10 Tips on How to Play Tennis in the Winter

It can be hard to adjust to the change in temperature as fall and winter approach. After a summer of outdoor exercise, having to cut back on your tennis matches can feel like torture. You may want to continue your matches with the same fervor as before, but you’re not sure if it’s safe or smart to play tennis in the cold.

Maybe you have already tried to play some tennis in cold temperatures and found it to be uncomfortable or frustrating. This is a valid experience, but it doesn’t have to be that difficult. While it might seem daunting, you can fairly easily adapt to the conditions and make the cold work for you.

While you will have to make some adjustments, it is definitely possible to continue playing quite a bit of tennis in cold weather. Warming up, wearing appropriate clothing and accessories, and adjusting your game to the conditions will lead to many successful winter matches.

You may need some extra gear or to change your game strategy a bit, but taking some or all of the precautions should help you play year-round comfortably and safely.

Warm Up and Hydrate Before & After the Match

It takes more time to get warmed up when it’s cold outside, so it’s important that you take the time to get your heart rate up and your blood flowing before you start playing. This will help you to bring your body temperature up, which will allow you to feel much more comfortable and limber as you begin your cold-weather game.

Great warm-ups include:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Light jog
  • Mountain climbers
  • Jumping rope
  • Arm rotations
  • Swinging your arms and legs
  • Jogging or marching in place

A good warm-up gets your blood circulating and can be accomplished with some light cardio. Jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and arm and leg rotations or swinging can all help get you ready to go.

A focus on injury prevention becomes even more prevalent when you are playing in cold conditions. Warm muscles are less likely to experience overuse injuries. If you find you are getting cold during your game due to the temperature, take periodic breaks to stretch or take a lap around the court.

Make sure you are drinking plenty of water as well. Water helps you to regulate your core temperature in all types of weather.

Wear Multiple Layers

One difficulty you might face when playing tennis in the cold is keeping your extremities warm. Keeping your core warm will help with this, and wearing multiple layers is the best way to achieve a warm core.

The layer closest to your skin should be made of a moisture-wicking material so you can sweat into it without consequence. You will also want to wear a layer of something warm that will act as an insulator. If there is rain or high winds, a light jacket made for those conditions can also be worn. 

Wear Moisture-Wicking Materials

Moisture-wicking works by moving your sweat from the inside of the fabric to the outer layer, keeping it from being absorbed by the material and also keeping the sweat from sitting on your skin. Moisture-wicking fabrics are also fast drying.

Common Moisture-Wicking MaterialsQualities
NylonStronger than polyesterSyntheticHydrophobicOdor-resistant
PolyesterSyntheticHydrophobic
WoolLight absorptionSurface stays dryNot synthetic

Wearing clothing in cold weather that absorbs sweat will just cause you to become colder. A sweat-soaked shirt ceases to be insulating and defeats the purpose of wearing layers in the first place. Make sure your first layer of clothing is made of moisture-wicking material such as polyester, nylon, or even wool.

Double Check for Your Shoes Condition

When you are playing in less-than-ideal conditions, you will want to be sure that your shoes are in good shape. Worn-out tennis shoes lose tread and support that can prevent serious injury, so make sure you check your shoes before heading out onto the court.

If you have noticed that your treads are worn down significantly in one area more than another, or that they are slippery to walk in, it is a sign that your shoes might be ready for a replacement. You can also check your heel counter, the area that surrounds your heel. If it is flexible or floppy it won’t adequately support your ankle and it’s time for a new pair of tennis shoes.

Consider Wearing Gloves to Play

In addition to keeping your core warm, you might want to invest in a pair of tennis gloves. While some people play in everyday gloves in the cold weather, others find it difficult to play while wearing gloves because they don’t have the same feel for the racquet, and they don’t have a sturdy grip.

Types of Tennis GlovesBenefitsDownsides
MittInsulatingEncases hand and racket handleBulky
FingerlessTacky GripBetter feel for racquetBreathableHand protectionNot insulated
Full gloveTacky GripHand protectionNot insulated

A happy medium could be a pair of tennis gloves. They come in an array of styles, from insulating mitts that allow you to hold your racket with your bare hand while still shielding your fingers from the cold, to fingerless gloves. Gloves will come equipped with tacky non-slip palms for your grip.

Even gloves made for tennis won’t work for every tennis player, so try on a pair at your local sporting goods store to see if they feel right for you. Some players just make sure to wear something with pockets so they can warm their hands up occasionally as they play. A frozen hand won’t do you any favors on the court.

Wearing Sunglasses Can Help

Winter can be a surprisingly bright time of year, with the sun low in the sky. The right pair of sunglasses can make all the difference.

While many tennis players find it difficult to see properly with sunglasses on under most circumstances, it can be equally detrimental to your game to try to play with a bright reflecting glare in your eyes.

