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Sports Science & Nutrition

Happy and Hydrated

Sports Science & Nutrition

kidwaterBy Caroline Sullivan, MS, RD, CSSD, LD 

What is an athlete? Have you ever asked yourself this? Athletes aren’t just people who get paid to play a sport; it is anyone who is regularly active. So now think about your kids. Whether they are enrolled in Teddy Tennis or just like to hit around with you at the courts, you should consider them an athlete. It wasn’t until I became a parent that I really started to understand hydration in active kids. I noticed that my toddler’s heat tolerance was much lower than mine and when she gets hot, her temper is about as flaming as her skin.

Here’s a little physiology 101 to set the stage:

Water is constantly flowing in and out of our body. In through intake (food and drink) and out through sweating, breathing, talking, and elimination.

  • Our bodies absorb the heat from the environment.
  • Sweat acts to lower body temperature when the body starts to get hot.
  • Heat stress and heat stroke can be dangerous.

Until kids hit puberty, they produce more heat, absorb heat from the environment more easily, take longer to cool down, and take longer to generate sweat. When you put a kid out on the hot tennis court, they just soak in the warmth of the sun and start to bake. Ok…so it isn’t quite so dramatic, but you get the picture.


Researchers have found out that thirst is an inadequate cue to keep kids hydrated. A youth athlete isn’t likely to follow thirst cues before they start to get dehydrated. When you get dehydrated, you are unable to think clearly, power diminishes, and performance suffers. Proper hydration not only helps performance but keeps kids safe. In addition to teaching kids how to properly hydrate, parents and coaches can make a big impact.

  1. Encourage drinking fluids throughout the day. Hydration is an all day activity.
  2. Make kids bring a full bottle of cold water to tennis practice.
  3. Encourage a drink immediately before and after activity.
  4. Use a sports drink if activity is going to last longer than 1 hour.
  5. After activity, offer beverages that taste good. You may not necessarily need a sports drink, but low calorie flavored water or fruit infused water are both good options.
  6. Implement hydration breaks:
  • -3-5 big gulps of water every 15 minutes
  • -Break in the shade with cool, tasty beverages

So now you have just one more thing you can nag your kids about, but trust me, it’s a good thing.



Caroline Sullivan is a Registered Dietitian and specialist in sports dietetics. She has served as a dietitian for several NCAA Division I top-25 teams including work with basketball, football, tennis, and track & field. She is a member of the USTA Texas Sports Science Committee.

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