Did you know that most people believe they are better looking, funnier and a more skilled driver than the average person?

Have you ever heard of the term Illusory Superiority (IS)? It is defined as a condition of cognitive bias where a person overestimates their own qualities and abilities, in relation to the same qualities and abilities of other persons. Illusory Inferiority (II) would be the opposite where a person underestimates their own qualities and abilities. Pretty much every tennis player I have ever coached falls into one of these two categories. The outlier was the player that had a good grasp of reality! Why is it that most tennis players, including myself, would be at one end of this spectrum or the other. Well I will give you my take on why!

The players that suffer from IS were the ones that could never really take responsibility for a poor performance or loss. They would be very creative with their excuses and could be quite convincing. One of the reasons they likely developed this habit was as a protection mechanism to deal with their parents who suffered from the Dunning-Kruger effect:

Dunning – Kruger Effect: a cognitive bias in which people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is.


Because Mom or Dad, or both, played a bit of tennis, watched a set and half of the Wimbledon Final in 1996 while eating their cornflakes, and are “successful” in their own industry, they believe they can translate that “expertise” into providing cutting edge wisdom to their child. They somehow always have an expert opinion to bestow and mistakenly assess their tennis knowledge and coaching abilities as greater than they actually are.

I only write about the things I have experienced and learned. I don’t write articles about the biomechanics of the serve or how to increase the dorsiflexion in the ankles even though I am very familiar with these areas. In my daily life I definitely don’t provide advice or give opinions on the stock market or governmental fiscal policies (even though I have a degree in finance). I have touched upon all these areas in my life, readings and education but I would not feel comfortable giving advice on such matters. Basically, I KNOW WHAT I DON’T KNOW, and I am willing to admit when I don’t know something. Why is that so bloody difficult for people??

 Many parents I have experienced have a strong view on tennis development despite only touching upon tennis or high performance athletics in their own life. Because these parents can’t help themselves, and attempt to give an opinion on something they have no clue about, their kids start to insulate themselves from this barrage of uninformed advice by developing excuses. They often start to make excuses and end up overestimating or underestimating their own abilities in order to protect their ego and relationship with their parent.

The players afflicted with Illusory Superiority are the ones that college coaches tend to struggle with the most. These players have developed a Captain America type shield against any feedback or criticism. Penetrating this shield can take years and often leads to players transferring before the coach has had a chance to break down some of these barriers. Of course, these players parents again have an opinion on how the player should or should not be coached, and do very little to help the situation. The cycle continues and their child is even further away from developing any self-awareness and progressing into adulthood.

 On the other end of the scale we have those players that suffer from Illusory Inferiority. They constantly feel like they are not good enough. They downplay their success, discount the skills they have developed through years of hard work, and often don’t feel worthy of praise. They likely have some self-esteem issues, but are generally much easier to coach as they don’t take criticism personally because they are usually their own worst critic. In this case the coach has to point out all the things they have done well, remind them of their previous successes and get them to celebrate their small accomplishments along the way.

 There is a time to be positive and a time to be critical, with healthy doses of reality sprinkled in between. I will introduce you to another term, Performative Positivity; this means there will be times in your performances that you need to be positive despite the score-line or uphill battle you are facing. In those moments in a match, I believe it is much better to be positive and continue to fight for every point. However, once the match is done, be honest with yourself and others about your preparation, your performance and what you have learned.

 Stop comparing yourself to others and ruthlessly evaluate your own game and results. Remember that the level of  tennis player you are is all relative, like most things in life. If I go down to my local club, I might as well be Roger Federer compared to the next best players. At the national level I am considered to still be very good, but no Roger Federer. At the international level I am just one of thousands of players that devoted countless hours to their tennis development and have a nice game to show for it, in other words, just another fish in the pond. So, when I am down at my local club l I would be well served to not walk around like I am Roger Federer and think I don’t need to work on my game because I can beat everyone. Equally, if I am playing an international tournament, I am not going to curl up into a ball and think that I am no good because there are so many talented players competing in the event. I am going to compete and train at the same intensity regardless of my surroundings, and not attempt to impress anyone or hide in the cupboard.

Focus on your own goals and standards, not somebody else’s (who may or may not be particularly well informed ;). Put in place a plan and strategy that keeps you focused on the process and less on the outcome. Don’t get too high or low as there will always be another tennis match around the corner. You are definitely not as good as you think you might be and equally you are definitely not as bad as you may believe. Learn to live somewhere in the middle, and do not let the latest result, good or bad, overly impact your approach to training and life. Maybe you can also start to think about what other areas of your life in which you suffer from Illusory Superiority, Illusory Inferiority or Dunning Kruger; I guarantee you we all do it in some way.

