Too old for tennis? Think again.

Federer waves

The Story

Game, set, match, Federer! Federer serving yet another ace, closing yet another Wimbledon final a champion. Does it sound like a blast to the past? Surreally and breathtakingly, it is not. It’s the 2017 Wimbledon men’s’ final and you may be thinking that, unless Federer was playing on steroids, or under the influence of some age-rewinding longevity elixir, how could he once again have achieved such a feat. He is days from his 36th birthday, a playing age at which almost all tennis champions (or even players) can only dream of reaching. What is also remarkable about such age-defying feat of Federer’s is not just the seeming impossibility of it, but also its relevance to the hundreds of thousands of people struggling with the mindset of feeling that they are of too old an age to pick up (or be good at) tennis, or sports in general.

Listened to that elderly man who complained about not being able to pick up tennis because he thinks he’s too old, or that middle-age woman who says she won’t be able to play at a higher level because she can’t run – yes, these are the people I am referring to. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that almost every middle-aged or old person should be encouraged to pick up tennis or any active sport. There are physical disabilities more prone as you age that will take away your sport-learning abilities, but there is a huge group of such aged people for whom the main problem preventing them from learning sports is psychological. Djokovic famously said that Federer’s Australian Open title shows us that anything is possible. One should however take that rather pithy statement with a huge grain of salt.

Inspiration drives improvement or ability, but inspiration alone does not lead to improvement and ability.

Hence I am writing this to share with you 3 ideas and tips on how you can maintain or increase your athletic ability in spite of your age, but first you must #bel19ve!

Lessons to take from the story

Chamelon

Adapt!

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. - Alvin Toffler

This adage on the importance of adaptability, although meant as a guiding principle for survival in an increasingly technological age, is also of great relevance for anyone who wants to improve his sports performance. For some sports which can be played using different functional styles, tennis especially, it is not the ability to play the sport that cannot wanes with time but your style of playing it.

Now, to learn from the maestro....

We could take a few pages from Federer’s book for this one. Federer is famous for his seemingly effortless style of play, for how he hardly breaks a drop of sweat at the end of each match, throughout which he floats across the court and moves like water. What is impressive about this for our current concern is the fact that such appearance of effortlessness accurately represents the level of bodily strain Federer puts himself through, whenever he plays tennis. Federer’s almost flawless record of injuries is more than enough proof of such point – he has only undergone through 2 major injuries throughout his entire career (a back injury in 2013; a knee injury in 2016), and has never retired from a match! Compare Federer to say Nadal (who has pulled out from a few grand slam events due to injury) or Djokovic (who has retired from a couple of matches injured).

We need to know the main technical reason for his longevity...

Groundstroke-technique wise, both Djokovic and Nadal use the Western forehand grip; which necessitates a much sharper lower body turn, and much lower knee bend, for a proper forehand execution. In contrast, Federer’s eastern forehand grip means he hardly bends his knees (comparatively speaking), and a lower body turn that is not as ‘violent’.

Which could be followed to a degree, if not emulated completely...

I am not saying that this will be easy at the start, but doing small adjustments to your style of play such as switching your grip to a less strenuous one, would go far in making you a ‘younger’ tennis player. Perhaps you could change your tennis racket to one with a larger head size – more power and less need for precise hitting comes with a bigger head size, which translates into less energy and effort being needed for each shot. Just compare a Babolat Aero and Wilson ProStaff in terms of effortlessness!

Photo credit: EZINEMARK.COM

Sleep!

As the naysayers and ignoramuses often say...

‘Sleep is for the weak.’ Such a statement is sharp, pithy, and probably profound; unfortunately, not all pithy one-liners are true or insightful in the right way. In this case, such a line should be seen as a small bag of bollocks.

But the maestro begs to differ...

It’s not for nothing that the great Roger Federer tries in to get in 9 to 10 hours of sleep each night, despite the widely held ‘nugget of wisdom’ mentioned slightly above.

For me, sleeping has become quite important. I make sure I sleep enough. It’s really the sleep that gives you energy again down the road. - Roger Federer

Now on the reasons why the maestro thinks sleep is king...

