The Athletic Development of Junior Tennis Players
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Paediatric strength and conditioning (S&C) research has gained significant momentum in recent years, as evidence has continually highlighted the physiological differences between youth and adult athletes, and the subsequent need for different approaches to athletic development. Substantial evidence exists demonstrating the benefits of formal S&C programmes on fitness, motor skill performance and general health and wellbeing of youth athletes. Despite this, limited information specifically relating this to tennis performance means that often technical, tactical and skill development remains the key focus during early training years. Synthesis of the two literature reviews highlighted a gap in empirical data relating to U14 and female players. Therefore, one of the overarching aims of this thesis was to gain understanding on how formal strength and conditioning influences athletic development of players aged 10-14 years old of both genders and subsequently how this influences tennis performance. The first part of this thesis sought to identify current trends in the physical fitness and training characteristics of the New Zealand population, with a view to enabling comparison to international peers and facilitate better understanding of the training requirements of young players. Study 1 identified that key physical attributes and trends which influence tennis performance did not differ greatly from those observed in the cohorts of previous studies. The findings indicated that upper body power and strength should be a priority focus of tennis players fitness programmes in this age group. Study 2 also drew attention to a notably lower training volumes of NZ players particularly regarding physical S&C training. This identified a possible weakness in the current practice of players and/or coaches in this country. The significance of how these lower volumes impact on players achieving their physical potential or ultimately the progression of their tennis careers is not clearly understood. Study 3 provided the first indication that those following a structured formal S&C programme over several years had better performance outcomes than those who did not. This information provided justification and support for the introduction of S&C at an early age for those not already participating in formal physical training. The development of fundamental movement skills (FMS) during childhood and adolescence has been identified as a priority training focus (Lloyd and Oliver, 2012). As previous research has not evaluated how FMS competency influences physical fitness or tennis performance, the second part of this thesis focused on the practical application of FMS assessment and training protocols. The findings from Study 4 indicated the assessment of FMS via Athletic Ability assessment (AAA) movement screening may be a valuable tool for S&C coaches with junior tennis players. Significant relationships between screening scores and performance indicated that data gathered may provide insight into strengths and weaknesses of an individual’s movement competency, which can help guide exercise prescription to enhance performance. In turn, the introduction of simple 6-week FMS and strength training interventions to this population was shown to have positive influence on both the movement competency and physical fitness performance of players in this age group. Although there was no acute transfer to tennis performance, given the correlations shown in the first half of thesis it may be fair to assume that making improvements in these areas will eventually have a carryover effect on an individual’s ability to play tennis.