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Hints and Tips

How to succeed with young athletes

Brian Mackenzie explains how to work effectively with young athletes.

Coaches must:

  • encourage athletes to have strong-minded attitudes and self-assertiveness
  • structure the athlete's training programs with realistic, achievable, and progressive targets
  • recognise the athlete's achievements with positive enthusiasm
  • advise athletes on proper diet and training
  • convince athletes that their successes are due to their ability, attitude, and training
  • insist on correct technique at all times
  • use appropriate well-balanced conditioning programs
  • display high standards of personal behaviour and appearance - be a role model
  • place the well-being and safety of the athlete above the development of performance
  • treat all athletes with equality
  • encourage athletes to ask questions about their training and tell you what they think
  • accept responsibility for their conduct and discourage inappropriate behaviour in training and competition
  • give all athletes in your training groups equal attention
  • be sensitive to the non-verbal signals being transmitted by the athletes (their faces usually give a good indication of how they feel)

Coaches must NOT

  • over race or make the athletes compete outside their class
  • criticise the physique of their athletes
  • let the athletes think their success is due to luck or poor opposition
  • ever "give up" on an athlete, e.g. tell them they are too slow to be a sprinter (they are still developing)
  • encourage athletes to violate the rules of their sport
  • promote or ignore the use of prohibited drugs or other banned performance-enhancing substances

Give Tennis the Elbow

Brian Mackenzie provides some advice on how to prevent Tennis Elbow.

If you play tennis, squash, or racketball, the chances are good that you will develop a problem called "tennis elbow". This inflammatory condition often accompanied by stiffness, soreness, and outright pain affects up to 45% of regular racket-sport participants.

Tennis elbow is an overuse injury caused by repeated contractions of muscles connected to the elbow joint of the arm used to hit the ball. Stress on the elbow is inevitable because some of the force created when the ball hits the racket automatically passes from the racket into the forearm and then to the elbow. This repeated impact produces trauma to the tissues surrounding the elbow, leading to inflammation and soreness. Unfortunately, continued play usually worsens the condition, heightens pain, and makes the elbow "stiff", the result of a thickening of the synovium, the lubricating membrane that surrounds the elbow joint. Routine activities such as turning a doorknob, holding an umbrella, or shaking hands can become insufferable nightmares.

Elbow problems can be classified as either "backhand tennis elbow" or "forehand tennis elbow". The backhand elbow is usually caused by a lack of strength in the extensor muscles of the forearm (the muscles which attach on the outer side of the elbow) and or by poor technique. For example, if a player hits backhand shots by leading with the elbow, the head of the racket lags behind the elbow during the initial part of the stroke. Before impact with the ball, the racket must accelerate dramatically, travelling much faster than the elbow. When the racket hits the ball, the impact forces the racket to slow down immediately, and the heavy force of impact is transmitted directly to the elbow. One remedy for this is to hit the backstroke with the entire arm, instead of "snapping" the forearm ahead at the elbow joint.

Forehand tennis elbow is less common among novice players, primarily because the average tennis participant's inside-elbow muscles are stronger than the outside-elbow ones. However, professional players are at high risk for the malady, because their attempts to put a spin on the ball (for topspin forehands and spin serves) lead to excessive action at the wrist, which in turn strains the elbow on the inside. Unfortunately, experience does not lead to a lessened risk. Studies show that the frequency of tennis elbow increases with age and the number of years of play. Sadly, tennis elbow takes longer to correct in older players, too.

To limit your risk of tennis elbow, the following steps should be beneficial:

  1. Work with a knowledgeable coach to improve your technique
  2. Make sure that the grip on your racket is the right size for you (a grip that is too large or too small increases wrist-muscle fatigue, making the wrist unstable and leading to too-large forces at the elbow)
  3. Play on clay or grass courts (cement and other hard courts raise ball velocity, producing greater impacts and higher elbow forces)
  4. Use less-stiff rackets (the stiffer the racket, the larger the force transmitted to the arm)
  5. String your racket less tightly (the tighter the strings, the higher the force)
  6. Strength train your wrist muscles, as well as the muscles on the inside and outside of the elbow. For the wrists, good exercises include squeezing a tennis ball and doing wrist curls and extensions with a dumbbell
  7. Carry out stretching exercises for the wrist muscles and muscles on the outside and inside of the elbow after you play, or after a warm-up, which includes light hitting of the ball
  8. Avoid playing more than four times a week, and if soreness appears after a game, don't play again until the pain disappears

What if, despite these useful preventive steps, your tennis elbow serves up a painful challenge to your game? The following measures should help you:

  1. Ice down your sore elbow, keeping the ice on for 10-minute intervals, with 20-minute rests between applications
  2. Use oral anti-inflammatory medications as directed by your doctor.
  3. Apply anti-inflammatory creams to the elbow joint
  4. As directed by your doctor, use Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) treatments, which have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation in scientific studies
  5. Once the pain subsides, try using a "counter brace band" when you play. This band, which fastens around your forearm no closer than one inch below the elbow joint, slightly changes the angle of pull on elbow tendons, helps distribute impact forces at the elbow, and is believed to absorb some of the shocks.

