by Faye Rapoport
Tennis demands strength, agility and hand-to-eye coordination, and for millions of people worldwide, the game ranks anywhere from a hobby to an obsession
Tennis pro Kolie Van Zyl started playing the game as a child growing up on a farm in South Africa. He picked it up from his siblings and by watching matches on TV. By age 9 he was hitting a ball against the walls, breaking several windows in the process.
Van Zyl represented South Africa in international play in the under-12, -14, and -16 age group levels before earning the number three national ranking for under-18s. He relocated to the U.S. to play professional tournaments at 18 and trained at the well-known Saddlebrook Tennis Center in Florida. He eventually accepted a full tennis scholarship to the University of Alabama, where he played on the 1st Team All Conference in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
Van Zyl currently coaches at Bosse Sports, a world-class health, tennis and golf center in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Foot.com recently caught up with him between coaching sessions and asked just how hard this great game is on the legs and feet.
Foot.com Tennis clearly requires a lot of running, stopping, turning and moving quickly up and down the court. This must be demanding on the feet and legs during a match.
Van Zyl: That’s true. In tennis, you have a lot of side-to-side movements, a lot of changing direction and quick position changes for your feet and whole body, all within a small reaction time. Generally, you have a lot of lateral motion, but also a lot of up and down movement, and split stepping, when you stop and then have a burst of movement. Also, your legs are always bending. You’re getting very low all the time.
Foot.com What kind of training do you do to prepare for that?
Van Zyl: You can do exercises like side-to-side running, where you hit a ball, then skip one and run to the other side of the court. Remember, you have a racquet in your hand while training, so balance and racquet positioning is involved. We do a lot of anaerobic work, where you train your body for the movements and anaerobic demands of our particular sport. We also work on reaction time and where you have to be while anticipating the ball.
Foot.com What particular muscles have to be strong to play good tennis?
Van Zyl: The legs, quads, abdomen, shoulders, forearm, wrists, back. And the hamstrings need to be loose, you have to be very supple.
Foot.com Are there certain foot injuries that tend to plague tennis players?
Van Zyl: Obviously your ankle. A lot of tennis players tear the ligaments in the ankle or sprain their ankles very often.
Foot.com Why is that?
Van Zyl: A lot of times players move suddenly, and they roll or turn their ankles because they are changing direction so quickly. Also, the Achilles tendon can get sprained or sore, and might even get torn at times, because of the type of side-to-side movement involved in playing tennis. You’ve got to wear the proper shoes when you play tennis to support the feet.
Foot.com What shoe type is best?
Van Zyl: Tennis shoes need to be soft shoes, soft-feeling, comfortable shoes, with thick hard soles that are resistant to the court. They are a lot different from running shoes because they are flat at the bottom to accommodate the surface of the court and support the sideways movements, and the tread is designed to grip the court. The shoes at the heel are not too high, and that is what often leads to sprained ankles or injury to the foot and ankle. A lot of players tape their foot up before they play, especially pro players, to protect the ankle. High top shoes are sometimes used for this reason but not too often.
A lot of times in tennis, the forefoot is being used more than the heel, so tennis shoes are also designed to support that.
Foot.com Do you wear any particular kind of socks?
Van Zyl: A lot of tennis players wear Thorlo socks for tennis, because they have very good support for the heel and the forefoot, with thick layers. You need a sock that is comfortable, thick, and gives your foot the support and comfort that you need.
Foot.com Is there anything you can do besides taping the foot to avoid the common foot injuries?
Van Zyl: One thing is to make sure that your shoes are tightly laced, so the foot is tight in the shoe. Your shoe and your foot must feel as one. Also, a lot of players use ankle guards to prevent the ankle from moving around too much.
Foot.com Thanks for the tips, Kolie!
Van Zyl: No problem. Enjoy tennis! Anyone interested in contacting us at Bosse Sports can check out our Web site. It’s at www.bossesports.com.