Interview with WTCA - 'Developing the Complete Tennis Player'

Below is an article I was interviewed for by Kylie Klotzbach:

Reaching potential as a tennis player is not only about developing skills on the court. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a top-level tennis player who does not excel in other areas of athleticism. 

Howard Green, Head of Strength and Conditioning at USN Bolton Arena High Performance Tennis Academy and director of RacketEdge, believes that in order to reach one’s full potential on the court, tennis players must work to become complete, robust athletes. 

Prior to becoming a strength and conditioning coach Green served in the Royal Marines, which fully prepared him for his role today in terms of discipline, adaptability, attention to detail, a focus on teamwork and dealing with adversity. 

“In tennis, the plan can change very, very quickly, so you’ve got to be very adaptable – you need to be able to improvise, adapt and overcome,” said Green. “I’ve got quite an attention to detail, I will sweat the small stuff. I will make sure that things are planned in advance and the athlete knows what’s going on.” 

“Another core value within the Marines is ‘Commando Humor’ – cheerfulness in the face of adversity,” explained Green. “Being around tennis players, that is a key quality they’ve got to have. There’s going to be those days where they’re going to get beat mentally. You can’t let yourself get down, you’ve got to brush it off and move on.”

Green’s unique approach to coaching coupled with the experience gleaned from his time in the Royal Marines has led him to a wealth of achievement within the tennis industry. In fact, he has worked with some of the top athletes in the world, including former WTA No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, US player Sachia Vickery and most recently with British tennis player Naomi Broady. 

Despite experience working with professional players, Green has also found success coaching athletes at every level. “No matter who the player is, you’ve got to build rapport and let them know that you understand them and also that you care about them. I try to make sure the player knows I’m there for them and there to help them,” he explained. 

When developing a player, Green focuses on a number of key areas for improvement. “We’re looking at stamina, mobility, stability, agility, balance, coordination, speed, and strength and power,” he said. “These are all areas that guide the complete athlete, so we want to be working them throughout their lifetime. 

“Even top athletes have really simple things that they can do to make up for deficits in their physicality. By working on those deficiencies, we’re going to make them more robust. We’re going to make a more connected athlete, more coordinated athlete that will ultimately have a positive effect on their tennis performance as well,” said Green. 

When first beginning to work with an athlete, Green likes to keep the conversation discussion based. He asks questions about the training history and injury history before embarking on what he calls a ‘subjective analysis,’ where the player must score themselves on a scale from 1 through 10 on a variety of physical components.

The player then must ask themselves what qualities are needed to reach their ultimate goals. “You can do physiological testing, but I’m more interested in what’s in between the ears. What do they feel? Then we look to prioritize the primary objectives,” said Green. 

“The most important question is the last one: ‘How is reaching a specific goal, for example increasing endurance, going to make you feel?’,” explained Green. “If a player stands on the court and they don’t have a belief that they can outlast the opponent, there’s going to be anxiety. I’m just trying to eradicate any kind of mental weaknesses, and with the physical training I’m going to make them feel robust and confident on the court.”  

As a strength and conditioning coach, Green’s ultimate goal is to increase availability. “By increase availability, I mean to develop a robust athlete that is always available for tournaments, never has to withdraw from a match, is available for trips because that’s where they’re going to become a better tennis player,” he reasoned. 

“It’s really important that players understand fitness needs to be developed. A lot of people rest heavily during the offseason and then don’t continue that work,” said Green. “Things like speed, if not worked from as little as three to eight days, can disappear. It’s really important to prioritize areas like speed, med-ball training and jumps in warmups, and where possible, still maintain the strength training as well. It’s having that blend of not just doing the physio work, but also the strength work to be a complete athlete.”

Becoming a complete athlete begins at an early age, despite some players’ and coaches’ fears about beginning a strength and conditioning program too young. “If kids are mature enough to listen and work on groundstrokes and serves, then they’re more than competent enough to correctly execute squats and lunges,” said Green. 

“When they become more mature, then we start inserting more structed training in their program. For me, fitness training starts on day one. They’re working on fundamental movement skills such as running, jumping, hopping, skipping. But it’s about making sure that those movements are being executed well.” 

Prior to embarking on a strength and conditioning program, Green urges athletes to adopt a mindset of consistency. “Be consistent, you’re going to get some good gains early on by following very simple programs. Do it consistently, buy in, ask the strength and conditioning coach and the fitness coach, ‘Why am I doing this exercise? How is this going to positively impact me in tennis?’ Be disciplined, get that work in day in and day out,” he urged. “You’re choosing to be an athlete, and this is your medicine, this is what keeps you on the court. It’s really important that you get your daily dose,” said Green.

It was great to be asked to be interviewed for the WTCA website, I will also be speaking at there UK event in Eastbourne, details can be found here. I will be talking about how I lay the physical foundations for which future tennis players can be built.