What does it take to build a great tennis player?
Teaching footwork, stroke technique and match strategy are all integral components of developing a top player. But at the core of any great tennis player is a foundation of strength and fitness, which allows a player to perform all the actions he or she works on during practice and demonstrates during matches.
With this principle in mind, CourtSense Tennis Training Center in New Jersey and Magnus Sports Performance have established a partnership which has allowed the tennis players who train at CourtSense to have access to top-flight fitness training to help elevate them to the next level.
“I am definitely noticing the improvements,” said Ivan Nikolovski, one of CourtSense’s top high-performance players. “I feel like the conditioning helps a lot when it’s hot outside, which is important, and we do a lot of conditioning. I have seen it pay off during my matches this summer; it helps a lot.”
The Magnus side of the partnership is run by Dr. Donald Shrump, who has brought his strength coach and Chiropractic Physician backgrounds in injury prevention and performance optimization to the tennis players at CourtSense. Shrump was a Division I track & field athlete who had hopes of competing at the Olympics before a career-altering injury threw a wrench into those plans. He had studied marine biology while in college and worked as a marine biologist for a few years.
It was in this field that he learned the importance of studying and using objective data, something he would carry with him when he decided to pursue another field.
“After a few years of working as a marine biologist for the federal government, I went back and got certified to be a strength coach,” said Shrump. “As an athlete I was always intrigued by the strength and conditioning aspect of sports. I began as a track coach and then started my own personal training business. I’ve always been interested in testing athletes from a scientific perspective, and using objective data in order to do that.
Then, 12 years into my training career I grew tired of referring athletes out to chiropractors and physical therapists, so I decided to go back to school to be a rehab-focused chiropractor with a Masters Degree in Clinical Nutrition. This way I could better understand how bodies move and recover. While at Chiropractic College, I helped run the Human Performance Laboratory where we worked with a number of universities, national organizations and local teams in various sports.”
While Shrump did not know a lot about tennis when he first joined CourtSense, he knew how to evaluate information and use it to improve the performance of athletes. The more he learned about tennis and what was needed to help them, the learning curve became much easier.
“One of the things that is interesting about tennis is that it’s faster and more powerful than it’s ever been, so to me, when developing a program for adolescents, focusing on mobility, strength and power is crucial,” said Shrump. “We had to make sure all of our programs were working on those things.”
In order to cultivate that data and information, Shrump has had the players use the CoachMePlus app on their phones, which tracks everything from the player’s sleep patterns to pain levels and much more. By using this data, Shrump and his team are able to focus in on what an individual player needs on a day-to-day basis to maximize the results of the work they are doing.
“All the athletes here are in that system, and they can access it on their phones, ipads, or other tablets,” he said. “Each day, there is a health questionnaire they fill out where they indicate where on their body they are feeling sore, how much sleep they got, etc. It’s just very helpful to see that. If they say their shoulder hurts, I can go to the tennis coaches and talk to them about it, and we can figure out where that pain is coming from, whether it’s in the weight room or on the court. We can evaluate the cause of the pain and how to fix it. Since we have integrated this, the injuries have gone way down.”
One of the most important aspects of this player development is the constant communication between the fitness coaches and the tennis coaches, creating a synergistic relationship with the only goal being the betterment of the player they are discussing.
“We spend an hour every week talking through every player, and it’s a really open dialogue between all of us,” said Shrump. “All the coaches are there, and I can bring up any issues I am seeing on the fitness side, the coaches bring up any issues on the tennis side. For example, if a coach wants to work on a player’s serve, but I see that they are experiencing some shoulder pain, I’ll suggest we do some individualized stretching for them to improve the shoulder flexibility first before they go back to working on the serve. It’s also important to have an understanding of their tournament schedules, because we tailor the workouts and conditioning drills depending on when players are competing and what tournaments they are competing in.”
This emphasis on fitness and conditioning is not solely for the program’s high performance players as Shrump and his team have use the same concepts to build routines for its other junior tennis players as well. Shrump says he has seen a drastic increase in fitness levels in players, and the players themselves back that up. We have had a drastically hot summer this year which has made conditions for tennis tournaments even more difficult than usual.
“My improved cardio has helped me a lot, especially since sometimes we are playing two three-set matches in the same day,” said Santi Salazar. “Being able to maintain your highest level throughout the whole tournament is so important.Magnus provides the best of both worlds in strength and conditioning, and it has definitely helped me improve my game.”
As the game of tennis continues to become faster and more powerful, it has never been more important that young tennis players who have dreams of playing collegiate tennis or perhaps professionally understand how to work their bodies in order to maximize performance. The partnership between CourtSense and Magnus has laid a foundation of good habits and proper skills and technique for the program’s tennis players to not only get stronger and faster, but understand how to do so and why it is necessary.
“We don’t want fitness to be the thing that is holding them back from reaching their true potential,” added Shrump. “If you are going to lose to an opponent all things being equal, that’s okay, that happens. But we want to make sure that all of our players have the necessary foundation of fitness and cardio to allow them to be the best player they can be.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org