Coaching Longevity = Practice What you Preach

We tell our players to stretch, eat well, and stay hydrated, to get a lot of sleep and to take care of their bodies. We want them to do all the “little things” well, and to have the discipline to be consistent with these actions. How many of us coaches actually take our own advice?

Obviously we are not competing anymore or trying to peak for a certain event, but I have found that I spend many more hours on the court than my players. On individual days, I might be on the court for 6-8 hours while my players do just two. I am not practicing at the same intensity as they are but I am extremely active and play a lot of sets and hitting drills with them. I love being very physical during my coaching sessions. I know that real learning and development takes place on the outer edges of our students’ comfort zones.  I am fortunate that I can always push them just outside their own perceived capabilities with my own game.

This was relatively easy for me in my early twenties, and I was definitely not taking my own advice! But now as I head into my late thirties, I am much more conscious of how I need to treat my body in order to keep up with my players. I want to be able to do this not just now but late into my 40’s and maybe even my 50’s! I believe this is possible because I feel better now than I did 10 years ago due to the fact that I truly practice what I preach.  Not only am I a better coach to my players but I am also setting a great example for them each and every day.

My closest coaching friends think I’m a little nutty. I start every morning with a freezing cold shower; I stretch and do yoga for about 30 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of meditation and a big green smoothie. I have given up meat, dairy, gluten, and reduced my sugar and alcohol intake a great deal. This has eliminated much of the inflammation from my body so I rarely get sore or injured anymore. I do 2-3 heavy weight lifting sessions per week and end every evening on the foam roller, coupled with some more stretching. Now, I am not saying this is for everyone by any means. I am passionate about human performance and I am constantly experimenting with what works and does not work for me. Ultimately my motivation lies in my ability to be as active on the tennis court for as long as I possibly can. Here are a few steps coaches can take to improve their longevity and physical comfort on the tennis court.

1.     Take a strong look at your diet. I believe that everything starts here and most of our ailments and health issues can be sourced directly back to what we are putting in our mouths. When we have had a long day on the tennis court, the first thing we want to do is “reward” ourselves with some comfort food and maybe some alcohol to help relax us. This feels great in the moment but we end up paying the price for it with less quality sleep while putting a drain on our energy sources. My advice to coaches is to try to eliminate one group of foods from their diets for a 30 day period and see how they feel. If you feel no different than that food probably is not causing you any issues. I would start with Gluten, and then move onto dairy and sugar products. Don’t be tempted by the energy bars and Gatorades our athletes are chugging down. Instead, try to replace them with less processed options like fruit and nuts. I promise that making a few adjustments to your diet will go a long way. The better you feel, the easier it will be to avoid these temptations in the future.

2.     Try to do some strength training at least two times per week. We have so many muscle imbalances as tennis players and coaches. The only way to resolve this issue is to work on our strength and mobility. I strongly recommend doing some heavy complex lifts such as the squat, deadlift, clean and overhead press. You don’t have to lift for very long if you are concentrating on these complex lifts as you are covering most of your bases. I also recommend that at least every second day you do a two-minute plank, a scapular exercise, some external shoulder work and a few fire hydrants.

3.     We constantly talk to our players about recovery and the need to be able to come back the next day fresh and ready to work hard. This is one piece of advice that we should most definitely be following ourselves. I recommend purchasing a foam roller and spending just 10 minutes a night rolling out and massaging your muscles. This will also help to relax you before bed. The number of hip replacements in our industry is staggering. I feel like every coach I speak to over the age of 55 has had a hip replacement. Take 5-10 minutes each night and focus on stretching out your hips and improving your range of motion in these areas. The best thing about the rolling and stretching is that you can do it while watching TV, speaking to loved ones or even reading.

There are many other things we can do to improve our health, well-being and longevity but these are the three areas I would definitely focus on as you will get the biggest return for your time. Start small and try to replace one bad habit with one good habit every so often. Diets don’t work and you definitely don’t need to be doing P 90 X or running 5 miles a day to be fit and healthy on the court! Be kind and gentle to your body and it will respond many times over.