Are you over 40 but still love tennis?
Do you want to start playing tennis, but are aged over 40?
Are you wondering if tennis is good for seniors?
Read this post to find out!
The game of tennis has evolved over hundreds of years from the 12th century French game of ‘jeu de paume‘, in which the ball was hit with a player’s hand. By the 16th century, the ball was being hit with a racket in an indoor hall, with the game now resembling what we now call ‘real tennis’.
The 1870s saw the beginning of ‘lawn tennis’, in which the game was played on an outdoor court with a simpler set of rules. Today, it has been estimated that around 50-70 million people of all ages and genders play the game regularly, and it is said to be the most popular individual sport in the world.
Professional tennis players typically finish their careers by the age of 40, and in many cases considerably earlier. At the highest level there are tournaments every week on a variety of, sometimes unforgiving, surfaces, and modern equipment is producing more power than ever, making the game increasingly physical. This does not, however, mean that tennis is a game solely for the under forties.
If you have passed that milestone you may have to say goodbye to your ambition of gracing the Centre Court at Wimbledon, but you could still have several decades of enjoyable play ahead of you. I’ll talk more about the benefits and opportunities offered by tennis for seniors below.
What Are The Physical And Mental Benefits Of Playing Tennis?
A quick internet search will reveal a large number of articles emphasizing the positive health effects that can result from regular participation in tennis. At any age, playing tennis can help to improve balance, flexibility and co-ordination, all of which can contribute to a higher quality of life in later years.
In addition, the intensity of the activity which tennis requires can help to keep your weight under control and reduce body fat. An hour of singles tennis can burn around 600 calories for an average man, or 420 calories for a woman. Surprisingly, even doubles has been estimated to burn approximately 425 calories per hour for a man, or 330 calories per hour for a woman. This level of activity can have other health benefits, potentially helping to relieve stress and lower cholesterol, and reducing the risk of heart disease.
In addition, frequently running around a court can improve peak bone mass and slow any loss, protecting against fractures in later life. The benefits for balance and flexibility mentioned earlier will reduce the likelihood of falls.
Tennis can also offer very significant psychological benefits. The game itself has a substantial mental component, and working out how to overcome a tricky component, whilst keeping your own emotions under control, is just the kind of puzzle that will help to keep your brain sharp. At club level, tennis brings an important social element, which for older people can help to prevent loneliness and isolation.
Can I Take Up Tennis At Any Age?
The good news here is that you very definitely can. Although the top players will all have started playing at a young age, there is nothing to stop you taking the game up in mid-life or later. If you have always been fit, and have regularly played other sports, then the transition to tennis should be relatively straightforward. I would recommend booking a few lessons with a coach to start you off, primarily to ensure that your technique is efficient and not likely to lead to injury, and it would be helpful to join a club. At the club, you should be able to find people of an appropriate standard to play with, and with regular play you will improve rapidly.
If you are not particularly fit, and do not have a history of regular participation in sports, this certainly does not mean that you should not take up tennis. In fact, it is likely that it will provide a substantial boost to your physical and mental health for many of the reasons discussed earlier.
Nonetheless, if you are planning to substantially increase the amount of exercise you do, it is always a good idea to check with your doctor first, and to begin gradually. The best way to start is to take a couple of individual lessons, and then join a beginners’ coaching group at a local club. This will allow you to make new friends, and learning alongside others can be a great deal more encouraging than persisting with individual lessons, in which you have nobody to compare yourself with apart from the coach.
If you continue to enjoy the game, you will begin to play outside of your coaching group and perhaps ultimately progress to matches and competitions.
Which Club Should Seniors Join?
Look for a club which has courts like clay (real or artificial) or artificial grass, as these put much less strain on the joints than hard courts. If you are a beginner, book a lesson with the club coach to see if they are someone you would like to work with, and find out if they have coaching groups of an appropriate standard. If you already play at a good standard, find out more about the leagues they compete in. The right club will help you improve as a player, and help you to find new practice partners and friends.
