Showing posts with label Mental Training for Tennis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mental Training for Tennis. Show all posts

Saturday, December 14, 2019

TECHNIQUE ACHIEVED... WHAT'S NEXT?





“It’s important to develop your game beyond technique and towards feeling…

…with feeling, technique improves”



The quote above is important because what many players and coaches believe is that great technique is the end destination. The belief is that with great technique you have arrived. That’s far from the reality!



Great technique is really important. It’s part of  the armour that will protect you from the pressure that comes in high stakes tennis. Your game is much less prone to breakdown in matches because good technique is your firewall to the “bugs” your opponent is trying to hurt you with.


However great technique is only the framework to the overall “building” that will be constructed around your game.  Those other additional parts to the “building” include things like shot selection (which shot to play) and strategy (why that particular shot). These elements will give your overall games meaning and feeling.


Another problem with this technique above all else attitude is that players then spend hours working hard to try and perfect their technique on a cosmetic level (how it looks) and fail to develop it past the level of just hitting thousands of balls.



Social Media is full of crazy drills showing players being encouraged to hit and run faster and faster… drills with absolutely no relationship to what happens in a real tennis match.


Here’s a suggestion. Once you have mastered your stroke fairly well take it to the next level. Give it feeling. Here’s how…




LET’S START WITH MAKING YOUR TRAINING REALISTIC.



Many of the crazy video posts on social media show a player crushing the ball 30 times, moving from the centre of the baseline to a short ball and returning back to the baseline. There are cones to jump over or run around and the whole thing looks impressive from the clubhouse. However, this scenario seldom happens in a match. It’s visual bubble gym!


Is the player learning how to create this short ball? Is the player learning how to make decisions on which of these short balls to attack? Is the player learning which is the best target (shot selection) to hit to? The player is working on none of these things. Pleas don’t waste your time copying them.


Your drills in practice should mirror what happens in a real match. To give your game meaning and feeling your practice sessions should include the following elements:

·     Creating the type of situations (balls) you need to win the point. Usually this will involve working to create short balls or high balls or both short and high balls.



·     Now you’ve created an easier ball to attack on but often you’re still left with another decision to make, attack this ball or wait for a better opportunity on another ball?



·     You’ve created the ideal ball and you’ve made the decision to attack on this one… now you have a final decision to make… where to hit it! This will mostly depend on your opponent. You need to consider their strengths and weaknesses and also try to  keep yourself safe from your opponent’s counter-attack.


All these components are fundamental to you becoming a better player. Unfortunately, I can’t provide you with these decisions. You’ll have to learn to make them yourself based on trial and error



Your job is to practice drills and points that mirror each of these components everyday so that your decision making becomes fast and accurate and your execution of them becomes almost automatic.



One thing is for sure however, by practicing in this way you are elevating your game past the cosmetic level (what the stroke looks like) and past the level of hitting 30 times to the point of exhaustion (who hits 30 balls like that in a match anyway?) your game will begin to click into place and the results will come!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

STORIES AS A DAVIS CUP CAPTAIN





As a tennis coach there can be few experiences that equal sitting in the court as a Davis Cup Captain. You’re an integral part of the drama and at the core of the excitement. The fact is that you are communicating directly with your player at each changeover and therefore actively participating in the match.

The conditions we experienced in the different countries we visited varied greatly. We were drawn to play Kuwait in an early round of the 1990 Competition during the time of Ramadan, a month of fasting for Muslims around the world.  During the daylight hours you are expected to abstain from drinking and eating which would have been fine if we didn’t have to play the best of five sets in the hot desert sun.

The tie was broadcast locally live on TV and during the changeovers the camera would discreetly pan away from the players and into the crowd, allowing players from both countries to drink water!

The timing of our return home from that fixture against Kuwait was fortunately two weeks before Kuwait was invaded by neighboring Iraq, or we may have been trapped there during the hostilities.

In Iran one year the Thai Davis Cup team was jogging around the tennis complex warming-up before a practice session when a horrified groundsman came running up to us to ask us to cover our legs.  It seems it was improper for men to display their legs in public, even while playing sport.

On that same trip we were shown a far hill near the tennis complex with seating for about 6 people, This was the seating used by women to watch the tennis.  It was at least 200 meters up the hill and I guess had something to do with men’s bare legs again!

Crowds play a big part in Davis Cup ties, none more so than in our tie against Sri Lanka, also in 1990, when I was lucky to get off the court in one piece.

During the weekend of that tie there were 14 over-rules from the local umpire, all going against Thailand! On each overrule I got out of my seat to protest to the neutral ITF referee.  Sometimes my protest was brief but many times a full dispute developed.