The Typical Life Cycle of a Tennis Player

Jimmy (little Johnny is on vacation) started playing tennis at age 8. It wasn’t love at first sight, but he enjoyed the sport as much as he did the other sports he was participating in at the time. Over the next two years, Jimmy started to play more regularly and took note of his improvements. He fell in love with hitting the ball cleanly, constructing points and using his superior athletic ability to beat players who had been playing a lot longer than him up to this point. His improvements made him want to play more, and before he knew it, he was playing almost every day.


Hey you…. Yeah you…. Have you ever withdrawn from a tennis tournament because you did not like your draw or were scared of losing to a potential opponent? Have you ever retired from a match because you had convinced yourself that you were too injured, sick or tired to keep going but you really just needed an excuse because you were going to lose?

I played a open tournament recently which was made up predominantly of junior players. Here are the frightening statistics:


If you are a positive, calm person who has no problem setting and achieving goals, and your current state is working for you, your relationships and your tennis, then stop reading this now. If, on the other hand, you tend to be a little negative at times, get angry when things don’t go your way and struggle to set goals (never mind trying to achieve them!) then you might find the next few paragraphs helpful. It is a little counterintuitive but what the heck, we are all different and what works for one won’t necessarily work for us all.


Yes, that’s right, be as negative as possible. The glass is not just half empty, it is bone dry and slightly cracked!

Most of our fears and worries are not rational. As humans, we have a tendency to “catastrophize” and think of the worse-case scenario when things are not going our way and even somehow manage to do it when they are going our way! How often do we challenge these thoughts and actually play out the worst-case scenario to its most logical conclusion?

Imagine you are set point up and you miss an easy forehand volley into the bottom of the net. You might think, “That was the best chance I was going to get to win this set, I cannot believe I missed that!” – okay, so you missed an easy shot.

What happens if you lose the next point? Well, then I am down game point

And what happens if you lose that point? Well, then it is 5-5 and it is close to a tiebreak and I NEVER win tiebreaks

And what happens if you lose the tiebreak? Well, I lose the set

What happens if you lose the set? Well, I might lose the match

What happens if you lose the match? Well, I will be upset, and my ranking might drop

What happens if your ranking drops? Well, I don’t really know, I guess I won’t be able to get into that college I hoped to get into.

What happens if you don’t get into that college? Well, I will go to another one

Ok, do you really know one way or the other that this college will be a lesser experience for you or provide less opportunities for your future? Well, I guess not, no

Ok, so stop stressing about missing that easy volley and get back to competing…..

So, go ahead, knock yourself out and think through just how bad it can get and you will see it is not that bad after all!

GET ANGRY: I used to show my teams a YouTube clip of Tommy Haas losing a match at the Australian Open. He came to the changeover and started berating himself, basically telling himself that he is a worthless tennis player and overall useless human being. For about 60 seconds he went to town on himself, got it all out in the open for everyone to see and hear. However, as soon as the referee called time, he said, “C’mon,” skipped out of his chair and went on to dominate the rest of the match. He had turned his frustration and anger into pure determination, demanding more from his body and his mind.

Sometimes we are trapped by what others tell us we “should” do…

Sometimes we are trapped by what others tell us we “should” do…

I am not condoning bad behavior by any means, so please remember:

 Smashing rackets is STUPID and EXPENSIVE.

Cussing up a storm is STUPID and EMBARRASSING.

Punching the fence, your racket or something else is STUPID and will probably HURT.

Let out a yell, slap your thigh, bang the ball on the ground on your side of the court (not against a fence or over the fence!), or talk to yourself like you would your own worst enemy. Do all of these things but ONLY doing them if it is a cathartic action. You must be really willing to let go of it all and use that energy to make yourself more determined for the next point or game. In the long run, it has to provide you with POSITIVE energy, not take energy away from you in a “I’m feeling sorry for myself” kind of way. These are two very different states and should not be confused. I see plenty of players getting angry and look like they live under a grey cloud by adopting a miserably mopey demeanour. In fact, they just look like spoilt little brats that believe that life is unfair. Every so often I see someone get angry, become more determined and demand more from themselves. They recognise that feeling sorry for themselves has never once worked in helping them play better tennis and problem solve how to win a tennis match. With every outburst their body language improves dramatically, and they are ready to compete now that they have let go of their frustration.

