GIVE ME A BREAK

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:

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1.     Having a sarcastic response to when the crowd applaud a mistake due to the fact that they are supporting one player more than another. The player on the receiving end of a partisan crowd will usually clap their racket and say something along the lines of “That was a really great shot I hit in the net, yeah well done, keep clapping”.

2.     Acting like you are a tough guy. I always get a kick out of tennis players acting like they are tough and up for a fight if their opponent says “C’mon!” at the wrong time or gives them the fist pump and stare down. Message to all tennis players: You chose to play a non-contact sport for a reason. You want no part of physical contact so stop pretending like you are tough!

3.     Responding with wide open arms like you are measuring an elephant’s trunk and saying “It was this far out” when your opponent questions a call that was 6.7 millimeters out.

4.     Saying “The score was closer than it looks”. You just lost 6/1 6/0, the score was not closer than it looked, the score is the score. You got one game, it is okay to say you got your butt kicked, and that your opponent was much better than you. Just because eight of the games went to deuce, and you had three breakpoints does not mean it was a close affair. Your opponent was the better player on all the points that mattered most, and for all you know, the games that went to deuce were because of your opponent’s boredom and inability to stay focused as they were winning so easily.

5.     Stop saying you have the worst forehand ever or some other version of this (serve/footwork/volley). If you are playing at a high level, such as a national tournament or futures event, your ratio of made forehands to missed forehands is probably quite favorable towards the made column. You are going to miss a few forehands, get over it, it doesn’t mean you have the worst forehand ever, and no one is going to take pity on you, especially the 2.0 player sitting in the stand wishing they could hit a tennis ball like you!

6.     Lastly, can we PLEASE stop taking bathroom breaks after we lose the first set? (Unless we REALLY need to go to the bathroom.) Coaches and parents; kindly stop encouraging this asinine practice. Every player I see now takes a bathroom break once they lose the first set because some “coach” told them this helps break their opponent’s momentum, and gives you time to regroup and gather your thoughts. And maybe this ploy actually worked once, or at least you think it did, and the coach felt validated by giving this brilliant piece of advice. So now the player does it every single time, not recognizing that they are going to win or lose the second set regardless of whether they take this ingenious bathroom break tactic or not. Isn’t this basically encouraging kids to cheat and take a break when they don’t really need to go to the bathroom? Aren’t you promoting the fact that they are not capable of gathering their thoughts in a two-minute changeover and need an extra minute of a bathroom break to take their 10 deep breaths? Well Dave, the pros sometimes do it. Well you are not a pro and just because they do it doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. Learn to handle losing the first set in the allotted time and don’t succumb to what everyone else is doing, I assure you they are not getting the upper hand!

Good grief, I need a bathroom break now just to cool off from this rant!

I encourage all tennis players to increase their consciousness around these responses to adversity on the tennis court, and understand what is helping them play better, and what is hurting their chances at playing their best. Your self-talk matters, I don’t believe like many, that it always has to be positive in the heat of competition. I believe that it has to be determined. I can be hard on myself in a way that takes energy away from my game and distracts me from my goal, or I can be hard on myself in way that refocuses me and makes me demand more from myself mentally and physically. They bring about two very different states of being.  

It is incredibly difficult to change your thoughts or behaviors if you are not aware of what you are doing. By just copying others or surrendering to the same patterns you have always followed you are doing little to nothing to improve your mental game. Which of these scenarios above that I have listed are you guilty of conforming too? Can you just start with these actions and become aware of when you are acting out in these ways; try to stop them and divert your attention back to the thought patterns and actions that will in fact help you play better. Maybe you can make your own list of behaviors that you believe are not helping you perform at a high level, and start working on them one by one to eliminate from your game. If you want to stand out to college coaches, or are already playing on a college team, this is one sure way to separate yourself from the competition. Coaches want to recruit and coach mature competitors, not toddlers that throw their toys out of the crib when things are not going their way.

Increase your self-awareness and in turn you will become a more resilient competitor and person. I have found reading about mindfulness, practicing meditation and writing in a journal the best ways to increase my awareness around my thoughts on and off the court. Learn to control your mind or it will most definitely control you!

Tennis Parent Question

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??”

DOES ANYONE REALLY KNOW HOW TO PRODUCE A CHAMPION

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.

HOW TO RAISE A HAPPY ATHLETE

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!  

STOP THE MADNESS

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.

WHY I FAILED AS A TENNIS PLAYER

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??

TALK, Talk, talk....

I recently heard a statistic claiming that roughly 70% of what Donald Trump presented to the American population during his presidential campaign, was, in fact, false. There is a lot of debate about what President Trump truly believes and what he just put out there to grab headlines in his bid to win the election.

This serves as a reminder that we are all guilty at times of some delusional dialogue about ourselves and our goals. Throughout my years of collegiate coaching, I listened to many bold statements from players, and I learned to become increasingly skeptical when I would hear these lines from recruits or players on my team.

The Three Neutral Phases

Unless you have a huge first serve or a blistering return of serve, your success as a tennis player is often going to be determined by the quality (pace & depth) of your neutral ball.

To me, a neutral ball is one that is not an obvious offensive position where you are equipped to end the point with a winner or even force your opponent into an error. It is also not a ball that puts you on flat-out defence where you are scrambling just to get the ball back in the court. A neutral ball is typically one that is just continuing the point without much drama. However, I think the ability to understand what phase of neutrality you are in will often determine your success as a tennis player.

"Hollywood Coaches"

We generally have a terrible tendency as coaches to coach in the same manner in which we were coached. We are often a generation or two ahead of our students, yet we expect them to respond to the same coaching style that we grew accustomed to many moons ago. When our students don’t respond in the way we expect, or handle the criticism the way we once did then we get frustrated and complain how this current generation just aren’t tough enough or are too lazy and apathetic.

Can We Have a Real Conversation About Tennis Nutrition

Last week I read an article about the 7 foods every tennis player should eat. It was the same age old sports nutrition 101 about eating pasta, chugging Gatorades, having energy chews on hand at all times, and, my all-time favorite, ensuring you have a chocolate milk to get that all important protein after practice. I can’t believe that this kind of garbage is still being pushed out to the general public, and I don’t understand why more people are not questioning these nutritional practices.