What Sort Of Competitions Can Seniors Play In?
There are competitive opportunities at almost every level and in most parts of the world. As I am from the UK, I will use the British competition structure as an example at lower levels, but rest assured that, due to the immense popularity of the game, there is likely to be a chance for you to compete locally at an appropriate level.
For beginners who are taking their first tentative steps into matchplay, internal club competitions are the way to start. Clubs may run ladders, where players arrange to play others of a similar standard and progress up or down the ladder according to whether they win or lose. These ladders may be for singles or doubles. A beginner might prefer to start by playing singles matches due to the unfamiliarity of the additional technical requirements of doubles, or they might prefer doubles due to the reduced physical demands. Clubs are also likely to run knockout singles and doubles events at least annually, and these can provide an excellent introduction to tournament play.
If your experience of internal club events suggests that you are ready to compete against players from other clubs, you are likely to be able to play in some form of inter-club league. These are commonly doubles-based, although some do incorporate at least an element of singles.
At the lower levels, these leagues can offer competitive tennis allied to a strong social element, and as you improve, you should be able to progress to play at quite a high standard. The downsides are the need for a captain to run each team, creating a lot of work for someone, and the difficulty of breaking into a higher team, which may have well-established pairings, when you improve. Nonetheless, for many players such leagues offer just the amount of competition they crave.
For those who want more or higher-level competition, there will be a number of external tournaments to enter. These have many advantages for players, not least the fact that they just have to show up and everything will be organized for them. The standard can be higher, as players from any club can participate. It is at this point when enthusiastic senior players need to pay more attention to the question of age, and whom they would like to play against. It is perfectly possible for good players in their 50s and 60s to compete in open singles events with teenagers and young adults: at 56 this is certainly something I still enjoy doing from time to time. Due to the physical effort required, however, it is not recommended to do this every week.
Luckily, there will also be events organized specifically for players over a certain age, such as 45 or 50. At the lower levels, these events are weaker and offer a gentler workout. If you are new to open competitions, start with the lowest graded event you can find, specifically for your age-group, and work your way up towards higher grades and younger opponents.
The highest level of seniors tennis is found on the ITF Seniors Circuit. These are generally international events which offer singles and doubles competition for a variety of age-groups. They range from smaller events with primarily local entrants all the way up to the World Seniors Championship. Age groups covered by the larger events can range from over-35s to over-85s, so there are competitive opportunities for almost anyone. The standard at these tournaments is generally quite high, and the players are usually fairly fit and technically sound, so it is best to work your way successfully through the lower levels of competition before attempting these.
Nonetheless, when you are ready, ITF tournaments offer a great opportunity to test yourself against the best players of your age. There is also a strong social element, as keen players who would not otherwise meet are brought together. The tennis in the latter stages can be good to watch, so people tend to stay around and socialise rather than leaving immediately when they lose. The ITF Seniors Circuit is running on a restricted basis at the time of writing due to COVID-19, but hopefully it will be back in full swing soon.
How Can Seniors Keep Fit For Tennis?
As explained earlier, playing tennis can improve your fitness and health in many ways. Nonetheless, if you want to continue to play at a good standard for many years, you will need to train off-court as well, as this will protect against injuries. The form and extent of this training will depend on your previous level of fitness, your age, and the level at which you want to play. Some older players prefer to focus on stretching, in order to maximise their flexibility, whilst others will perform low-impact cardiovascular exercise along with appropriate weight training. A few sessions with a personal fitness trainer should set you off on the right path. If you look after your body, there is no reason why you should not be one of those fortunate people still playing at a good level in the over-85 age group.
Is Tennis a Good Sport for Seniors?
Tennis is an ideal sport for seniors to play. It provides exercise, challenge and social interaction. It is even naturally socially-distanced, meaning that there should be no concerns about COVID-19. There is scope for competition at any level you want, but you can still enjoy simply playing with your friends. If you do not play already, why not give it a try?
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