BlueStreak trainer John Feugill with 11-year-old tennis player Victoria Zoha
Tennis prodigy keeps on target in her conditioning
By Judith Stiles
These days when young tennis players in the throes of puberty compete in more than 40 tournaments a year, a red flag should go up with the pediatrician that extra measures should be taken to prevent injuries.
When tennis ace Victoria Zohas height shot up to 5 feet, 7 inches at the tender age of 11, she was lucky to have vigilant parents who enrolled her right away in an injury-prevention training program at Chelsea BlueStreak on 23rd St. and the West Side Highway. First, Zoha was videotaped in motion at different angles to analyze whether or not her growing body is at risk. In a test that evaluated problems related to lower-body injuries, she was taped dropping from a height of 2 feet onto a hard floor, in order to see how she landed and how her knees reacted.
After body weight, height, age and the information provided through the tapes were analyzed by an in-house physical therapist, a fitness and strengthening program was designed, tailored to her needs.
The proper gait for a tennis player is different from that of a long-distance runner of course, and here at BlueStreak we factor in all these variables, said Shane Palahicky, program director.
Once a week, Zoha meets with trainer John Feugill, who guides her through a two-hour session of treadmill work, jump-rope and basic plyometrics, a popular speed and strength training program geared to increasing power and enhancing explosive movement. Simple plyometric exercises include skipping, hopping, bounding and lunging.
Although Zoha is only 11 years old, she played 43 official matches last year, not including practices. According to the United States Tennis Association, overuse tennis injuries account for almost two-thirds of both adult and youth injuries, causing ailments such as strains, tendonitis and lower-back pain. Traumatic injuries account for about one-third of tennis injuries, including sprains, muscle pulls and fractures.
Overuse injuries do not always take a player out of the game. Rather, the athlete starts to adapt and alter technique in order to compensate, which can eventually cause longer-lasting injuries.
We see 10- and 11-year-old girls with serious injuries to the shoulder, back, ankles and knees because junior players often compete and practice on hard surfaces and there is no off-season, noted Bill Zoha, Victorias dad.
Knock on wood, young Zoha has not suffered any injuries even though she has been playing serious tennis since age 6. It has helped that she is mindful of the importance of proper conditioning and warming up, as well as scheduling adequate rest and recovery time.
Besides a conditioning program, a typical week for young Zoha includes five full days of academics in the sixth grade at the Hewitt School on E. 75th St. On Mondays at 6 p.m. she does two hours of strength, speed training and injury prevention at Chelsea BlueStreak. Tuesday is usually a day of rest. Wednesday she practices at the Yorkville Tennis Club at 6:30 a.m. before school. Thursday after school she might focus on a particular component of her game, such as serving against a wall. Friday she and her dad battle traffic for hours on the Long Island Expressway in order to work with a tennis coach way out at Exit No. 53. Saturday and Sunday is most often a singles tournament in the region, which sometimes includes a total of five matches.
With this busy schedule, the workouts at Chelsea BlueStreak are very beneficial because it increases her confidence level, and when you take off the table that you might get tired in a match, then you can focus on other parts of the game, said Zohas dad. Attentiveness to core strengthening and overall fitness has given her extra stamina, which paid off when she won the back draw in the prestigious Little Mo International Open in Arlington, Tex., last year.
Along with 700,000 individual members worldwide, Zoha belongs to the U.S.T.A., which posts upcoming competitions, rankings and a plethora of information for recreational players and pros, from youths to adults and even wheelchair-bound players. If it is true that Web site content is driven by the appetite of its viewers, then young tennis players on the rise, and more likely their parents, are hungry for any information on usta.com that will give them the competitive edge to win. With the rigorous playing and training schedules of youth today, it is not surprising that the dialogue about gaining a competitive edge includes injury prevention.
Zoha has her own secret formula.
I simply stop and rest if I start to feel any aches or pains, she noted with a word to the wise.
What does the future hold for this levelheaded young woman?
Although I see myself playing tennis for many years, there are plenty of other things to do in life when I retire, she added brightly. Secretly, she looks forward someday to being a lawyer who doubles as a tennis pro. As her world-renowned tennis coach, Rick Macci, says of this young woman, Vic has a great work ethic and a lot of untapped potential. With experience you will see great things from her!