In the middle of one particularly heated dispute, with the Sri Lankan crowd chanting obscenities at me, I happened to look up at the Thai section in the crowd and caught the eye of the President of the Thai Tennis Association, Khun Varin Pulsiriwong.  He gave me a sheepish grin and a look of “I’m glad you’re out there and not me”!

Having an input in the eventual result of some matches was thrilling; it was like captain and player competing as a duo.  I would use my tactical knowledge and the players would use their physical and technical skills.

Danai Udomchoke was playing an Iranian in Teheran during the opening singles match several years ago.  The local player was built like a bull, huge legs and incredible power in his shots.  Danai on the other-hand could have been mistaken for one of the ball boys!  (despite his small stature Danai was later to reach #77 on the ATP world rankings and was a great player).

I guess the Iranian crowd saw Danai enter the court and could smell victory, after-all their Thai opponent was so small and they were playing on home ground. The Iranian player had a large group of friends in attendance to witness what would be a comprehensive victory.

The first 2 games went by real fast with the Iranian blasting winners left and right.  Danai looked over at me wondering how to stem the flow of winners.  It also didn’t help that on every winner from the Iranian his friends would bang the tin fence surrounding the centre court in approval. The place was going nuts!

What I did next changed the match almost immediately.  At the next changeover I stood up from my courtside chair and applauded the Iranian as he came to sit down.  This guy was playing the match of his life, in Davis Cup competition and with his friends and family watching on from the stands.  He was literally playing on rocket fuel and now the opposition Captain was acknowledging his superiority! 

When the players returned to the court the Iranian began attacking the first point again, only this time his half-court forehand winner completely missed the court, hitting the back fence with a loud bang.  

On the next point he hit a backhand passing shot into the bottom of the net.  The tide had turned and Danai stormed back to win the match easily.  For the rest of the match the friends who had been so supportive in the beginning stopped banging the tin fence and fell silent.  The Iranians winners had dried up. 

Overall, I Captained Thailand 13 times in Davis Cup Competition.  I also Captained Thailand in Federation Cup, Asian Games and South East Asian Games competitions.  But it was the Davis Cup which was special to me and from where many of my best memories come from.


Thursday, September 26, 2019

COMMON COACHING PHRASES I USE ON-COURT




An important coaching tool I use every day is the repetitive use of phrases. These common phrases help the student and I stay on the “same page”. They can also be used to set the tone of the lesson in terms of intensity.


Here are some common phrases I use and the meaning behind them


 “COACH YOURSELF”!
Every lesson has a purpose and often that purpose is introducing new techniques or patterns to the player. Once the new technique or pattern has been explained I’ll most likely go straight to live points and challenge the player to reproduce the lesson topic while under pressure.

To do this successfully the player needs to recall the key parts of the new technique or pattern and what I tend to do often is gently nudge the player with “Coach Yourself”! I’m asking for self-awareness, self-discipline and I higher degree of focus from the player when I say this. 


 “YOU’RE BETTER THAN THAT”!
Rather than being a negative statement I use this phrase to demonstrate to the student that I believe in them and I believe in their ability.    

I’m telling them that I expect better and they should too!


“YOU’RE NOT HERE TO PRACTICE”!
This will sound strange I know! What I am trying to do with this statement is to get the message to the player that winning is important, even during our “practice sessions”. 

I don’t see any point in treating points during practice or tournaments differently.  Points are to be won… otherwise why play them?

Often the players I’m repeating this phrase to during practice sessions are having trouble competing in tournaments mentally. I’m attempting to change their mindset from “I’m practicing to improve” (Future) to “Points are to be won, not practiced” (Present).


 “HOW DOES THAT FEEL”?
I’m constantly asking players how they feel in practice because I desperately need their feedback on new techniques or patterns they are trying to adopt.

From their feedback I am able to either help them immediately with a solution, or stand back and let them continue to develop further at their own pace. 

I gain understanding from their answer. 


“DEMONSTRATE TO OTHERS WATCHING”
Often a player learning a new technique does so better when they are asked to observe themselves from “outside”, as a bystander would. This “observer” mindset helps them overcome their lack of confidence in performing the new technique correctly.

If they are applicable to the particular lesson I’m doing, I’m repeating these phrases often. I’d rather repeat the same thing often than talk non-stop on a variety of themes. That’s confusing for students. 

Be careful to always keep the scope of your on-court verbal instruction to a minimum if possible. The student has to focus on many things when they practice and therefore if your instructions are too frequent, they have no opportunity to self-learn.




Thursday, May 9, 2019

WHERE DO YOU SEND YOUR AWARENESS?




“THE ABILITY TO QUICKLY SHIFT YOUR AWARENESS AROUND TO DIFFERENT PARTS OF YOUR GAME IS A KEY TO PLAYING WELL”



You need the ability to shift your awareness around as you play. Each shot requires a slightly different focus, no stroke is the same.