Besides making you feel energized and good for any physical endeavour ahead, sleep has significant injury-prevention and overall bodily rejuvenation functions that are crucial for one’s athletic longevity. The main reason sleep is so important for longevity is it recovers the muscles. Protein synthesis – the rebuilding of and building new muscle tissue – simply cannot happen with too little or no sleep Muscles are easily the most important body component (apart from the brain) for athletic movement. Any physical movement needs it, and the more finely tuned and strengthened your muscles are, the better your athletic prowess will be. Apart from its importance for the maintenance and strengthening of the muscles, the effects of a lack of sleep can include (amongst a long list of negative physical effects): 1) a plunge in mood, 2) increase levels of cortisol (stress hormones), 3) decreased glycogen synthesis and 4) decreased aerobic endurance.

Let's take some action, shall we?

Important knowledge needs to be acted on, so here are 3 tips which would help with your quest to expand your athletic longevity:

1) Create a consistent sleeping schedule such that sufficient sleeping becomes a habit. Go to bed and get up from it at the same time every day.

2) Do not rely on sleeping medication. Over-the-counter sleeping medication may allow you to get to sleep easier but generally compromises the quality of your sleep. You will not get results with more sleep if you are sleeping deep enough! Rely instead on natural relaxation techniques which help you with your sleep – there is no one fixed set of such techniques but popular examples include light swimming, yoga or simple breathing exercises.

3) Reduce or cut out (if possible) the alcohol and caffeine, Caffeine affects your sleep for obvious reasons – it being a stimulant. Concerning alcohol, although it may make you feel sleepy and may help you fall asleep as a result, it actually disrupts your sleep later. In the second half of the night, sleep after alcohol drinking is associated with more frequent awakenings, night sweats, nightmares, headaches and is effectively much less restful.

Photo credit: EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS

Take Breaks!

I know what you're thinking, such an advice is so self-evident and prevalent you don't need to spend time on it - you have just fallen for the 'familiarity fallacy'!

This component of the article may seem unnecessary given the previous one on the importance of sleep, which is by definition also a break. It is not unnecessary however as the previous article segment is meant to encourage you to be more engaged in a certain activity whereas this article segment is aiming to induce a change in your mindset, and your entire approach to playing sports or exercising.

Why this advice is so hard to follow and hence deserving of attention...

In this very modern age where we have a serious problem imbalance between the number of things doable and time available, every block of time is treated as sacrosanct. Wasting of time is a sin; all that counts in life is the maximization of each precious bloc of time because if not one would either lose out or ‘not be living life to the full.’ As such, the modern man in following this principle feels like he is on a treadmill that never stops, believing that constant motion would achieve for him, whatever goals he desire or think should be desired. Such thinking is however deeply flawed, because sometimes – if not a lot of times – doing nothing is actually better and if you may, productive.

Quoting another maestro in a different department...

Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.

- Lao Tzu

Now, back to the tennis maestro...

Once again, Federer’s story is the shining example of the importance of one of this article’s tips. Federer’s two greatest achievements (I would argue) have been attained after two significantly long periods of rest from professional tennis competing. Federer’s 2017 Australian Open championship victory (one of his two greatest achievements because he won it at the age of 35, against Nadal) came after a six-month long break which started in June 2016, to recover a vulnerable knee. Federer’s 2017 Wimbledon championship victory (one of his two greatest achievements because he did not drop throughout the tournament) came after a two-month break that saw him miss the entire cay court season. The decision of skipping the entire clay court season uninjured is just by itself incredulous-sounding!

The reasons Federer took his breaks and why you should copy him...

The benefits of resting for athletic longevity are both physical and psychological, as an inseparable part of athletic longevity is enjoying whatever you’re doing – one cannot last in something one does not find contentment in doing! On the psychological front, a break from doing sport can for even just once a day can act as a reward for your hard work for your non-resting days. A lack of motivation doing the sport could be dampened – if not eradicated – by reminding one of the upcoming break period. On the physical front, taking breaks prevents your body from receiving too much strain – which could lead to muscle strain and injury if not controlled. Although the time needed for recovery varies among people – depending on their level of fitness, level of experience etc - the general rule is that it requires at least 48 hours to recover fully after any physical workout.


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