, or if you took the whole indoor season off, the wind can make life miserable outside on the court. Guess what? Everybody deals with it; it’s not just you! Do yourself a favor and don’t avoid it, especially during those first few weeks outdoors in the spring. In fact, if you can head outside to hit for a hour during a particularly windy day, do it!
Just like with the court surface change, if you continue to switch back and forth, the very first time you’ll be forced to play in bad wind for a “real match” will be miserable, and you’ll want nothing more than to use it as an excuse.
One key tip that tends to be helpful: make a note early on of which direction the wind is blowing predominantly and be mindful of it. I’ve always been surprised to watch club player students struggle with the wind the same way over and over. In other words, the wind is blowing from their right to their left, the ball comes to the right side of their body and they get jammed up when the wind blows over and over again without adjustment. I’ll ask that player “Hey, which way is the wind blowing today?” After thinking about it for ten seconds, they respond with a guess that may or may or may not be correct. Don’t be that player! Identify the direction early on and make conscious adjustments with your footwork and positioning.
3) Don’t Avoid the Sun
Just like the wind, we all have to deal with the sun equally and there’s no doubt that it can often be a big challenge. My first tip is the same as learning how to deal with the wind: don’t constantly avoid it until you no longer can because your match finally “counts”! You must expose yourself to it during your practice hitting so that by the time your big important match rolls around, you’re as experienced and comfortable with the sun as possible.
Ever notice that almost no professional tennis players wear sunglasses? A few do (Janko Tipsarevic comes to mind) but it’s much less than 1%. The reality is at their level even just a tiny bit of deviation between what they see and reality makes a big difference when judging exactly where the ball is so that it can be hit cleanly. They’ve been playing tennis their entire lives, and dealing with the sun is just a fact of life. It’s usually not an issue for them at all. For us mere mortals things are obviously more sensitive, but the point I’m trying to make is simply that with exposure and practice the sun doesn’t have to be a huge issue anymore. However, I can pretty much promise you that if you constantly avoid having to deal with it you’ll never be as comfortable serving into the sun as you could be.
Hopefully these tips and suggestions serve to motivate and inspire you! The bottom line is that to improve at this great sport we need to push ourselves out of our comfort zone on a regular basis – even when it comes to such basic and universal things as dealing with the sun, wind, or different court surfaces.
Do you have any tips of your own when it comes to transitioning outside? Leave them down below in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!”
-Ian Westermann (www.essentialtennis.com)