At a youngster at school, I was always more accomplished at track & field, gymnastics and trampolining than tennis, but that’s the sport I have continued to play to this day. I hope to enjoy playing well into later life and there is a good chance that will happen as this is a sport that promotes lifelong fitness.
Physically Tough, Mentally Tough
Excellent though running or the gym session may be for a healthy body, personally I struggle with the motivation to pound that extra mile (or even metre) or raise that extra kilogram (or milligram), no matter what the soundtrack on my MP3 player. However, like an enthusiastic terrier, I can chase a tennis ball around pretty much all day and at the same time get a complete workout of the body and mind.
The activity involved in a game of tennis is physical: anaerobic, aerobic, sprints, turns, twists, dips and jumps all combined with the stamina needed to repeat any or all of the above point after point. As if that cardiovascular combination wasn’t enough for a thorough training programme there’s the brain exercise, too. Tennis is mental!
The strategic aspect of the sport – working out a game plan, changing it as the match evolves – is all part of the challenge. Also the need to deal with the unique scoring system where every point counts but some are more important than others; not every point you win results in a game on the scoreboard.
With so many facets to the game of tennis, there is always the opportunity to improve. Once you have the exercise machines under control at the gym, you are pretty much able to switch off and pump iron until boredom is the only thing to look forward to!
The tennis player is always a work in progress and this is one of the reasons, for me that this sport never gets dull. There is the perpetual opportunity to sharpen the serve, hone the footwork, learn to volley deeper (or shorter) or add the use of spin to your arsenal. By improving, every match then holds the exciting prospect of utilising your new weapons and take that next step to beating players to whom you previously lost. Of course the decision to have coaching is an excellent choice to continue progressing, but additionally just taking a few dozen balls out on court and practicing alone allows you to really get a feel for your latest stroke. Serve until you can find the corner at match point down, or find a wall and hit until you never miss.
However, although there are biomechanically efficient and preferred ways to learn to play a shot – style and personality can still shine through. There is no single right way to play, unlike lifting a weight or rowing nowhere in the gym, and tennis history is packed with players who are incredibly distinctive and unique in their style. You can win by power, touch, speed, mental toughness or by developing a killer forehand, backhand (single-handed or double-handed), volley or serve and all of this with your own spin on the game.
Another variable is the court surface itself. Hard courts (varying speeds), slow clay (red or green), fast grass (real or synthetic) and even faster indoor carpet all add to the spice and the challenge of finding the right match strategy and the right shot at the right moment.
Naturally, fitness can make a big difference, so the traditional workout can still be an important part of your health regimen– Bjorn Borg and Martina Navratilova were the first to work specifically on their physical conditioning and as a result were the stand out players of their generation.
So – with the variety of physical movement, assortment of shots, diversity of mental strategies and range of surfaces that the tennis player has to master – could there be anything more that could add to the completeness of this sport? How about adding another player to each side of the net and competing as a pair? The game of doubles requires teamwork in the physical and mental aspects and the added skills of communication can make up for deficiencies in an individual’s game which allows different players to thrive in this version of the event.
It is the game of doubles, where experience gained and the learned attribute of anticipation ultimately mean that playing into your eighties and beyond is a real option – and the reasoning behind the title of this article. After many years of playing (or even only a few, for those with particular talent) any deterioration in speed is more than made up for in the ability to know where your opponent is most likely to place the ball and to start moving there early. Modern racket technologies also allow the more mature competitor to still generate enough power to continue to enjoy the game in the extra spare time that may be available after retiring from the day job.
Even though I have highlighted the many reasons why tennis is great for fitness both of the muscles and the brain and so can keep you healthy into old age, due to the variety of ways in which everyone can excel at this sport, it’s actually really never too late to begin playing.
Britain now has a Grand Slam champion and Olympic Gold medallist, so why not pick up a racket and start now? “Love all, ready? Play!”
This post was written by Jeff West who can be found on Twitter as @JeffPWest