loris bertolacci

Sport, Health and Fitness

Development Pathways in Junior Tennis? Multilateral Development and Superstars!

These anecdotes are from “GOOGLE” so one has to be careful. But it is interesting how often multilateral development comes into play in tennis when one delves into the past of great players. One issue of course that clouds tennis is that it is difficult for talented players from low socio-economic backgrounds to do well in tennis so I think pathways are a little clouded.

Nevertheless I have a suspicion that young tennis players in Australia should keep playing as many sports as possible till puberty then make a career choice. Then they will have balanced development. That is not to say that they should not have all the skills before ten for example, but I am convinced that puberty is the key to go wham bam thank you maam..

People will say Agassi or someone else started in the womb but this is reverse logic. There are thousands of tennis players and parents who invested early and got zero return apart from a junior trophy. And really the Agassi theory is clouded because he probably was simply talented also.

Again these are just little bits and pieces from Google below, but it would be interesting to draw comment on development pathways for tennis given the mature status of rankings. Talents should receive specialized coaching early but it is far better getting fitness at 11 or 12 running around chasing a ball than running laps. Also one cannot buy the decision making development that occurs by these players continuing to play invasion sports till approximtely puberty.

The problem in Australia might actually be that recently we might have forgotten the “Australian” way of development? Just a thought eh?

SOME GOOGLE BITS and PIECES which I  have not verified:

***Full name is Lleyton Glynn Hewitt…Played Australian Rules Football until age 13, then decided to pursue tennis career…I

***At age eight, Nadal won an under-12 year regional tennis championship at a time where he was also a promising football player.[11] This made Toni Nadal intensify training, and at that time he encouraged Nadal to play left-handed—for a natural advantage on the tennis court, as he noticed Nadal played forehand shots with two hands.[11]

When Nadal was 12, he won the Spanish and European tennis titles in his age group and was playing tennis and football all the time.[11] Nadal’s father made him choose between football and tennis so that his school work would not deteriorate entirely. Nadal said: “I chose tennis. Football had to stop straight away.”[

***Roddick lived in Austin, Texas, from age 4 until he was 11, then moved to Boca Raton, Florida in the interest of his brother John’s tennis career,[4] where he lived, first attending Boca Prep International School which Mardy Fish and later Jesse Levine also attended, until graduating from Highlands Christian Academy in 2000.[5] Roddick played varsity basketball in high school alongside Davis Cup teammate Mardy Fish, who trained and lived with Roddick in 1999. During that time period, he sometimes trained with Venus and Serena Williams; he later moved back to Austin

***He played football until the age of twelve when he decided to focus solely on tennis.[32] At fourteen, he became the national champion of all groups in Switzerland and was chosen to train at the Swiss National Tennis Center in Ecublens. He joined the ITF junior tennis circuit in July 1996.[33] In 1998, his final year as a junior, Federer won the junior Wimbledon title and was recognized as the ITF World Junior Tennis champi

***A natural athlete, as a boy Newcombe played several sports until devoting himself to tennis. He was the Australian junior champion in 1961, 1962 and 1963 and became a member of Australia’s Davis Cup winning team in 1964.on of the year.[34]

November 1, 2009 Posted by | Tennis, Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Small sided games and fitness through games has really made its mark in team sports training. Lot’s of work filtered through from Hockey and other sports and in AFL we saw the Adelaide Crows pioneer this approach. Nevertheless they used other means (for example ergometer work) to supplement fitness, but less formal running. But has their high injury rate occurred due to high fitness levels and poor motor patterns? Who knows? This is a bad mix and at the base of my discussion. This approach has filtered through to many sports and recently we saw a research article by Gabbett on Volleyball with juniors. Obviously “bang for buck” in simplicity is far greater when things can be combined but my opinion is that there is a downside to what seems a simple solution to fitness. Yet I have seen many problems with this approach.

We have seen an explosion in sports science in Australia and a huge influence on sports such as cycling and rowing for example. Team sports have achieved enormous benefit due to sports science, with areas such as load management, heat management, hydration and many other areas receiving enormous backup. Huge factors and load management has been a big one with GPS and databases etc.

Sports such as soccer are now creating skill based TID schemes where kids are encouraged to play heaps of games and learn lots of skills early and then they are selected later on from a larger pool of skilled players. Simple.

But we have direct evidence that the relative age effect destroys the careers of many young players and only the gifted younger ones come through (and in fact succeed more often) coupled with kids with advanced maturity that sneak through. So many good kids are left behind. That is kids that are born early and who survive due to talent, do well at elite level. On the other hand the “bruisers” with no talent also do well as well as older kids. So many young (born early) players are lost and this is mainly a physical factor due to maturation and/or training.

And look at Tennis. We have a massive generation of players whose parents have mortgaged their houses for coaching and yet no result so far.