DON’T SET GOALS: I know, I know, I know, I have spoken about the importance of goal setting before, and again a lot of research has been done on the positive effects of goal-setting but I just don’t believe it is the right solution for everyone. Sometimes setting a goal and falling just short of it can lead to doubts and too much rigidity.

Case in Point: You are currently ranked 184 in your state you want to be ranked in the top 50 in the state by the end of 2019. Then you get to the end of 2019 and you are ranked 62, should you feel poorly about this or believe you should have done something drastically different? Of course not, but some tennis players can be guilty of this way of thinking.

The other potential issue with goals is that you are assuming you will feel a certain way about a certain goal at some date in the future. This assumes a lot. We are constantly evolving, and we have no idea the type of person we will be, and the things we will value a year from now, never mind in 5 years. Maybe you would be better served now, and in the future, focusing on the task at hand and less about the outcome or final result.

I am not saying you should do all three of these things. In fact, I am not saying you should do any. What I am trying to do is get you to explore your own views about all the things we are supposed to conform to as a tennis player. You will be told time and time and time again to “BE POSITIVE,” to not get “ANGRY” and to set “GOALS” by many well-intentioned people. But these same people may have heard it from other well-intentioned people and so on. They may have never stopped to question whether it is valid or works for their day to day life; it is just something they heard, and it sounded like good advice. I want you to explore the why of these things. Is there another way to do it that works for your personality and temperament? Sometimes it is healthy to conform and sometimes it can be extremely unhealthy.


In Part 1 of “A Shaky Foundation,” I pose several questions about the current high- performance tennis coaching model. In Part 2, I do my best to answer some of these questions. In recent years, I have spent time looking at my environment and examining my relationship to the world around me to determine when I am just following the crowd and mindlessly conforming to societal norms. I am fascinated by different people’s thought processes, how diverse cultures view the world, and when and why they conform to certain behaviors that may not always serve their best interests. I am also curious about what actions really count; what decisions or actions really move the dial in igniting change in our world?


I remember qualifying for the U14 Orange Bowl World Championships in Miami, Florida in the mid 90’s. I had never seen so many good tennis players at one site. I felt very intimidated by the quality of the players I would see practicing or playing on every court. Even Anna Kournikova was there with her entourage! I can distinctly recall the final between two players who, 10 years later, would be top 100 on the ATP world rankings. And you know what? Their games were almost identical to that of their 14-year-old selves

Have you ever seen the YouTube clip of Nadal vs. Gasquet at 13 years old?


Just work hard and the rest will take care of itself.”  

“All you have to do is believe in yourself and anything is possible.”  

“Stay positive, set goals and get a little bit better every day. Do this, and your dreams will become a reality.”

We have all heard clichés like these throughout our lives. While, they can be inspiring and comforting, are they really true for everyone or apply to just some people?


Before I get started, let me just say that I hit the lottery when it comes to parents. They gave me every opportunity in life to be happy, and to lead a productive life. They sacrificed, encouraged and took the time to discipline me and love me. As a parent of two children myself, I now have an obvious appreciation as to how challenging it can be to navigate the parenting process which is fraught with missteps. Fortunately, I had two great role models in my parents, and view my role as a parent as the most important task I will be ever faced with during my short time on this planet.


Wow…. Congratulations….your child just received a tennis scholarship and will be off to college in a few months. How quickly the time has passed. I am sure you are reminiscing about all the ups and downs of this crazy whirlwind the junior tennis scene can be. The days were long, but the years were short! Undoubtedly, you are very proud of what your child has accomplished. I know how much you have sacrificed to provide the opportunities necessary to develop and showcase their talents in order for them to realize this goal. They are now part of a tiny percentage of the population competing at this elite level. So, what happens now that they are off to college and you don’t have to get them to tennis practice or give up your holidays to fly them across the country for yet another tennis tournament?


Okay Millennials, Snow flakers, and up and coming Gen Z’ers, Linksters or whatever else they are calling you these days. I am referring to those of you who are entering into adulthood, and more specifically, those entering college campuses these next few years. We coaches are starting to accept the fact that you are not going to change or meet our long-established expectations and norms. Maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s us?


