Wrist Tendonitis

Unfortunately this month is about dealing with wrist tendonitis. I think it’s down to my technique and general game play. So I need to find a way to first repair it, then ensure it doesn’t happen again. 
I tried ice therapy. Can’t say it improved the recovery that much. But either way the injury has felt pretty much healed a couple of times only to be re-injured the next time I play on it. So I’m frustrated. Little has improved over the 20 or so years I’ve been interested in sports and thus learning about injury recovery. Essentially there is ice therapy, rest and that’s it. 
That’s not good enough for me so the focus here is to see if I can find a better way. Using what we all know but taking it further. I play most days and haven’t had a more serious injury like this for a few years. A big part has been about proactively dealing with injuries. Ensuring they don’t progress into something serious. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case this time. While I felt some pain for a few sessions I thought it would sort itself out as these things often do for me. It didn’t.
For added pressure my level of competition has suddenly increased. I’m now playing in a small league at work but also a bigger league at the new club I just joined. The results will be fed back to the LTA to form my ranking. So there is now real pressure for results. I don’t want to pull out because I’ve been waiting years for this so I’d be really upset to miss due to a silly injury, 
So, while the standard treatment would be to stop playing until the injury is completely healed the problem is that I’ve tried that and failed. I couldn’t tell when it had completely healed. I just got frustrated by not being able to play. So it didn’t work. 
The injury first occurred on 10th April. Since then I researched the best treatment and settled on The Tennis Expert: Wrist Tendonitis. The advice is pretty standard and presented in the most practical way I’ve seen. The ice therapy fits my busy lifestyle and focus on the pain causing dynamic shows good insight. 
I do have some aces up my sleeve though. Things I’ve been working on for this exact situation. They’ve been key to improving my game to this point. So I want to share how I’ll use them to overcome this challenge.

1. Develop Technique

One of my secret weapons is that I’ve learnt to play left handed which means I can carry on playing when my right is injured. So I actually never had to miss a game. I just had to accept playing at a lower standard. 
What I have been pleasantly surprised by is that I’m still winning most of my matches. I put this down mainly to the upgrade in strategy and movement I’ve focused on this past year. It’s been about using my shots more effectively against opponents instead of just hitting my favourite shots. Learning to do what I should do instead of what I want to do. 
Having a left handed game gives me an opportunity both to keep playing, improving and feeding my competitive urge but also I can figure out how to fix the injury problem.
 
My left wrist is also showing signs of the same problem. The difference is that I’m pre warned so now I can take preventative measures. Anything I learn I can apply to the right. I need to prepare it as a proper backup. Right now it’s not going to be good enough for the tougher opponents I’m facing. So I need to give it the attention it needs to be a genuine alternative. The same way I don’t focus on a first serve. I just hit two second serves. I rarely miss two in a row so I can be more aggressive at the first attempt. The confidence this gives me underpins my game. I need the same for each hand. Then I can rest either when required but still compete.

Feel and shot cycle

Key aspects I want to work on are feel and the whole shot cycle. Something I’ve been developing I call the 3 R’s Read, Risk Recover. 
  1. Read: First you must read the situation, 
  2. Risk: then take a risk to gain the advantage giving something away in the process, court position, time or something. 
  3. Recover: Finally you recover position given how your risk has changed the situation.  Then the cycle repeats for the next shot. 
I also like the advice from the Essential Tennis videos Carve the ball for serve spin, feel vs science. The idea. Go back to basics. Tidy up my shots and make it my core movement pattern. 

2. Shadowing

I don’t know about you but I actually find it hard to watch tennis. I’m much better than I used to be but I can easily drift off given small amount of time that something is actually happening. So I’ve started to combine the watching with the practicing. 

Obviously I can’t really swing a tennis racquet in my living room. There are marks in the ceiling to prove it and I may have broken one or two light bulbs. The wife hasn’t noticed so everythings fine 🙂

What I do instead is use a plastic 2 litre bottle instead of a racquet and pretend I’m playing the match I’m watching. I pick an end and practice whatever I want. generally it’s shot selection, reaction and a little movement. 

It’s a constrained space so I don’t really move that far. It’s more about training the initial impulses. Like returning serve. Can I pick the direction and then move and swing fast enough. Try it yourself. You really see the difference between the WTA and ATP but also, since you don’t have to care about actually hitting the ball and getting it in, it’s like playing a computer game. You get to focus much more on the strategy, timing and other basics that get lost on a real court while to try to keep the ball in and deal with your opponent. 

For my injury shadowing is useful for two things. 

  1. Developing my left hand. I’ve been using it for my right hand for months now with quick noticeable benefits. I’m hoping for the same with my left hand. 
  2. Retraining my right hand: The bottle is purposely heavier than my racquet. So it actually highlights where the pain occurs. I’m now using it to identify all the movements that cause pain. Then finding similar ones that don’t. Like anything it’s straightforward to do it once. But to make it part of my game under pressure, something unconscious. That’s a lot of work. This is a key part of my training and test of when I’m ready to use my right for real.
So, in short I want to re-train my kinetic chains using the water bottle. I need to find every shot that harms my wrist and improve it. The water bottle helps me highlight the problem areas and fix them. The job is done when I can shadow aggressively without pain and without thinking about it. 
For the left hand use it to prepare for matches. For the right use it to re-train, protect and test

3. Moving

Good movement improves power generation and also reduces need for power in all situations. It’s becoming key to my game. I’m becoming a better mover in order to save my joints and body. Getting in good positions makes it much easier to hit good shots. This goes along with an emphasis on moving in towards net where you focus on redirecting power instead of producing it. 
I can improvment my movement. Then use the movement for power. Not generating it through the arm. Get more hits where I want them. Get my wrist in the right position early. Learn to use the court position as an advantage. Hitting down often and hard but effortlessly.

