First published on 5th March 2013 in Forbes India blog.
When a fitness trainer, attached to a premiere tennis academy tells me that muscle imbalances and poor posture are bound to happen in kids playing tennis for 4 hrs a day, I simply lose it. I then wonder, what is the trainer's role at the academy? Shouldn't he stop every kid from playing tennis? Or better still, should trainers like this be banned from going close to sports people?
General fitness is the foundation for any sports, whether it be amateur or professional. The three pillars of fitness that need to be addressed are strength, stretch and cardio-vascular. When these are addressed, it'll help the enthusiastic sports person to perform at their optimum levels while playing the sport. No matter what, not all of us can win gold at the Olympics. But when so much effort is put in, we should at least do justice to what our body is capable of doing. General fitness would correct your muscle imbalance, giving you a better posture at all times.
If your starting position in any sport isn't correct, it's only a catching up game then. In your effort to perform well in your chosen sport, you are compromising on your posture and technique. This might lead you to perform well, but only for a brief period. Soon an injury would come visiting. Sadly, that has been the story of Indian sports.
Almost all sports, especially one-hand dominant sports like tennis, golf, squash etc, lead to gross muscle imbalances, courtesy long hours of training and practicing over long periods of time. It's not that practice makes you perfect. Practice only ingrains in you what you have repeatedly been doing, whether correct or incorrect. It's about correct practice. If your posture isn't correct, even the best coach out there can't do justice to what you are capable of. That's where, basic fitness, even before sports specific fitness is uttered, comes in.
Intense sports expose you to injuries, but we need to address them before they even happen. 80-90% injuries in sports happen because of over-loading and over-training. Surprisingly, it's very easy to prevent them. Along with addressing muscle imbalance and posture from the beginning, recovery time also needs to be given equal importance. Even if injuries do happen, which are inevitable amongst sportspeople, you will bounce back a lot sooner. A great example is Sachin Tendulkar. He has had all possible career threatening injuries in cricket, but he has only been able to bounce back because he has worked a lot on his fitness levels.
The trainer in question here has given my sports-exercise medicine clinic a lot of business because he doesn't know the very fundamentals of training. So, why am I complaining? Because to me these players are first kids and then future champions. As parents, it's our responsibility to first make these kids fitter. If in our excitement to make them world champions, we have created a permanent injury, which could and should have been very easily avoided, forget about managed, it's simply criminal. Why should an active 12 year old kid playing tennis, football or golf have stress fracture of the lower spine? No one deserves that. Instead of making them world champ, we have given them a chronic disability for life.
If the kids are playing sports very intensely with the aim to go to the highest level, their fitness levels need to be even higher. At the highest level, all are equally talented. It's about the fundamentals, the very basics, that makes the difference. Indians, typically are very talented, but very poor in their fitness levels. I am talking about our very best.
De la Rosa, (a veteran F1 driver with 103 starts) on being asked about Narain Karthikeyan's (our finest F1 driver) weakness said, "Well to be honest he is quite good. And I was expecting it because he was incredibly fast in the F3. He is extremely fast in the high speed corners and a late braker. He just needs to be more consistent and work on his physical fitness."
The one record in cricket that I most admire is by Kapil Dev, our genuine medium fast bowler. He did not miss even one test match over the first decade of playing cricket at the highest level because of injuries. Amongst fast bowlers, or the medium fast that India produces, injury has always been a problem. Their fitness has just been able to keep up with their amazing talent. The two best examples are Ishant Sharma and Ashish Nehra.
In 2007, after a disastrous world cup, I was quoted in Sports section of TOI as saying that Australia is two decades ahead of Indians in cricket. I wasn't referring to cricket itself, but more to fitness. The very next day, I met the bowling coach of Indian team, who didn't take my comment likely. But he too appreciated my comments once I explained them in detail.
I was forced to tell the trainer that folks like him thrive because 'among the blinds, the squinter rules'. Sadly, trainers like this are thriving in India, whether attached to sports academies or gyms, because they happen to be the best amongst the rubbish lot that exists currently. To make the situation worse, it doesn't help when the intention is only to fleece the clients. The good ones are very far and between.
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