Swing Into Community Tennis
Double Your Fitness Pleasure, Double Your Fun
Photo: Andrew Ong/USTA
Tennis participation topped 30 million players for the first time in two decades in 2009 and continues to climb, according to the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) and the Tennis Industry Association. Their study reflects the sport’s revival in popularity due to its accessibility in neighborhood parks and schools, as well as its cardiovascular benefits. Plus, it’s just great overall exercise.
If one is a neophyte or gave up tennis years ago for less demanding activities and feels intimidated watching players hit fast serves or slice or drop shots, playing doubles can be a good way to enter the action. Playing with a partner isn’t as physically demanding as going solo.
“In doubles, you don’t have to cover as much of the court as in singles,” says David Schobel, USTA director of competitive play, in White Plains, New York. “It’s great for beginners, if someone’s been away from the game for awhile, or as you get older.” More, it brings the bonus of social camaraderie regardless of age or competitive levels.
As with any invigorating activity, planning ahead and preparing for contingencies can keep you swinging.
Eat wisely. Diet provides a solid foundation. As a general rule, avoid eating a meal within two hours of playing in order to avoid indigestion or stomach cramps. The best pre-play meals feature complex, slow-releasing carbohydrates, to provide energy over time. Mark Kovacs, USTA head of sports science, in Boca Raton, Florida, offers these examples: Oatmeal, berries, a banana, whole wheat toast or eggs for breakfast. For lunch or dinner, a lean-meat sandwich on whole wheat and rice; soup, to store up on sodium in case of heavy perspiration; or pasta.
When it comes to consuming fluids, the operative guideline is to drink a lot, especially during a hot summer. “If you’re feeling thirsty on the court, that means you’re already getting a little dehydrated, which might lead to heat exhaustion or cramping,” advises Roddy Cantey, of ProAm Tennis, in Naples, Florida. He suggests drinking water or sports drinks that contain helpful electrolytes, sodium and potassium at least two hours before moving onto the court, and then continuing to drink during breaks throughout the game.
Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is an inflammation of the wrist extensor tendons. The USTA estimates that about half of all players will encounter this overuse injury at some point.
Treatment includes icing the area, rest, and stretching and strengthening of the forearm muscles. Prevention is based on sound playing technique, as well as building up the strength and flexibility of forearm muscles. Confer with a teaching pro to evaluate your personal technique and equipment if tennis elbow remains a problem.
Calf care means preparing calf muscles for sudden movements toward the ball from the ready position, which is facing the net with weight slightly forward. Pros recommend doing toe raises and leg stretches before a game.
Generally warm up. “Some players go right out on the court and say, ‘Let’s play!’” says Phil Milford III, co-owner and head pro at the Beach & Tennis Club, in Bonita Springs, Florida. “With the quick movements needed, you should have more blood flowing before starting. Simple stretching all over beforehand can help prevent a minor muscle pull or strain.”
Go soft. If there is a choice, play on clay, instead of hard courts. Clay is easier on the knees and joints. Hard surfaces absorb and then radiate heat into one’s feet, which can sap energy.
Places to swing are plentiful in your area. Check out the action at many public parks and schools. Local parks and recreation departments can point players to neighborhood resources. The USTA offers leagues and programs for many ages and ability levels; they also provide a Find-A-Partner service via usta.com. Tennis clubs often allow members to host guests.
The Handbook of Tennis, by Paul Douglas, is another good place to start when considering the possibilities. With so many opportunities, there’s no excuse not to get on the court and realize the health and fitness benefits of this lifetime sport.
Randy Kambic, an avid tennis player, is a freelance editor and writer based in Estero, FL, and a copyeditor for Natural Awakenings.