| By Fritz Buehning

Are we overloading our kids with too much sports-specific training at too young of an age? Why is a guy who is passionate about tennis and in the tennis business talking about cross-training? Because it’s summer! School is out and that means tennis camp for many. But, what is the right amount of time for your child to be spending on the tennis court each day? Two, four or six hours? More than that? Is there a right amount of on-court time? How do you decide what is best for your child? How do you find the right camp?

Looking back, when I was on the ATP tour, on off-tournament weeks, I practiced on-court about four hours per day, split into two-hour sessions with one or two hours of off-court work. At the end of an on-court session, if I was giving it my all, I was mentally spent. During tournaments, there was a lighter practice schedule. In college, I think the NCAA permits a total of 20 hours per week of athletic activity for student-athletes, with a maximum of four hours per day.

Coaches talk about practicing with a purpose. What does this mean in tennis? It means being mentally-focused on every ball you hit on the tennis court. It means when practicing and drilling, concentrating on the goal of the drill and attempting to execute every stroke properly—with the correct spin, depth or angle. It means, in a practice match, concentrating not only on your stroke production, but also focusing on the tactics and strategies needed to beat your opponent—and making adjustments to your game as quickly as needed. This is quality tennis, and after four hours a day, everyone needs a mental break from on-court activities.

So, when we are looking at our kids, four hours is ample on-court time each day and that is for kids who are really into tennis. This includes all on-court activities that require hitting a tennis ball—practice, drilling, rallying, and match play. Longer on-court time will result in a breaking down in technique and/or mechanics and sloppiness, the mind wandering as mental focus becomes lax, and the arms and shoulders will tire. Physically, why risk an overuse injury?

So, how does a tennis camp keep juniors occupied for a full day? A high-quality tennis camp will add cross-training activities to the on-court schedule. These are not just “filler” items, but are complementary sports to tennis and structured workouts that are supported by numerous people, including the USTA Sports Science and High Performance Staff (2005 May/June USTA Magazine).

Why do I believe in cross-training with complementary sports?

►Promotes a different, more fun mindset.
►Promotes “good feet.”
►Provides a mental break from tennis—helps avoid “burnout.”
►Promotes quality tennis on-court time—“more” is not necessarily “better.”

This supports the philosophy of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy—tennis focused on-court training with a balance of lifestyle, fitness and complementary sports cross-training. Growing up, John McEnroe and I thrived playing tennis, but there was balance and we played other sports on a regular basis. For kids who love tennis, but are not yet ready to spend four hours on the court daily, we offer a tennis and sports camp—two hours of tennis, plus four hours of other sports and activities.

What are some complementary sports?
Soccer and basketball are two games that I played. I played on recreational and high school varsity soccer teams. I also played on recreational basketball teams in grammar school and later with my brothers and friends. John McEnroe played both soccer and basketball through high school.

Many of the guys currently on the ATP tour played complementary sports. Offhand, Americans Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish and John Isner all played basketball through high school. From Europe, I believe that Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all played soccer. And, recently, top ATP players played a soccer match as a fundraiser for Japan’s earthquake victims. Believe me, many tennis players have played complementary sports, and as athletes, we all put in 100 percent into any game we play … we all hate to lose.

Why did we do this?
We do this because the movement in complementary sports helps our footwork in tennis. These sports aid in a variety of ways physically—endurance, speed, balance, agility and lateral movement. It also provides a mental break from tennis by clearing the mind and relieving the pressure. It kept me on track for tennis in a fun environment, and looking back to when I played soccer and basketball games, I probably worked harder and put in more effort to ensure a team victory.

And what did I see on the Tennis Channel recently?
A segment on the benefits of movement and footwork drills in basketball as a complement to tennis on-court activities.

There is also another activity that the USTA is recommending—ultimate Frisbee—for hand-eye coordination. I’ve thrown a Frisbee, but I’m not that familiar with this as a complementary activity, so as an athlete and coach, I’m interested in learning more about this game this summer.