Professional athletes have very different career paths to most other people. Usually, they peak in their late 20s and will retire at some point in their late 30s or early 40s, meaning their journey needs to begin much earlier in life.
This starting point is usually in childhood; most kids dream of becoming some sort of sports star, but in order to get to the top level they must dedicate a significant portion of their life to that goal.
Athletes who have trained in their sport from a young age will have advantages over their rivals who become involved later in life, as they’ve had more time to master their skills and gain experience.
This is very much true of tennis, which has a fiercely competitive youth spectrum, in which children as young as 7 first pick up a racket and begin training. There are youth academies across the globe that take in young children and, under the guidance of high-level coaches, teach them how to succeed on the court.
If a child and their parents are serious about playing tennis competitively, they need to undergo hours of training each week. The recommended amount will vary depending on who you ask, but anything between 12 and 15 hours of training per week is generally considered optimal.
Tennis is a very physically demanding sport that requires speed, flexibility, endurance and power. Elements of these attributes will come naturally, but they’ll also need to be trained over years in order to build a top-level tennis player.
So, a young player will not only need to be working on these traits but will also need to get used to regular training and leading a healthy lifestyle so that this can be maintained into later life.
Of course, a young tennis player’s body is still developing and so cannot be pushed too hard. Overtraining can lead to injury and burnout and may turn a young person off of the sport for good.
Tennis, particularly at youth level, also features a huge number of competitions throughout the year. This can require a lot of travelling but also significant levels of discipline and focus at a young age to perform at your best week in, week out.
Other sports, like American football, are similar in some ways as they require young players to be dedicated to their craft to succeed. In the US, football is the leading sport and so is incredibly difficult to break into at the top level.
Tennis, however, is not as closely linked with education and scholarships for it are far rarer. So, youth players need to put just as much effort into their academic journey as their tennis exploits.
Plus, unlike football and other major sports like soccer, tennis is an individual sport in which there are no teams. Your success or failure relies solely on you, as you have no teammates (unless you’re playing in doubles games). This can add a lot more pressure but also means a player needs to be an expert in all areas of the sport.
In football, for example, each individual player will have their own position and role in the team; they aren’t expected to do everything, so they specialize in certain areas.
Likewise, sports such as football have certain physical requirements – usually being a certain size – meaning some people just won’t be able to cut it at the highest level. Tennis players come in all shapes and sizes.
However, the youth of tennis players is not as demanding as that of those involved in other individual sports such as boxing. As a combat sport, boxing naturally comes with many more health risks, while training and competitions will involve regularly being punched.
For most, this is a much harder lifestyle, particularly at a young age. While tennis players do need to stay in match-shape, boxers must make weight for each bout, meaning they can’t be above a certain weight limit. This requires a lot of training but also extreme discipline around diet and lifestyle.
Those who find success at the top levels of tennis achieve fame, glory and wealth but it has taken a lifetime of work to get there. Youth tennis players need to train for hours and hours every week and constantly improve their craft if they want to break through.
These are physical but also mental demands that cannot become too much of a burden in early life, as this can cause injury and apathy toward the sport. While tennis is often played for fun, those more serious about competing will have to keep a dense schedule with regular matches and tournaments.
This more intense lifestyle won’t be suited to everyone, but it is necessary in order to develop into a world-class tennis player.