The final word? Tennis elbow does not have to "ace you out" of your favourite sport. By building elbow and wrist strength and making some slight changes in your game, you should be able to eliminate tennis elbow in straight sets.

Further Reading

  • VERHEER, J. (1994) Tennis elbow anatomical, epidemiological and therapeutic aspects. Int Orthop, 18, p. 263-267
  • GRUCHOW, H.W. and PELLETIER, D. (1979) An epidemiologic study of tennis elbow, incidence, recurrence, and effectiveness of prevention strategies'. J Sports Med, 7, p. 234-238
  • VIOLA, L. (1998) A Critical review of the current conservative therapies for tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis). AGO, 2 (7)
  • WOOD, M. and KNIGHT, N.C. (1998) Tennis elbow: its clinical course, etiology and treatment. J Ark Med Soc, 85, p. 499-500
  • SNIJDERS, C.J. et al. (1987) A 'Provocation of epicondylalgia laterals (tennis elbow) by power grip or pinching. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 19, p. 518-523
  • GANI, N. (2007) Autologous blood injection in the treatment of refractory tennis elbow. The Internet Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery, p. 1531-2968
  • HAAKLE, M. (2002) Extracorporeal shock wave therapy in the treatment of lateral epicondylitis. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, American, 84 (11)

Try this eccentric method of getting rid of muscle soreness

Brian Mackenzie provides some advice on how to prevent muscle soreness

Muscle soreness is the bane of all athletes because it is connected with low muscular power outputs and an inability to carry out high-quality workouts and competitions.

The exact cause of the soreness is unknown, but there are three key ways to prevent it:

  1. Avoiding sudden upswings in training intensity or quantity
  2. Maintaining good muscle flexibility
  3. Periodically force your muscles to complete increased amounts of "eccentric" work

This does not mean asking your muscles to behave in a deviant manner. The eccentric activity involves shortening (contracting) your muscles while they are simultaneously being stretched. A classic example is running downhill; the force of gravity stretches your quadriceps muscles at the same time as they are contracting vigorously to stop you from falling forward on your face.

Although eccentric contractions themselves can initially produce muscle soreness, a single bout of eccentric exercise will often inoculate muscles against pain for several weeks. It is not clear why eccentric training has this protective effect but an eccentric workout 'may teach" the nervous system to redistribute potentially damaging forces over a larger number of fibres within a muscle, lessening the stress and strain on individual muscle cells. Alternatively, an eccentric workout may destroy the weakest fibres in a muscle, which are subsequently replaced by more resilient cells.

Fortunately, workouts which emphasise eccentric contractions are easy to carry out, and in addition to providing immunity to muscle soreness, they usually improve an athlete's coordination and muscle power too. Good examples of eccentric workouts would be running downhill for 10 to 15 minutes (watch out! The first time you do this, you may get very sore), bounding up hills with exaggerated knee lifts, or the more traditional plyometric exercises, which include:

  1. Lightning hops: Staying mainly on your toes, try to hop off the ground as many times as you can in 20 to 30 seconds. Barely get off the ground with each hop and minimise contact time between your feet and the ground. Stay off your heels.
  2. One-leg hops: Hop in a forward direction from one foot to the other, landing on one foot only and holding yourself motionless in place for 6 to 10 seconds after each landing before hopping ahead to the other foot.
  3. Double-leg hops: Jump forward explosively and continuously until you have gone at least 20 metres.
  4. Step hops: Hop up a flight of stairs using only your right foot and then do the same with your left one.
  5. Skipping: Skip for 50 metres while trying to raise the knee as high as possible on each skip.

These exercises will reduce soreness and improve the coordination and power of runners, triathletes, skiers, football players, and tennis and squash players.

Further Reading

  • KUIPERS, H. (1994) Exercise-induced Muscle Damage. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 15 (3), p. 132-135

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) Hints and Tips. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 4 / August), p. 11-12

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) Hints and Tips [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Brian Mackenzie is a British Athletics level 4 performance coach and a coach tutor/assessor. He has been coaching sprint, middle distance, and combined event athletes for the past 30+ years, and has 45+ years of experience as an endurance athlete.