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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Coaches Q and A: What is the Best Way to Cope with Extreme Heat?

With Australia's oppressive heat one of the biggest stories of 2009's first Grand Slam, I asked Harold Solomon of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to provide his advice on the issue.

Today's question: What is the best way to cope with extreme heat?

Harold Solomon responds:

I think that there are a few basics that can help all players, including juniors, be ready for extreme heat situations.

Dress For It:
Clothing can definitely help curb the effects of the sun. We all know that light colored clothing tends to help keep the body cooler. Hats that do more than cover the top of the head can be effective in keeping the sun off the back of the neck, which is one of the areas that can cause serious problems in extreme heat conditions. Often players do not wear clothing protection around their necks because the manufacturers determine the type of clothing worn. We recommend players cover their necks with a wide-brimmed hat or use a scarf dipped in cold water that can be refreshed on changeovers, but we find players very reluctant to follow this advice. Also, a player's feet are often one of the primary areas to be effected by extreme heat. It is essential to wear shoes with soles that are thick enough keep the feet cool and to keep socks as dry as possible, to keep blisters from forming.

Drink For It:
Staying hydrated is extremely important both on and off the court. A hydrated athlete should urinate up to ten times a day. It is important to use water and a diluted sports drink the day before matches and water and a diluted sports drink with added salt on the day of matches and during matches. Tennis players in conditions like those in Australia can lose a tremendous amount of fluids, but if the sodium that is lost during competition is not replaced, players can find themselves with severe cramping, which can be totally debilitating. It is also very important for the player to refuel the body within 30 minutes of each match with carbohydrates most easily consumed in a non-diluted sports drink.

Ice For It:
During changeovers, the player should place iced towels over his or her head and neck to help lower the body temperature. I often used ice cubes under my wrist bands during changeovers to help cool down my body.

Practice In It:
It is very difficult to get ready for extreme heat conditions unless the player is able to practice for an extended time in similar conditions prior to the tournament, ideally for at least a week before it begins. During the summer in the U.S. we often see the Europeans falter in the heat the first week they come over to play; usually they are more acclimated by the second week. During the preliminary week of practice, the player should gradually increase the time and exposure on the courts and move practices from early morning and late afternoon up to times when the sun and heat are highest to condition the body and the mind to the effects of the high temperatures.

Playing in extreme heat is difficult and can be dangerous. The heat rule in Australia was developed to protect the players' well-being and they need to be aware of the importance of eating and drinking properly in these conditions. Many matches are won and lost in these conditions because the player has not properly prepared physically for the conditions which then affects the players ability to mentally stay in the match. Many times the mind will go before the body gives out. It's imperative that the player arrive at the tournament having done the physical training necessary to prepare the body well before the tournament begins. The acclimation period should be just that--the real work has to be completed before the player arrives at the event.

Do you have a question for Andy Brandi or Harold Solomon? If so, please send it to clewis[at]zootennis[dot]com with the phrase Coaches Q and A in the subject line.


AndrewD said...

"Often players do not wear clothing protection around their necks because the manufacturers determine the type of clothing worn."

I am totally flabbergasted. Players entrust their game to a coach, their diet to a nutritionist, their body to a trainer and their career to a manager but they're willing to allow all of that to be undermined because a designer says that collars are out? That is one of the most unprofessional things I've ever heard.