Things to look for when buying sunglasses for tennis:

  • Comfortable and appropriate fit
  • Polarized lenses
  • UV-protection
  • Scratch-resistant lenses

Take the time to find a pair that fit you well, so there is less of a chance of them flying off if you have to jerk unexpectedly to reach the ball.

Polarized sunglasses are great for clay or acrylic courts, which both tend to have an extra glare. Other things to look for include UV resistant lenses and scratch-resistant lenses.

UV resistance can help protect your eyes from being damaged by UV exposure, and you will be grateful for a scratch-resistant lens when your glasses inevitably fall off at some point during your game.

Restring Your Tennis Racquet

Some people suggest restringing your tennis racquet if you are going to be playing in cold temperatures for a significant part of the year.

Believe it or not, the cold is not just causing you to feel less bouncy – your tennis balls feel it too.

The hollow inside of a tennis ball is filled with air, and air is mostly gas. Gasses react to change in temperature, expanding in hot weather and causing higher pressure in the ball, and contracting in cold weather.

Tennis Balls in Hot Weather

  • Gas molecules expand
  • Pressure inside ball increases
  • Ball bounces more energetically

Tennis Balls in Cold Weather

  • Gas molecules contract
  • Pressure inside ball decreases
  • Ball has lethargic or dead-seeming bounces

When the gas molecules get smaller in cold temperatures they also lose energy, and the pressure inside the ball decreases. This leads the ball to react much less enthusiastically to your racquet or the court surface, and therefore can be more difficult to play with.

One solution to this problem is to get your racquet restrung at a lower tension.

There will be more play in your strings, which will help to make up for the dullness of a cold tennis ball.

Volley as Much as Possible

If you aren’t able to get your racquet restrung, you can adjust your play to the weather and still have a successful and not overly frustrating game.

Volleying is great for a cold day because It keeps the bouncing to a minimum. Too many lackluster bounces on the court might lead you to feel unchallenged, and overall will end up not being a very fun game.

However, if you are in it to win it, drop shots (putting backspin on the ball so it lands just on the other side of the net and bounces towards you, not your opponent, or bounces very little at all) will be even more effective in this type of weather due to the ball being a little dull already.

Playing Tennis in the Rain

You might not be deterred by light rain, and wouldn’t mind getting a little wet as long as you can get a match or two in.

In order to have a fun and safe game in the rain:

  • Don’t play on a court with puddles
  • Check the treads on your shoes
  • Wear a light, waterproof jacket

If you choose to play in the rain, check out the court before you start. If there are puddles on the court, your game time might not last very long. When a tennis ball gets too wet it will lose even more bounce, making it virtually impossible to play with.

However, if your court is puddle free, you can probably have a decent game. Light rain on a hard court surface is the best-case-scenario for rainy conditions.

You should also make sure that your shoes have adequate traction, but be aware that you can more easily slip on a wet court surface regardless. To be as comfortable as possible, wear a jacket that won’t absorb water over your moisture-wicking and insulating layers. This will help your first two layers work appropriately and keep you from getting water-logged

Playing Tennis in the Snow

Playing tennis in the snow is probably not advisable. It is much harder to protect yourself from a fall if the ground is potentially icy or covered in slippery slush. Tennis balls will be less bouncy the colder it gets, so playing in these types of temperatures might be impossible.

That said, many people aren’t put off by a little bit of snow on their courts.

Make especially sure that you are wearing shoes with appropriate traction and that you are layered up. Some players are known to warm up their tennis balls with a heating pad before they head out to play, which might give you a little bit of playtime with a reasonably bouncy ball.

Soft Versus Hard Courts

Depending on the weather conditions, any type of court can become slippery and you should always be cautious. However, be aware of the type of court you are playing on and the hazards that can come along with it.

Hard Courts in the Rain

  • Can become slippery
  • Puddles can form in worn-down areas
  • Drys fast when rain stops
  • Does not absorb water like clay

Clay Courts in the Rain

  • Lots of rain causes it to become muddy
  • Even more slippery than usual when wet
  • Takes a few days to fully dry
  • Becomes unplayable with excessive water absorption

A soft clay court is considered to generally be more slippery than hard courts like asphalt even on good days, so be extra aware if you play on a clay court.

A benefit of playing on a hard court in inclement weather is that it does not absorb water like a Clay court. As it rains, clay will quickly lose all of its grip, and you can easily slip and get injured.

Give a clay court a couple of days to dry out after heavy rain and you should be fine. Hard courts will dry much more quickly after the rain stops, and you can be playing again much sooner.

It is completely possible to cautiously play tennis throughout the cold seasons, just be honest with yourself about your limitations and your gear. The cold can be hard on the body, so make sure you follow these tips and keep yourself warm, supported (both by your shoes and your racquet), and aware of your surroundings.

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