Time to reflect on the season just gone and set a course for next season
Offseason training week one. In truth not a lot happens tennis wise, save for some mental gymnastics and internal dialogue. I hover willingly in this none season for a week or two while real life intervenes. Eventually moving to action as the balance between inertia and days passing makes me worry that the new season will be here before I am ready.
I allow myself a little pat on the back as I think over the season. I am not yet where I want to be. There is unfinished business with this game of tennis. How do I ensure that next season is even better and more enjoyable? One thing is for sure, the roots of next season’s success or otherwise are sown now. But first a quick look back ….
The training diary records the nuts and bolts of this past season compared to the previous one. In singles I have played more matches, and recorded more wins. My GB ITF ranking for over 60s has risen from 90 last year to a high of 36 this year. World ranking has moved up from 1900 to 544. I have been seeded on 3 occasions, yet never achieved my seeded position. I have beaten one seed when not seeded and made three semi finals. I have competed on hard courts, acrylic, artificial clay, various types of astro turf and grass. My percentage win rate is still about the same at one win every three matches. There have been some good performances and some poor performances.
There has been more on court time, more gym time, more stretching and more running. That doesn’t mean it’s been perfect. I see a pattern of good off season work and then the gym work, stretching and running taper off once the season gets into gear. Room for improvement or inevitable with more matches to play?
Then there is the arm injury, (golfer’s elbow) which worsened over the season meaning that I had to scale back practice. No doubt it affected my forehand, especially over the latter part of the season. Should I have taken a break or been more instant in its treatment and maintenance, once it flared up. This is the one thing I got wrong, assuming that the pain would pass, I let it develop and instead it just got worse. How difficult it is to know in the moment when you are all of player, coach and physio. Usually I judge these things well, but this one I got wrong. How difficult it was to step away and miss a tournament or two. The season seems too short.
And the highlight, the thing the training diary cannot record. Playing at Wimbledon on a perfect summer’s day in August. The ITF Masters British Grasscourt Championships over 60s doubles. What an absolute highlight that was! Played my best match of the season as well, with my partner Nigel. If you can ever come second and say the occasion was perfect, then this was it. A warm glow whenever I think of it now.
The strange thing is that I don’t think I have played consistently well over the course of the season. As the season progressed the arm injury was meaning reduced practice time while trying to manage my way to the next tournament.
Still, considering everything it has been the best and most enjoyable season ever. Through all of the doubts, injury, losses and yes, wins. Still some frustration that it is not coming more easily, while at the same time enjoying the challenge. There is nothing else I would rather have done with my time.
October. Time now to draw that line under the previous season and look forward to the next. It’s taken me some time to throw off the disappointing end to the season and the below par performances. Now, nearing the end of October I’ve processed all of my thoughts and feelings and a new plan is emerging. I know there is more to come.
First action. A trip to the physio with my various ailments to get an objective view. There is a part of me that thinks it an unnecessary expense, and the other part that reasons it to be a worthwhile investment.
I have messaged ahead with my presenting ailments for assessment, treatment and advice. The four things are back, hip, knee and elbow. None of which individually or collectively are stopping me playing or training at the moment. There is the earworm of doubt about whether there is anything underlying that might be a problem for the future. It will be good to get a professional view.
In my doubtful moments I think the worst; my hip is wearing away and will have to be replaced. My back is getting worse again as the numbness in my foot is fluctuating. My arm continues to be sore and it alone might stop me playing. The knee, well it’s a bit painful now and then and I can’t fully bend it, so I added it to the list for completeness.
In the physio’s room. Stripped to my pants, the physio who I have seen for years, though not since 2019 pre Covid knows my history. He looks me over and asks me to do a number of basic movements. We are going to work through my list of ailments one by one.
The first surprise is that my flexibility around my back is good, I can touch the floor with my fingers. The exercises have been effective, there is no impingement in the back, so all looks good. The numbness in my toes is most likely a hangover from the back injury and with me for good, but definitely not a sign of any problem. That’s a big relief.
The right hip is good on external rotation of the foot when the leg is held at 90 degrees, less good on internal rotation. The left leg is the opposite – good on internal rotation and less good on external rotation. The hip pain assessment points to an inflamed bursa due to the limited flexibility. Not the crumbling joint I feared it to be when at its most painful. Another big relief.
The right knee however is slightly more of a concern. Some minor damage to the miniscus or cartlidge is identified. Not needing any further investigation at this moment. The knee is protecting itself and resisting the leg from totally straightening and locking out. The large muscles of the quadriceps at the front of the leg are not fully engaging and therefore there is some muscle wastage in the right quadriceps.
I think this has been going on for some time as I had noticed that my right leg was noticeably thinner than the left, but just thought it was how I was made. The presenting issue for me was that I could not sit back on my haunches on my right knee and occasional pain in the knee. Not severe enough at present to need any further investigation, but the need to strengthen the quad muscles and encourage the knee to full extension. Cycling is also recommended. I can work on that.
The arm pain is obviously a result of playing tennis. Manipulation and laser treatment hopefully start the recovery. Specific resistance training and stretching should see that right over time. I can work on that.
In summary. All looks pretty positive and nothing that should prevent me preparing fully for next season. Visit to the physio fully justified; a worthwhile investment. The only thing that can stop me now is myself.
There have been questions. Have I become too comfortable? Has the relative success of still being on the court satisfied my desire? I want to answer no, but maybe, maybe it’s something that is not as easy to control as that. The past few weeks have not exactly been filled with practice and training. A lot of thinking about it, but very little action as yet.
The only thing that can stop me now is myself! It’s a challenging statement. No excuses, no ifs, no buts, no what ifs. The coming days as they turn into weeks and months, will reveal all.
Two days later I am a fully paid up member of a local gym, signaling the end of my home made Covid inspired workout space. I guess I will now be able to workout without negotiating, washing baskets, wellington boots shoes, dogs bowls and other assorted bits and pieces that claim the utility room as their own.
First visit to the gym. I am a little hesitant, slightly out of my comfort zone. On a Sunday afternoon the gym is near empty, which is perfect save for the awful music. I run through a few familiar exercises, discover how the machines I want to use work and adjust. Somewhere in those early dumbell bench press repetitions, the muscle memory kicks. The weights move smoothly up and down, their resistance like an old friend returning.
I discussed with the physio the real need to be present in the gym for each and every repetition of every exercise. Today I am aware of my breath and apply control as the weight moves up and down on each repetition. It’s boring as well as a challenge in concentration, to do the same thing again and again. I love it! We’ve made a start.
The expected muscle stiffness follows next day and it is at just the right level, to know I have worked out. Not the extreme version where I cannot lift my arms above my head. Been there done that, no need to do it again!
I round off October with a short fast run of about 2.5 miles, recording two sections according to Strava as my fastest yet.
October is closing on a positive note. The offseason programme is taking shape.