When tennis players are typically increasing the amount of serves quite quickly or maybe a little bit further down the track, they start to develop a little bit of shoulder pain. This probably speaks to a wider understanding of workloads, quantifying it and how we go about doing that. I (Luke) think this, particularly for tennis, is a really important one. Potentially one of the most important ones, because the classical way of increasing the number of serves is often like; I’m going to serve the basket, I’m going to serve two baskets, but the size of baskets and number of balls in a basket, is vastly different. It’s also quite common practice for a coach to stand at the back or to the side of the player and to feed in balls every now and again. There will be some discussion between each ball or in between a cluster of balls. Often it ends up with the coach saying: “Let’s just do a couple more” as a player start to get a feeling or start to get the movement better. There is this desire for the coach for a few more balls to be grooved. Quite quickly, you can get a little bit ahead of yourself when you’re doing more than what you’ve planned.
The first step – Serve count
Start with an actual ball count. It’s a quantification of what the players workload is. What is their current threshold? What’s that player used to right now? What their current habits around how much they train, how many hours do they train? How many balls do they typically serve? And how many times a week You might end up knowing that a player is serving approximately 40 balls and then the next step is to..
The second step – Use google maps
Decide as a coach how many serves you would like the player to be serving a day/a week to have the opportunity to develop the technical changes that you desire for the player to develop. From that understand how big a gap there is between the current workload and where you would like to see the serve count to be in the future. Think of this as using google maps. You have to put in your current location and your desired destination before it comes up with ideas of how to reach your destination. You need to have an understanding of what the player has been doing because that is what their bodies will be tolerant to. And then where you would like them to go. You might not want them to do much different but if you want them to be doing more then you need to safely map out that route rather than immediately jumping there. Let’s say that the player is currently serving 40 balls a day and you would like that number to be 60 balls a day. It’s safe to progressively do that over time – so how do you get from 40 to 60 balls?
The third step – The 10 percent rule
There is quite a lot of research on workload across various sport, cricket, rugby, and baseball, where there is strong evidence to show that if you go above a general 10 percent change in workload, whether that be a global workload, everything that you’re doing or something specific, roughly a 10 percent change is higher in risk if you go above that. So, you want to generally try to keep a 10 percent rule and you’ll be in fairly safe space when you are increasing the serve amount.
The fourth step – General things to keep in mind
If a player is going through a growth period, they are more likely to have losses of coordination. If you are not aware of the cause of the lost coordination you might as a coach want to do more repetitions in order to regain their skill set on the serve. Unfortunately, what you’ll often end up doing is adding more fuel to the fire onto a maturing body that’s growing and is not quite ready. Consequently, the player might start to get knee pain, shoulder pain. So, it’s important to always keep the players biological age, their training age and their current tolerance based on what they are used to combined with their injury history in mind. If you have got all of those factors in mind you have got yourself a well-rounded context for yourself to know how to move forward. It’s not always possible to keep all of the parameters in check yourself, which is why it’s important to have conversations with multiple team members including the tennis coach, fitness coach, the physio and/or the parents. If you do this, you are going to make more informed decisions.