Competing in the Summer Heat

By Dr. Larry Lauer

During the summer hard court season the heat and humidity often create extreme conditions. It can zap the legs and the mind of the fittest player. If you are going to not only survive, but thrive, in these extreme conditions you must prepare for them.

The opportunity is that every player deals with these summer conditions and if you deal effectively with it you will have an edge over your opponent.

Training in hot conditions most definitely helps a player acclimatize to the summer conditions. And, there are many little things that allow a player to make a strong effort including hydration, cooling towels, multiple changes of clothes and rest, for instance. These things need to be taken care of to be optimally ready to perform in the heat and humidity. Training in these conditions builds up the habits of preparing optimally.

Focus on a few strategies that you can do in hot and humid match conditions. As we say about fatigue, in most cases the mind gives in before the body does. You begin to focus on the uncomfortable feeling of being hot, tired, and sweaty and it changes your emotional and physical state. Low energy, irritable, frustrated states are common in hot and humid conditions. Obviously these states are not optimal for performance.

Our goal is to not give into the natural desire to get out these conditions and to compete like champions. We want to embrace the conditions and use them as an edge on our opponent. How can you do that? It is so darn hot and you’re sweating a ton. You have to change your focus.

  1. Take More Time – when the body is stressed it captures the mind. The brain wants to get back to a comfortable state and so staying in this uncomfortable environment creates a real challenge to competing. You need to take more time between points to recover from the stress you are experiencing. This allows you time to slow down your heart rate and breathing. Rushing in these conditions is a recipe for disaster (unless your opponent is struggling and you are close to the finish which would be going faster between points with a purpose). Also, use the whole changeover time period and engage in deep breathing to lower your heart rate. Make sure to towel off, drink, and guys can change shirts.
  2. Breathe to Thrive – breathing is our natural way to reduce stress and prepare for action. But, to optimally prepare by getting more oxygen and clearing the mind of the uncomfortable you must use deeper, slower breaths. Inhaling through the nose slowly is thought to get more oxygen to the brain, thus clearing your mind and allowing for better decision-making and focus. During the inhale expanding the diaphragm, or blowing up the balloon that is your chest but also expanding the rib cage and the belly, allow you to obtain a deeper breath. And, don’t forget the exhale. To calm yourself exhale out the mouth fully (like letting the air slowly out of a balloon). In sum, I would like to see more deep breaths on court. You can extend your breathing by counting the breaths, such as 3 on the inhale and 5 on the exhale.
  3. Be Present with the Challenge – instead of worrying about what if’s of can I survive or how I’ll feel afterwards, focus on the present. Get excited about the challenge of out-competing your opponent in these hot and humid conditions. Encourage yourself that you have prepared for this and will deal with it better. Then, refocus on the next point and your strategy.
  4. Avoid LOW E by Energizing – too often players drop the energy levels too low. Possibly this happens because they are saving it for the points and trying to pace themselves. Walking around slowly between points leads to slower moving during the point. If you want to have energy in these summer conditions you have to demonstrate energy. Bounce on your toes, fist pump, and walk briskly. Keep in mind the flow between points. As the point ends your energy is higher. As you recover by breathing your intensity will drop. But before starting the next point recharge yourself and have optimal energy as you step to the baseline. This can be intimidating to your opponent who is also dealing with the challenge of staying energized in hot and humid conditions.

Ultimately the goal is to compete like a champion no matter the conditions. Please use these ideas to help compete throughout the summer!