Reflections on tennis restart for the lucky ones

The longest time ever without being allowed to hold a tennis racket and stand on a tennis court ends on Monday 29th March. 

It’s not  a return to normal. More a return to nearer normal. If indeed the normal we knew before still exists. 

For those of us returning to tennis, we have many reasons to be grateful. We are well enough to again stand on a tennis court. A few moments of reflection tells you that we are indeed the lucky ones. Many lives have been lost and changed, over the past year. The one year anniversary of the first lockdown this last week was indeed  a poignant moment of reflection. 

What now? We have reached base camp. We can play and practice outdoors socially. Competition is still some time away. 

And leaving aside the central question whether it is even sensible to try and  play lifelong tennis. I have been reflecting on what have I learnt so far about lifelong tennis. I think now in my sixties (I can hardly believe it) I am starting to get a sense of what it takes for me. If that is useful to others then that is even better. 

I think the answer to ‘can you play lifelong tennis’ is yes, possibly. As long as you move with your age group peers and all have the same expectations and approach to tennis. Then of course it is possible even allowing for doing little other exercise, in between stepping on court each time. You will obviously slow with age as we all do, and learn to work with the limitations of the body, again we all have to do that. If the aim is to play social tennis then as long as the body holds up all will be good. 

I wish I had this contentedness, to let nature take its course. It looks inviting and a generally good place to be. I don’t seem to be able to settle into this mindset.  

Would you not do something to try to prolong the time you can continue to play? Offer a poke in the eye to natural decline? A game that has given me so much pleasure, I think deserves a little bit of respect. That’s the way I see it. 

Tennis won’t keep you fit. Doubles the predominant form of the game for us oldies has little impact on the cardio vascular system, it’s an unbalanced exercise placing strains on one side of the body and will do little for your flexibility. 

My reasoning says that if you want to play at all competitively (and I do) then you have to counter the above by some form of off court effort. We all differ in our physiology and what we want to get from the game. This balance between what the body can and what the mind wants it to do, will act as  a guide to how much off court effort you feel you want to give. 

I started this journey after injuring my back and thinking I would never play again. I am now interested to see how competitive I can be given my past history and the increasing years. My off court effort is normally probably twice my on court effort, measured by time. Off court effort consists broadly of three things; running, weights and stretching. 

Working to a basic schedule of  five or six days per week, has been relatively easy during lockdown. There have been no distractions, such as actual tennis to play. This basic schedule is adapted to how I feel and I don’t over worry if I miss a day or two because of other demands. I also take an occasional day off if I feel I am getting over tired. 

Training is a balance between work and rest. The training load makes you tired a little and the rest day refreshes. I am still trying to find the right balance, as the effort  and rest ratio feels less predictable than it used to be. 

What I am learning is that the more I commit the better I feel physically and mentally, regardless that the purpose is to play better tennis. The three activities of run, lift, stretch feel more inter related than I have ever found before. One feeds off the other. Each providing benefit for the other. I have never felt this so directly before.  

Each activity of itself is essentially boring repetition of something, weights and stretching more so.  Just add effort.

Stretching is the ultimate in boredom as far as I am concerned, and it is painful as well. It has though done wonders for my hip flexibility. I feel this in my stride length when running as an example. I should also add that my weight is down to 180 lbs for the first time in many years, more than twenty I think, that helps with everything.

Running has been and remains an enjoyment as you don’t concentrate on one leg in front of the other.  The concentration is on your surroundings or in some far away place inside your head. The effort with running is all about stepping out the door, once out it never disappoints. 

We are in comparison with others a sedentary nation, becoming alarmingly more sedentary after age fifty. Therefore while my effort may seem extreme to many, and I question it myself sometimes, in other parts of the world, it will seem the norm. 

There are no physiological reasons why we cannot remain active into our later years. As far as I can see there are no limits to when we stop benefiting from exercise. If you are interested there is  a great little book I came across called The Lazarus Strategy – How to Age Well and Wisely  by Dr Norman Lazarus.  

Tennis can obviously be a part of our approach to activity and I hope it will be part of mine for many years to come. No one knows the future as we have seen this past year. The best I think I can say is this is how I see it today and take it from there.  

Here comes the restart. I wish everyone well, take it easy, don’t get injured in the first few days. And here’s to some kind of summer season ahead. 

Good luck to everyone, however you play your tennis! 

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