4. Video analysis

I need to see myself playing to really understand what I’m doing to my wrist. I also need to share this with coaches to get advice. I’ve installed the coaches eye app on my phone. Just need to start using it.

5. Coaching mindset

I need to change my strategy for developing power. Focus on technique over pure force. I always end up searching for power. This always leads to injury because I over do it. I need to learn how to be powerful without pushing too hard. The same way I served better in recent matches by not trying so hard. This needs to be part of all my shots and part of my mentality. 
My feeling is that reaching the next level is less about chasing power, more about reaching a new mindset. One where the matchup, the difference between my opponent and me and what situations favour either player, is my focus, the challenge I focus on overcoming. Power can be a weapon to put me in a strong situation but many opponents also find power easy to redirect and use for their own ends. It’s too easy to forget this and get sucked into the obvious glory that power provides, forgetting the real glory that good strategy ensures.

A coaching mindset seems a perfect fit. Something I’ve always wanted to try. A coaches job is to see everything and understand what needs to be done in that situation. The best coaches also understand what they themselves are capable of achieving with their player and finding other people or tools to help with the things they themselves aren’t so good at. 

As a player with a coaching mentality I see myself analysing my opponent much more deeply than I do now. Always being aware of what they do, why they win or lose, their tendencies. The question I am asking is; what would I do if I were their coach? how would I help them beat me? My belief is that the path to this answer, how my opponent can beat me is my path to shutting the door on them. It’s counter intuitive but I want to try it out. 

Why such a complicated approach? I want to reach the next level. Strokes isn’t really my weak point. I haven’t met an opponent who could handle all my shots. I always create openings. I can always boss enough points. Finishing them though… that’s another challenge. I’ve got much better. I’m now able to finish most points when a chance arises. The ones left that I don’t finish are those that are tougher to fix. I’ve got to experiment more. Dig deeper somehow. 

My glaring weakness is my ability to read my opponent. My strength is knowledge of myself. To make a permanent and effective change to my game I must start with my mind. Do it right and the body follows without complaint. I leave all sorts of mistakes behind. So I search long and hard for ways to change the way I think. Then I learn how to embed that in my game at the right time. 

So I have half the coaching mentality already. I know myself well, why I win or lose. I just haven’t honed the skills to read the situation, my opponents and how they react to situations, the match-up. I know one side of the match-up, myself and how I react in various situations. What I am strong and weak at. I just don’t know the other. My opponents and how they react. What they are strong and weak at.

The aim is to replace my hunger for power with a hunger for knowledge. I always forget how easy power can be to generate but also how easy it is to turn it against an opponent. That’s why power is a double edged sword. So I need a mindset that keeps me centred. Stops me from chasing the power glory that I get hooked on. Then I might have a chance of preventing these kinds of injuries for good. 
So with the ‘Coaching mentality’ I hope to find effortless power and accept it. I know it’s about relaxation and understanding the match up. About constant pressure not instant shocks. 
Most of all I need to focus on building a point. Not on hitting hard. Using all the other ways I know to apply constant pressure. I need to fundamentally change how I think. It’s hard but worth it.

Give it a go

So that’s the basic plan. I’m trying to see this as an opportunity to address poor technique and make my game even easier to play. I’m still frustrated though. I’m better and more comfortable using my right but it seems like I’ve got to go and compete with my left for now. I’m really glad I put the years in to build my left hand so I can still play and compete. This is an opportunity to finally build it into a real weapon. Have another option to trouble my opponents. I’m already surprised how the simple act of changing hands presents all sorts of problems for people even though the quality of shot just isn’t as good.
So this is my current challenge. I’m rarely injured enough to stop playing. I’ve always found a way to play. These are the lessons I’m learning as I go. Getting through injury improves my technique. That’s why having an injury this severe is rare for me. Others have shared how they’ve overcome their challenges and let me learn from them. So this is my attempt. Sharing how I try to use injuries to improve my game and take me forward.
I also want to share the advantages of having a second hand, not just a second serve. A lot of people have laughed at me for playing left handed. Right now I’m glad I stuck at it. I dared to be different. It’s common to take spare balls and racquets to matches, even spare socks and trainers. Anything could go wrong, you don’t want to default the match just because you break a string. Why not have a spare hand so you can carry on if you get injured. I’d rather lose a match through fighting with a weaker hand than not having brought a backup and having to default,

Right now I simply wouldn’t be able to play I didn’t have a spare hand so I couldn’t compete. If I couldn’t compete I would be a very unhappy man!!!! Instead I’m still playing, building my game and living the dream 🙂

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