Sports Science has been little assistance to track and field. The scientists would say that the coaches do not want to listen. But my opinion is that the sports scientists have little to offer because very few really know how to create advanced athletes. Sports Science is awesome at telling us how to manage a player in Malaysian heat but has little idea how to propel someone over 2 45.

In team sports like AFL we simply aimed at the average. One needs to be good at many areas. Intermittent sports require a broad long term base of conditioning and good acceleration and a sufficiently developed aerobic system to assist repeat efforts. Average to OK in the gym and average to OK in power. All achievable and in the end injury management becomes a key as does talent. My experience in all these team sports is much the same. One usually does not need to create super athletes. But if a team has a core of players who have talent and also have developed all their fitness skills (running/jumping/change of direction etc) then that team should always beat a mob that can play and are fit but lack “fitness” skills. Always the same principle. All things being equal, one factor will make the difference.

Getting back to tennis, my opinion is that strength and conditioning and fitness are simply massive factors why we are falling behind in many sports.  And this needs to happen early. Puberty. And by then kids should be fully developed in all facets of running and jumping and change of direction and also have a broad base of conditioning. What we see in OZ is a huge number of skinny kids with good aerobic qualities and one sided bodies coming up against explosive “Europeans” and now Asians. Forget what happened 30 years ago. No one played tennis.

And with all due respects let’s not really consider many sports in OZ like netball and cricket and AFL because they are not played on the world stage. Our female basketball improved when they started all going OS. So there is nothing to compare here. Even Rugby League is limited in exposure. Rugby Union is only now starting to go PRO all over the world and we will see the effect of that in ten to twenty years.

In Athletics we do not have coaches for kids. Kids are not taught. There are other problems but it is difficult to change bad habits. In AFL usually paid and competent fitness personnel spend 2 to 3 years fixing up massive deficiencies in players from 17 to 20. And that works and we see a reasonable product by 21. That’s ok for footy and then add some skills based games for fitness and VOILA …Fit and at 25 yo the team wins games.

We have seen the push to work a lot on agility versus change of direction. But my experience was that the freaks (e.g. Gary Ablett) had it all. Ability to change direction, balance and then vision and skill.

In Volleyball all I see is skinny little frail kids jumping around and getting fitter BUT reinforcing very poor “fitness” and neuromuscular habits. Once ingrained hard to change. And Volleyball is a real sport. Played everywhere. Lot harder to succeed in than cricket and netball and AFL. So strength and conditioning at an early age is now in my opinion an absolute priority. We must have players ready at 16 to 18 to explode on the world stage. In AFL they usually cannot squat with a broomstick at that age and it doesn’t matter. One has time in the cloistered environment of AFL. But in tennis and athletics and volleyball and soccer, there is no time. Be good early or perish. So know how to play the sport, make decisions on court, do the clean and jerk and bound through the roof. Not balance on a swiss ball.

I have spent 15 sessions with an elite junior soccer team (12 yo) and have done 45 minutes a week of running technique and core and balance work. The results have been great and now many players are starting to challenge other players in state teams from other clubs. The coach says they are more explosive, balanced and change direction. Add skills and decision making and a talented player assumes their right position. And the young boys like doing it as long as they are not being flogged and they are learning and having fun.

The skills based approached in my opinion can be lazy. Simply get heaps of kids doing the sport and see who comes through. Chuck them a ball and let them play. Of course they will get fit.

It is obvious that one has to learn the sport early and learn to make decisions. We know that multi lateral development is the key at least till puberty. But the missing link is strength and conditioning and movement education at an early age. And core development and balance.

Of course if I get kids to play all day at 100% pace in the backyard chasing dogs and jumping fences they will improve in their vertical jump and 5m tests. But we need to slow down and realize that life aint that easy, and ask the question why we struggle in so many sports.

I think sports science has to slow down a fraction and ask the question “Can I get a male volleyballer to vertical jump 95cm?” or a tennis player to explode sideways and drop their centre of gravity and smash a forheand back to NADAL. Having good salt balance in a drink at Wimbledon will not help if you cannot get to the ball.

Let’s remember that the best coaches are ones that combine ART and SCIENCE.

I love sports science and in fact if we can attend to the strength and conditioning issues at a young age and have skilled kids ready to go at 14 to 16 we will dominate the world. My opinion.

So in summary.

Do everything in development. Zero shortcuts.

And forget non-international sports and non eccentric sports (circling/ rowing, swimming, kayak etc) when comparing and or using sports science.



