It is no secret that to perform in today’s world of tennis, you have to be Tall, strong, Powerful, quick, agile and should be prepared to play long hours under extreme conditions. Training alone cannot make a player fit to perform, only training coupled with the right diet can achieve this goal.

Proper balanced diet in the formative years of the child, reflects on the physique that a player ends up with in full adulthood. Hence from the Indian context, are the aspiring Indian tennis players eating the right diet to develop into an adult who can compete with the best, at the international level? I am not sure if any research has been done on this subject and I am not going to answer this question since it is outside the purview of my expertise.

Nevertheless, I would like to share some of the important aspects in terms of Diet, that I feel could affect performance from my point of view as a coach.

Vegetarian vs Non-vegetarian:

There has always been a never ending debate about the effectiveness of vegetarian food among athletes. Many renowned dieticians and doctors believe that vegetarian food is the best for Human beings and they give ample proof about the Human system is fundamentally Herbivorous. While other experts go about arguing, that only Non-vegetarian food can meet the protein demands of an athlete.

All I gather from the articles I have read so far is that, there is no conclusive evidence to prove one way or the other. This is good news for us, since a majority of Indians, (and especially my students) seem to be vegetarian.

Having said that, it is also a fact that many of the parents in India do not seem to acknowledge the actual energy demands of an aspiring player, who is spending around 18 to 20 hours of on and off court training. This means that a child who is only 11 or 12 years old needs a lot more energy than his dad who is not involved in any regular sport or training. To put it simply, this means that he will have to eat more quantity than what his dad eats. Just imagine the quantity that he will need to eat, irrespective of whether it is vegetarian or non-vegetarian, as he gets older and bigger along with the training getting more and more intense.

Right Now, many of the parents who are reading this article, might complain that they fully understand this but the child is refusing to eat well. ‘They don’t eat enough and they refuse to eat anything that is termed healthy’. (Like vegetables and fruits)

In my opinion, if the child does not have a medical condition, (which I am pretty sure you have verified with your family physician already) then it has to be the psychology of how you deal with his eating habits.

The first thing that we have to understand is that, food is a fundamental need for survival. Hence the need for food is deeply rooted in every child and we don’t have to doubt this fact. The second fact that we need to understand is that, if a child forgoes just one meal or two, it will not make him ill or reflect on his physical development. All you need to do is find a way to make the child responsible for their own eating and be willing to let go of the responsibility yourself.

Let me share with you my experience on feeling the responsibility, which I am sure you would have experienced yourself at some time or the other:

When I was travelling extensively and playing competition, I used to travel along with a buddy of mine. During the first trip or two I figured that he was very good with directions since he is able to remember the route that we took, every single time. I use to tag along with him to and fro, since I felt dependent on him to show the way. It took just one trip on my own to realize that, I was pretty good with directions my self and all I had to do was take the responsibility to remember the way.

Hence as long as you feel and hold the responsibility for his/ her eating, you will never allow him/ her to take up that responsibility. Your responsibility ends when you put the food on the table. Eating it as much as he needs is his responsibility.

The other aspect you might want to pay attention to, is Distractions. Cut off all distractions while eating. Watching TV or playing with the mobile or computer or toy while eating, distracts him from paying attention to the food and paying attention to what his body is asking for. One more aspect is to Follow a routine, so that he eats almost at the same time everyday. This allows the body to fall into a bio rhythm that will result in good appetite and good eating habits.

‘Boiled and salted vegetables are typically nothing more than a ‘good-for-you’ side dish, dumped alongside things that actually taste yummy. No wonder getting kids to eat them requires begging and threats, tactics that quickly backfire. Because once your kids realize that you really, really want them to eat vegetables, refusing to do so becomes a power struggle that they will always win. Instead try to place the vegetables on the table, when they are really hungry. This might make them gobble up the vegetables before the main food is served.’

Try to pay close attention to see if the child really has a gagging feel about the food you are asking him to eat or is it just a tantrum to get what he wants. It is not too difficult to spot this. Never force them to eat something because you think it is good for them or because it is going ‘Waste”. The pressure to eat that food might trigger a negative feeling about it.

Experts unanimously agree to the fact that, ‘What you think and feel about a food can be as important a determinant of its nutritional value and its effect on body as the actual nutrients themselves’.