The Benefits of Playing Tennis

By Pam Olley

Summer 2018

Many people consider tennis to be the best sport there is. Not only does tennis have physical, psychological and social benefits, it is a safe, accessible lifetime activity. If you are not already convinced that tennis is the complete sport, here are 20 reasons for playing tennis which we hope will motivate you to play and encourage others to play this great game.

Physical and Psychological Benefits.

1. All benefits of physical activity apply to tennis.

The benefits of physical activity are well documented and the costs of inactivity huge. Fitness Canada estimates that the direct and indirect costs of disease associated with physical inactivity to be $2.5 billion annually. Although the number of Ontarians making physical activity part of their routine is increasing, it is estimated that the majority, 55% are physically inactive.

The story for children is similar. In Ontario 57% of youths aged 12 to 19 are not active enough for optimal growth and development. The current hot button is the obesity rate in children and physical activity is an excellent way to counter the effects of obesity and maintain a healthy weight. Additionally, according to a 1992 Decima Research report: “Children involved in sport are much less likely to be seduced by the world of drugs, alcohol and vandalism. Positive activities teach youth essential life skills including responsibility, self-esteem, cooperation, discipline and patience. It costs much less to enroll young people in a recreation program than it does to incarcerate them.”

If you are interested in more details on the benefits of physical activity, you will find the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute and Active Ontario web sites to be good sources.

2. Tennis offers a balanced workout.

The three key aspects of physical fitness are stamina, strength and flexibility. Most sports provide for one or two of these aspects of fitness. For example, running is excellent for aerobic fitness and strength but does little for flexibility. Yoga is excellent for flexibility but doesn’t increase aerobic fitness. Tennis provides all three. Short bursts of running across the court increases anaerobic and aerobic fitness which improve heart, lungs and circulation. Range of motion and strength are increased by swinging the racquet. The balance and coordination that tennis demands build and strengthen muscles which in turn support joints and boost energy. The bending, stretching and shifts in direction develop agility and get every part of the body working.

3. Tennis develops rhythm.

Sports educators are now emphasizing the importance of rhythm in sports although dance teachers have long expounded its benefits. Because tennis is a continuous rhythm activity it offers many timing and rhythm benefits that are not available from many other sports. The rhythm development also makes tennis players great dancers, a definite social asset.

4. Tennis develops fine motor control.

Hitting drop shots, lobs, angled volleys and other touch shots requires excellent timing, fine motor control and good hand-eye coordination. Since tennis is based on angles, geometry and physics, tennis players also develop their spacial skills.

5. Tennis is a good mental workout.

Studies demonstrate that sports such as tennis are associated with improved academic performance and memory. While playing tennis is unlikely to raise your IQ, it may provide you with the mental edge to better manage the chaos of daily life. Most of the competitive junior tennis players in Ontario are honour roll students.

Scientists at the University of Illinois report that, since tennis requires alertness and tactical thinking, it may generate new connections between nerves in the brain and promote brain development. Others theorize that exercise improves blood flow to the brain and increased oxygen consumption.

Playing tennis also improves your speed and accuracy of reaction and helps prevent the deterioration of reaction time that can come with aging. In a study of tennis players and sedentary people of various age groups, the active older men were shown to have superior reaction and movement times to sedentary men of the same age.

Young Philpott Fund campers play games to build their hand-eye coordination. Photo courtesy Kim Lowes.

6. Tennis players remain physically active.

John Hopkins University recently produced a report on research started in 1946 which had very favourable conclusions for tennis players. They looked at which sports were being played by male medical students and analyzed which sports were associated with the lowest risk of dying from heart disease during an average follow up period of 40 years.

The men sho played tennis as medical students were more likely to indulge in vigorous physical activity (68 – 80%) and play tennis (more than 50% of those who had been good players) in their middle age. Very few of the men who played basketball, baseball or football were playing these sports in midlife and only 19% of the golfers were still playing. They also found that the tennis players were less likely to die from heart disease. At age 60 the tennis players had a 15% or less rate of heart disease compared to a 28% rate for non-tennis players.

According to Dr. Brad Wolfe, playing tennis on a regular basis makes people want to play better. This often leads to cross-training such as stretching, running and weight training. He also noted that most die-hard tennis players are willing to do what their doctors tell them to do if it will improve their games.