I had to retire from the finals of the Irish Junior National Championship Finals when I was 18. This was a huge deal to me at the time, and it should have been the impetus for some changes in my approach to the care of my body. The reason I had to retire was that for the first time in my young tennis career I experienced a significant injury. The culprit was the lower right side of my back, and it felt like a debilitating injury. I could not even put my socks on the morning of the final, never mind try to run around a tennis court!


Now that I am no longer coaching on a regular basis I am not around competitive tennis tournaments as much as I once was. However, in recent weeks I spent a significant portion of my days viewing a men’s and ladies futures event, a Junior National Championship and competed in a Men’s Open money tournament myself. I observed a lot of really good tennis but also some ludicrous behavior that does little to help these players or the sport of tennis. There appear to be certain behaviors that are embedded in our consciousness and culture at  high level junior, college and professional tennis in every part of the world, that we don’t seem to question, and accept as the norm despite there absurdity. I would love to say I wasn’t guilty of conforming to many of these cultural norms, but I will hold my hand up and say I was every bit as ridiculous at times. Here are a few examples:


QUESTION: “Hi!! I m a mother of a 13 year old boy and a 10 year old girl. Both my kids play tennis. My son is really struggling to win matches and losing to players he used to beat a few months back. In the fear of losing a match he doesn’t even give his best on the court. He is lacking courage to play big. He really loves the game and is willing to do anything to get better. But how do I make him more stronger mentally. Is it important to make him play
more matches to get over his fear??”


Did Erik Spoelstra suddenly become a worse basketball coach when Lebron James left the Miami Heat? Was Bill Belichick a bad coach when he got fired from the Cleveland Browns, and will he have the same success after Tom Brady retires? Would Phil Jackson have won 11 NBA titles if he was the coach at the Minnesota Timberwolves or was his timing just impeccable?  Is Boris Becker responsible for Novak Djokovic’s recent domination, or would John Smith be having the same impact on Novak’s game? These are just a few examples of why I am a little dubious about how much impact a coach really has over elite athletes and who is truly responsible for athletic success at the highest levels. It obviously depends on the sport but in most sports I just don’t believe it matters as much as we seem to think.


You know the scene: you are standing a few feet away from that “crazy” parent yelling at the referee, cheering wildly any time their child touches the ball, wins a point or hits a good shot depending on the sport. You think to yourself how “nutty” that parent is acting and you even feel bad for their kid. You thank the heavens that you don’t act or behave in a manner that could embarrass yourself or your child. However, you may unintentionally be acting in a similar fashion to that crazy parent, just in a more subtle and less obvious way. If this is the case then you are most likely impacting your child’s love for sport participation and, more importantly, you may be indirectly hurting your relationship with him or her for years to come.

Why My Roommate DID NOT Fail as a Tennis Player

A few months ago, I explained some of the reasons as to why I failed as a professional tennis player. This time, I want to discuss how one of my college teammates and roommates made it as a professional tennis player. His name is Peter Luczak and he reached number 64 on the ATP world rankings, beating several highly ranked players and reaching the 3rd round of the Australian Open twice. Many of you may not have heard of Peter, but to give you some context, if he was one of the world’s top 100 soccer players, he would be playing for Barcelona or Juventus. If he was the 64th richest person in the world, he would have a net worth of over $15 billion. He was at the pinnacle of one of the top 5 sports in the world!  


There is this kid I know who is a talented soccer player. He trains twice per week with his club, two hours at a time. On the weekend, he and his teammates get to the grounds an hour early to prepare for their league or cup match, and sometimes they may have up to four games over a two-day period.  All the players are very technically sound and understand how the game should be played. The team has three coaches and they trawl the sidelines during the games criticizing, correcting, reinforcing good plays, congratulating successful and unsuccessful attempts, but they all appear to be a little on edge throughout the duration of the match.

Everything is Amazing and No-one is Happy

What I find troubling is that a high percentage of collegiate tennis players are quite unhappy with their student-athlete experience. They get to their college campus full of excitement, a little scared and a lot clueless. They have been told that their college days will be the best days of their lives, but fail to understand that they can only be the best days of their lives if they are willing to go through some adversity. It seems to me that nobody wants to explain why college can be some of the best years of your life.


anuary, 2003: I’m sitting on a Cliffside, overlooking the east coast of Australia, contemplating my future as a tennis player. I just battled through four rounds of qualifying to make it to the first round of a futures event. Today, I was up a set, 5-4 40-0 and lost in three sets against the 4th seed. My elbow is throbbing, my back is bothering me and my first round losers paycheck will only cover two nights of hotel bills. Is this really worth it??