July 18, 2008 Posted by | AFL, Development, General, Soccer, Strength and Conditioning, Tennis, Track and Field, Volleyball Strength and Conditioning | 2 Comments

Womens Tennis Rankings and Ages 2008 Jan Top 100



Ave 100 24.3
StDev 4.1

Top 100 womens in JAN is approx 24.3. Pretty much always the same. So why wouldn’t one create a developmental model simply on what happens year in and year out in any specific sport. My research and presentations to the Geelong Football Club Match Committee in 2001 was that the average AFL Grand Final Team was 25.7 and each player had >100 games on average. Only 3/4 < 22 etc etc. This model repeats itself in AFL with the odd clanger as happens in nature. Below is a lecture I presented at an AFL conference in 2002 on development simply using ages as a guide which relates to all sports.


And so in tennis the womens rankings seem to vary between 23.6 and 24.5 over many years. They seem to come in at 21.5/22 on average and go out at 27 on average.

And if they can come good before that go for it. There are no rules. No stable developmental stages as people like to construct.

But the reality is that it seems to take time. On average. Agassi was good at 16 and good at 35. He was not average. Thats the point.

So the same theories stick. There is room for the 18 to 20 yo but seems they have to be pretty good and still seems 20 plus is the norm for getting into the elite “on average”.

I have put the teenagers in green. About 13 or 14 teenagers in TOP 100.

January 9, 2008 Posted by | Tennis | Leave a comment

Development and Tennis in Australia. How Young?

Teen shows how to move up from junior ranks |The Australian

Margie McDonald | January 07, 2008

said Liz Smylie, former Tour player and now tournament director of the …Tennis Australia, under CEO Steve Wood and player development director Craig Tiley

Recently this excellent article was in the Australian. All good. But in sport there is a certain inevitability with maturation and ranking lists. It does take time. These types of articles are correct in general but subjective in nature and somewhat emotional even. Of course we want to get kids into ranking lists ASAP but history and raw hard data doesn’t support this.

Analysis of womens tennis rankings year in and out show simply that it takes until well into their 20’s to crack the top 100. Sure some real talents can shine early but very few.





These stats are a bit rough and I will update them soon for 2008 but simply show some trends with development and how long it really takes. A 15 year old who is not a star might have to wait till 2015 to crack the top 100 and be there for a year or two. Daunting but the stats support this. She would be 22! Still young.Close analysis of development in Russia shows they seem to be 2 years ahead with their girls but still 21.9 average age for their top 100 girils. This was a year ago as are all my stats and year to year these change a bit but not much. So don’t hang me as I will update this year soon.

Now one can even look at top 500/1000 russian girls and we dont see millions of teenagers as is often subjectively reported.

Then have a close look at actual ranking lists. Yes they change from year to year but not a lot. In the girls, on average they seem to drop out of the top 100 at 27 and go into the top 100 at approx 22. Forget superstars. Australia does not even crack it for heaps of “average” players these days given the world is playing tennis now. One constant in life is change.

What does it all mean? In AFL it simply takes till players are 25 on average to peak. Also teams in all sports. World Cup Squads in soccer are 27 plus.. Very few teenagers play in finals. Some do. Not many. Always happens. Takes 6 to 8 years to develop a team.

In sprinting 26 is the age! Males and females. And so on.

So in tennis we are imploring our 12 and 15 year olds to push into the elite level. That is OK. Yet when one assesses these kids that can play a bit some cannot even do a basic bodyweight squat. They play heaps of tennis with paid coaches in the suburbs but there is very little proper development. One sided development and biomechanical disasters. Some are ok with fitness but movement mechanics and core strength and stability. Well!

So all of a sudden our girls are miles behind. No use smashing them with runs around the TAN or PLYOMETRICS if they cannot do the fundamentals at 16 or 17 let alone 13.

Added to this is the fact that even with excellent devleopment schemes from 12 to 16 it will still take most girls till they are 20 plus to crack the top 100 let alone the top 500 sometimes.

I think the problem lies in the fact that in tennis the coaching of fitness is very very poor at the youth age with little emphasis ont the basics ( core / footwork / technique / weight training and so on). Thsi is a different issue to fitness. Also in my opinion our kids shoudl be encouraged to play many sports till 13 or 14 and then specialize.

Thus they would be naturally fitter and stronger and more balanced. But an industry lurls out in the suburbs that means tennis coaches may not encourage this multilateral development.

Even sports like swimming and gymnastics as well as netball/basketball and soccer should be played by these girls to make sure they are tough fit aussies and not one sided underdeveloped little girls.

The other problem is from 16 to 19. This is a tough age. this is when the “average player” will push through the rankings. By then though the parents are either bankrupt or divorced having funded their kids in tennsi for years. HA.

But at this age kids are growing up and it is tough to stay “bubbly” till 21 until they crack the next level. There are few professional clubs in OZ and systems at this age and people are often edgy and impatient for results.

So these are just general thoughts and I will redo the stats for this year soon and may be surprised. I am sure TA knows all this and also have fantastic steps in place.

But it is a different tennis world to the 50’s/60’s and 70’s. We seem to keep saying we have great sports science in OZ but I think that we may be a little behind in practical strength and conditioning. That is another story.