7. Tennis provides emotional benefits.

According to Dr. Joan Finn of Southern Connecticut State University, tennis players scored higher in vigour, optimism and self-esteem while scoring lower in depression, anger, confusion, anxiety and tension than other athletes and non-athletes. There is evidence that tennis may also provide widespread emotional benefits such as emotional stability, improved confidence and assertiveness. Whether because striking a ball relieves tension or because it requires the use of the body and the mind or because it forces the player into a social setting, tennis is a preferred sport for relieving tension. Competitive tennis also teaches players to cope with pressure and stressful sitautions.

Social Benefits of Tennis

8. Tennis is a world class Sport.

There are an estimated 60 million tennis players in the world and 191 nations in the International Tennis Federation. Carry your racquet and you can play wherever you go.

9. Tennis is gender equal and age neutral.

Tennis is one of very few sports in which men and women play together and where young and old can be on the court together and enjoy the game. In particular it is a sport that families can play together.

10. Tennis is adaptable to different social situations.

Tennis can be organized to fit within a social event and social events can be organized around tennis.

Tennis can be played as an individual sport, as a team of two, as a full team sport or by a large social group.It can be played as a recreation or competitively. It can be adapted to be played cooperatively or for players’ different abilities. Able bodied and wheelchair athletes can play together.

11. Tennis develops social skills.

Tennis teaches fair competition, to win graciously and to lose with honour. It teaches you to manage adversity when adjusting to the elements and to manage mistakes by learning to play within your abilities. It requires that you call errors on yourself. Doubles and team play teach cooperation communication and teamwork.

Tennis requires that you learn etiquette and treat others with respect. Through playing tennis people get to meet new people and make friends.

12. Tennis can be played to a flexible time schedule.

Because tennis can be played as an individual or a team sport, a player doesn’t only have to play when the team is scheduled to play. For instance, an hour of singles can provide a good workout. At a club, tennis may be played on a pick-up basis so that no scheduling is required.

13. Tennis players remain youthful.

Go to any seniors tennis tournament and you’ll be astounded by how young the participants look relative to their age in face, body and mobility.

14. Tennis is a safe sport.

High intensity sports are usually associated with high injury risk. With tennis it’s the opposite. According to one set of injury statistics, drawn from insurance companies and national sport organizations, tennis is slightly safer than golf and swimming. Incidents of injury in skiing are three times that of tennis; in soccer, cycling and hockey they are roughly ten times as great and for basketball, baseball and football the injury rates are 20 times or more of those for tennis.

New members of Credit Valley Tennis Club get ready for a free clinic with Club Professional, Petya Marinova.

15. Tennis is a low-cost accessible summer sport.

Tennis requires very little equipment above the running shoes and sportswear most people have already. Reasonable quality tennis racquets and balls can be obtained cheaply, especially as part of an introductory tennis program such as those offered under the OTA Tennis Pathways program.

Most Parks and recreation departments provide tennis courts at low cost or no charge. Community clubs, run on municipal property, offer a wide range of tennis and social programs to their members. These organizations are mostly run by volunteers and the cost of membership for a season is often comparable to the one-time cost of participating in other activities such as golf or visiting a theme park.

16. Tennis can be adapted to different spaces.

Tennis can be played on a variety of surfaces, indoors or outdoors, on a regukar court or as mini tennis, against a wall or even a garage door.

17. Tennis can be enjoyed by the self-taught.

Although most tennis programs are taught by certified professionals, there are plenty of adults playing and enjoying tennis who just picked uyp a racquet and started to play. Their style may be unconventional, but they can still compete and enjoy the game.

Tennis is the Sport of a Lifetime

18. Tennis can be played by people of all ages.

Children can start developing tennis skills on a mini tennis court at five or six years of age. Rookie competitions for played under 10 are becoming increasingly popular. At the other end of the scale, players can compete in singles and doubles well into their eighties and even into their nineties. There is an over 90 event being held in Vancouver this year.

19. You’re never too old to start or learn.

Vic Braden noted that if you start playing tennis at 60 you have 30 years to hone your game before you are eligible for the over 90 events. Eva Barbiero started mini tennis programs in several retirement homes in Scarborough. These have been running for about 8 years. Sharon Arnold teaches tennis to a group of older ladies, some of whom are allowed two bounces.

20. You can return to playing tennis.

Tennis may seem to be a frustrating game to learn, but the investment lasts a long time. Many people take a break from tennis because of career or family pressures or to compete in another sport. They find that when they are older or have more time they can easily get back into playing tennis. In particular, retirees often find golf, the other lifetime sport, too expensive to play on a daily basis and return to paying tennis.

And last but not least... TENNIS IS FUN!