The concept behind sport-specific training seems to make perfect sense…If I want my son or daughter to be really good at tennis they should mimic movements similar to the sport for enhanced performance. The truth is if you know a little about long-term athletic development and how the body of a young athlete functions it makes perfect sense how BAD sport-specific training really is for your child’s tennis career.
There are two main points for my argument…
First, children who are really good at tennis have to put in the time with repetition after repetition after repetition to become unconsciously-competent at their skills so they will not break down under pressure. Think about how often the muscles, connective tissues, and joints get used in sport specific movements in the tennis training alone. They get used so often children actually can develop muscle imbalances and asymmetries. Now think about sport-specific training where a coach slaps some bands onto a racket and repeats the movement some more with an increased load. Training like this is basically asking for an OVERUSE INJURY. Instead, training should be designed to develop overall strength on both sides of the joints and maintain symmetry and balance in the body. Not only does this greatly minimize the chances of overuse injury but it also improves overall systemic strength, joint stability and coordination.
Second, children are still in the process of developing their athletic ability. They are still learning how to coordinate athletic movements and muscles. Their overall athletic ability, things like agility, power, and speed, are still developing and the best way to develop them is with a variety of training methods. When you pigeon hole training to movements specifically found in the sport of tennis you are going to stifle their overall long-term athletic development. The result is having young tennis athletes who are really good at tennis specific footwork patterns but cannot even coordinate a skill like skipping. This is going to hurt their development in the long-term because when they have to make improvisations during points and just make outright athletic moves they will not be able to because their overall athletic skill has been limited to a few tennis specific movements patterns in their training. This lack of overall athletic skill development also leave them susceptible to acute injuries like sprained ankles and ACL tears when they do try to make sudden athletic moves that their nervous system just cannot coordinate and handle.
If you want to improve your child’s tennis game with off court training shy away from sport-specific training and get them into an appropriate developmental program with a good coach who aims for balance to prevent injury and enhancing the development of athletic skills. It might not be as flashy as all the sport-specific training but sticking with it will produce the best results long-term and reduce the risk of injury. You cannot cook a great steak in the microwave, it takes time to slowly simmer on the grill. The same is true for your child’s athletic development.