Kiawah Provides World-class Junior Tennis Fitness Training

Junior Tennis Fitness Training  When Kiawah Island Golf Resort retooled its tennis academy for juniors last spring, it determined to place increased emphasis on fitness training and physical development. Director of Tennis Jonathan Barth partnered with Bruce Hawtin, who had run a highly successful junior tennis program in Charlotte, to reconceptualize the academy, with a goal of building it into the premier program in the country. The two shared identical philosophies for developing highly competitive juniors who aspire to compete either on the Division I collegiate level or go straight to the professional tour.

When the two crafted the framework for the re-envisioned Barth-Hawtin Tennis Academy at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, they made physical development one of the pillars of the program. From the outset, Barth and Hawtin partnered with Dr. Mark Kovacs, who, among other things, is one of the world’s leading sports performance physiologists who has worked with some of the world’s most elite athletes from various sports, including professional tennis. Kovacs understands that no two athletes are the same. Each requires an individualized approach and plan. Working in lock-step with Barth and Hawtin, that is the philosphy he installed for athletes training at Barth-Hawtin Tennis Academy.

Below Mark Kovacs clears up some misperceptions and general thoughts on properly developing the bodies of young tennis players.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Junior athletes require specific training based on their appropriate biological, not chronological, age. For example, a 14-year-old is obviously chronologically 14, but she may have a biological age ranging anywhere from 10 to 18. This makes training very different for every junior athlete, taking into account this is an important factor. Growth and maturation has to be considered in all training program and the development of great physical capabilities is paramount to improving sport-specific performance while developing a body that is resilient and can reduce the likelihood of injuries as the athlete grows.

Creating an Individualized Plan

The plan involves the use of our Tennis Specific Kovacs Institute Assessment to determine each athletes strengths and opportunities for improvement, and to evaluate areas that may show potential concern for long-term injury if not addressed and corrected. The assessment is a research-based screening process that evaluates the major areas needed to be a great tennis player — speed, strength, power, agility, mobility, endurance and a range of muscle imbalances and range-of-motion deficiencies. This assessment is combined with on-court evaluation of stroke mechanics from a biomechanics perspective as well as movement mechanics. Combined, these assessments provide us with a clear picture of the athlete’s physical skills and opportunities for improvement. These are discussed thoroughly with the tennis coach to match it with the player’s overall player development plan. From this, an individualized program is developed for each athlete focused on a multistage approach to tennis specific performance. The first phase focuses on developing foundational movements, general strength, mobility, flexibility, power and endurance. From this base, a sport-specific training program is the next step, focusing on the game style, athletic capabilities and goals of the coach and athlete. Then these are synced with on-court workouts and training to match the game style, goals and objectives specific to that athlete.

Avoiding Common Injuries

While tennis is an extremely safe sport compared to some others, junior tennis players can experience a whole range of potential injuries if training is not performed correctly. The most common injuries result from overuse and are a combination of three factors:

  1. Excessive volume of trading and competing
  2. Poor or inefficient biomechanics of stroke technique and tennis movements
  3. Excessive muscle imbalances or weaknesses

When designing a tennis specific training program, all three of these broad areas need to be addressed. After studying tennis science and injuries for nearly 20 years, I have identified that the areas that need to be a focus are the lower back, the knee and the shoulder. Although other areas can be a common concern (such as the elbow, wrist and ankle) those three areas of the body — lower back, knees and shoulders — need to always be addressed in a strong training program.

The Holistic Approach

The goal of the training program is to develop the total athlete first and foremost. It is important to remember that the goal of off-court training is to improve on-court performance and to reduce injury. Training is not about how much weight the athlete can lift in the gym, but how the training the athlete does off-court translate to on-court tennis performance. The main goal is to win more tennis matches and to stay as healthy as possible while doing so.


Our approach has consistently seen positive results over the course of the past 20 years. Within the first few months, athletes will feel a difference in strength, speed and power on the court. They will be able to get to more balls, cover the court better and be more balanced. In turn this will improve technique, more stability when loading through the groundstroke and the ability to hit the serve harder. All these areas directly contribute to becoming a better tennis player and this does translate into better on-court performance. As an athlete grows, the benefits of this type of training increases exponentially. The coaches at Barth-Hawtin Tennis Academy do an outstanding job of developing the player and the person, and this approach over the long run provides great results.

Editor’s note: If you have or know of a competitive junior player who wishes to develop into a highly competitive tennis player, please call Jonathan Barth at 843-769-2706 to discuss the possibility of working towards their goals at Kiawah Island Golf Resort.