5 tennis injury prevention tips for kids
Not only does physical activity improve a child’s cardiovascular endurance, muscular fitness, and bone health, but it can also reduce anxiety and depression as well as improve academic performance. But, all parents must remember one key fact about their young, aspiring athletes: “Children are not little adults,” says Alexis Colvin, MD, Chief Medical Officer of the United Tennis Association. “There are inherent limitations to a child’s endurance and strength capacity, which is why we as parents must protect our children from excessive training and injuries,” says Colvin, who is also an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at The Mount Sinai Hospital.
Below, Dr. Colvin provides the most important advice that all parents of aspiring athletes should follow:
Practice the right way. For young athletes, around seven to eight years old, Dr. Colvin advises limiting training to two to three times a week with days of rest in-between. She also recommends a five to 10 minute dynamic warm-up before each practice, making sure to work on muscles symmetrically.
Make recovery a priority. “This is the most important component of being able to train and compete on a regular basis,” says Dr. Colvin. She advises one to two days off per week from competitive athletics or sport-specific training. “This allows your child to rest not only physically, but also psychologically.” She states training time and volume should never increase by more than 10% per week and advises young athletes to take two to three months off a year from their focused sport. She also says to consider periodization training. “This is a training strategy that combines cycles of practice with appropriate recovery on a daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal basis. Plans are customized to each player depending on the number of tournaments being played.” Ask your child’s coach for more information.
Pay attention to red flags. “There is always a possibility for a burnout. Some red flags include pain, fatigue, and/or poor academic performance,” says Dr. Colvin. She advises if training volume and intensity are increased, then daily energy requirements, nutrition and hydration must be as well.
Be mindful of heat and humidity. “Children absorb heat quicker, have delayed sweating mechanisms, and may be at risk for heat injuries in humid weather,” says Dr. Colvin. “During hot and humid conditions, young athletes have a more challenging time controlling their core body temperature and may need longer adjustment periods than adults,” says Dr. Colvin. Always be sure that your child is properly hydrated and that they know to alert your and their coach if they need a break.
Slowly introduce deliberate practices. “Most children do not perceive deliberate practices as fun,” says Dr. Colvin. “Training needs to be done in increments that are appropriate to the attention span and development of a child. If a child only engages in open play (general practice) and develops improper technique, it can take two to three years to relearn the fundamentals,” says Dr. Colvin. Introduce this training slowly at an early age, and then make it a more focused part of their weekly regimen after your child goes through puberty.