January 9, 2008 Posted by | Tennis | Leave a comment



Available on my website now

Loris Bertolacci Site


This E Book is a complete resource for anyone that needs to devise practical programs for hamstring rehabilitation. It delves into the current research on this area to back up the programs.

This 120 page manual includes over 150 Exercises and 8 different programs including specifically designed Running, Agility, Stretching and Weight Programs to help any athlete get on the road to a safer and more sound recovery.

Section 1: Hamstring Theory

  1. Introduction

  2. Anatomy

  3. Overstriding and Hamstring Injury

  4. New Studies Implicates the Core in Hamstring Injury

  5. Other Muscles that Impact on the Hamstring

  6. Hamstring Exercises

  7. Why Injuries

  8. Trunk Stability and Hamstrings

  9. Different sports and Hamstring Rehabilitation

  10. So what do you do if you hurt your Hamstring?

  11. Healing Times and Rehabilitation

    Section 2: Practical Section

    Program Advice

  12. Sample Sessions

  13. Mobilization Sessions

  14. Running Sessions

  15. Mobility Drills

  16. Running Drills

  17. Running Sessions 2

  18. Strides

  19. Agility Sessions

  20. Weights Sessions

  21. Stretching after Training

  22. Plan your own rehabilitation

October 14, 2007 Posted by | AFL, General, Rehabilitation, Soccer, Strength and Conditioning, Tennis, Track and Field, Volleyball Strength and Conditioning | Leave a comment


Soon I will publish an E Book on strength and conditioning programs after a hamstring injury. Specifically soft tissue and not back related etc. One area that seems to cause problems is athletes working too intensely too soon after a muscle injury is diagnosed and taking gambles. Jarvinen’s review emphasizes the need for 3 days immobilization to allow healing as a critical phase. Respecting the stages and phases of healing in soft tissue injury is vital. Some researchers categorize these stages differently. From acute ( inflammatory) up to 7 days to proliferation ( 7 to 21 days) and maturation and remodelling ( >21 days).

Not respecting healing dogma is fraught with danger given that means trying to beat nature. Programs in my e book are based on this dogma. And Jarvinen is very clear about the processes involved.

I was lucky to work in the AFL for 20 years and since 1999 till April 2006 I was operating at approximately half the average games lost for hamstrings in the AFL. I coached sprinters in the 80’s and simply spent a lot of time researching and working this area.

Muscle Injuries: Biology and Treatment: Järvinen
The American Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol. 33, No. 5

This study emphasizes the need to immobilize in the acute phase which as minimum from healing studies should be 3 days.


Even slight use of the injured muscle in this Acute Phase needs to be avoided according to Jarvinen. He also talks about reruptures at the same site if mobilization is too soon. By resting in this phase less scar is put down.


PARADOX: Use it or lose it!

The rest in the immobilization phase allows the scar to get some strength. In fact after 10 days the scar is quite strong

After the immobilization phase is over then active mobilization enhances the penetration of muscle fibres into the scar tissue, limits the size of the scar and aligns the regenerating muscle tissue.

“If immobilization is continued past the acute phase (first few days) of muscle regeneration, the deleterious effects become particularly evident during the remodeling phase of muscle healing”

September 4, 2007 Posted by | AFL, General, Rehabilitation, Soccer, Strength and Conditioning, Tennis, Track and Field, Volleyball Strength and Conditioning | 1 Comment

Tennis Development in OZ

I have been involved with some juniors in tennis since the late 80’s. Obviously in Australia we have fallen back since many countries have jumped on the tennis bandwagon since money came into the sport. One issue that keeps coming up is the lack of comprehensive conditioning these kids in OZ get and the one sided development they get from tennis coaching. They often are so weak and sloppy. Fit yes but no conditioning. Often a bit of speed ladder work and a few kms and the odd push up is added. Often some kids miss the multilateral devleopment needs required for fitness because they specialize early. Some should be playing football and netball and swimming whilst developing their tennis skills. The double whammy that occurs is that coaching does not address specific fitness devleopment needs but moreso that it takes a long time to get to elite status unless one is a real superstar or child prodigy. So parents pouring money into kids at 12 might have to wait till they reach 23 before they crack the top 800 in the world. Rankings for men average 25 at any one time and 24 for females at others. There is a bit of change from year to year but I found that on average 22 year old females break into the top 100 each year and 27 year old girls fall out. Is that the crucial window? Can people wait that long and does tennis have systems to keep players bubbling till they are 21. Again I am not talking about superstars here. They play early and retire late. They are the exception. Rather I am referring to players like Molik who pushed their way into the top at the ages described. All just theories and interesting but food for thought. I have added some stats in this word doc. below and again they are there to show trends and may have small errors because I am not a statistician.


July 22, 2007 Posted by | Development, Tennis | Leave a comment