It used to be people could tell how good of a tennis player they were by their “tennis tan.” The paler the feet, the better the player because that meant they were winning and staying on the court longer. During the course of my career, I can’t think of a time any coach, teammate or trainer told me or my team, “Don’t forget to apply sunscreen.” And most of the parents and coaches chose to sit in the sun to “get their tan on” while watching the matches. As a result, I’m now paying for my dermatologist’s vacations.
Fast forward to 2013 and it’s a whole new ballgame. The endless and aggressive marketing campaigns and warnings from dermatologists regarding the dangers of the sun are working, and the coaching staff, trainers and players are lathering it on and consider it as much a part of their preventive injury routine as wrapping their ankles and filling up their water bottle. Plus, today’s performance apparels are made with a tighter cotton weave, which keeps the sun from burning their skin.
Dr. Craig Neitzel, head of dermatology for the Carle Physicians Group, says tennis players are one of the most difficult athletes to protect because of today’s apparel, the large amount of perspiration lost and the nature of the sport. “They can’t run under a tree in between points or reapply it every changeover because their hands become slippery. Plus, they may be on the court for hours at a time. What we do stress is applying it before they step on the court and then applying it before their next match.”
Neitzel recommends a 30-45 SPF waterproof sun block and wearing a hat or visor. When I asked the players to name their favorite brand, most replied, “The one in the blue bottle.” So much for those million-dollar advertising campaigns.
University of Denver men’s coach Danny Westerman says it’s extremely important his players wear sun block because of the high altitude where many of their matches take place. Men’s coaches Michael Center (Texas) and Efe Ustundag (Rice) say there’s a bin near the locker room door with just sun screen, and players automatically stop and apply before competing. Bradley women’s coach Chris Williams adds, “Getting a sunburn can also affect one’s performance, so we are very proactive regarding sun protection.” Message sent. Message received.