Here are some of the main areas you need to send your awareness to as you play a match. Some of the areas I mention may surprise you. Tennis is not just about awareness of the ball and your opponent… there’s much more to tennis than that!



1.   Court Awareness

Because you are playing the ball from different places within the court you need to shift your awareness to where you are standing sometimes.



This is even more important when you are in less familiar territory such as very deep off the baseline or very wide on either side of the court.



When you are made to play from these “special” positions on the court, shifting your awareness to where you are standing will help you factor in the height of the net, the distance to the baseline and the type of spin required.



2.  Ball Awareness

The ball tells you everything. It tells you when to move back (for deep balls), when to move forward (short balls) and the timing you will need to adjust to (slow or fast ball)



Therefore, an awareness of the ball is critical to playing well



3.  Opponent Awareness

Opponent awareness covers both where you should hit the ball (hopefully where your opponent is not!) and the type of ball you should hit to your opponent (tactical)



Far too many players are concerned only with what THEY are doing. Developing opponent awareness will take your game to the next level.



4.  Racquetface Awareness

If I was only allowed to give just one tip to a player it would be… develop your awareness of your racquet head.



The racquet head is the surface the ball takes its instructions from. If a player has no feel or control of  their racquet head they will never reach a higher level



Great awareness of your racquet head is more important than footwork!



5.  Self-Awareness

To play well you must be constantly monitoring yourself.

Awareness of your technique, confidence levels, fitness levels and the type of strategy you are using are all important during a match




Wednesday, April 3, 2019

LEARN FROM ROD LAVER





MY FAVOURITE PLAYER  GROWING UP WAS ROD LAVER. 

What I admired most about "Rocket" was that he was just a normal guy, humble, down to earth and hard working.

During his career Laver was known for his ability to play his best tennis when it mattered most. He hardly ever lost a five set match.

Here are 2 ways for you to learn from Rod "Rocket" Laver:

#  1  Stay focused in the present. Allowing your mind to get too far ahead or beating yourself before you get on the court can be disastrous. Avoid the internal mind games by sticking to tactics and don't allow yourself to lose focus on executing them throughout the match.

Laver built up a reputation during his career of coming up with something special when a match got tight. Begin building your legacy in tight situations!


#  2  Simulate match pressure during practice sessions:  Train in a similar way to what you will experience during competition. 

Laver and many of his peers trained under the legendary Australian coach Harry Hopman. In his day Harry Hopman revolutionized  the way tennis was trained. He insisted on each one of his players being extremely fit, far beyond the norm during that era.

In matches Hopman was also famous for telling his players to "Relax and hit for the lines". 

This is how Laver trained under Hopman both as a youngster and while he was on top. By adopting a similar attitude and work ethic in your training also, you will be able to better handle yourself under difficult conditions in real matches.    

Monday, March 25, 2019

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY!



A coach can only do so much with a player who is experiencing destructive mental issues related to tennis competition.

Players who find competition mentally too much to handle and suffer from choking, low levels of self confidence or an inability to close out important matches are generally the victims of their environment. They are reflecting the environment they live in everyday when they compete in matches.

Prolonged and repeated negative mental issues in matches when competing as a junior player, also continue to be a problem for the player much later in life, even though the environment which has caused the mental issues in the first place might have changed for the better.


Considering a majority of competitive junior players suffer from an almost crippling mental war inside their heads, it would be fair to say that a majority of players never fully reach their true potential.

It therefore becomes clear that the  environment we grow up in when we start our tennis is critically important. 

Coaches can sometimes merely inherit the mental problems of their students, although in some cases coaches actually add to, or at worst create the negative mental issues.

This article therefore is for Parents and Coaches who need help in understanding how to avoid their child or student developing mental issues related to competition in the first place. It can also be a reference in how to handle players who have already developed issues mentally and ultimately how to reverse the problem.


A father recently messaged me while on his way to a tournament with his son. They were on their way to play the first day of the Nationals.

The stress in the car must have been considerable because his son had asked his father "What if I lose"?

His father had messaged me asking "What should I tell him"?

The most important thing for Parents and Coaches to remember is that in order to play at their best a player must enjoy the process of playing. Enjoyment unlocks the mind and allows you to perform to your potential. Any form of mental contamination will hurt your performance.

The root causes of contamination are broad but can include unrealistic expectations, unrealistic pressure, low self esteem, low self confidence and fear.

In my experience most of this is picked up by young players from the people they want to please the most, parents and coaches. It is therefore important to know now that what you say as a parent or a coach becomes extremely powerful... the emotion you send to a young player within your comments is magnified 5 times!

 IF YOU THINK THE SUBTLE COMMENT YOU JUST MADE WAS NO BIG DEAL, MAGNIFY IT BY FIVE TIMES... NOW TELL ME IT WASN'T MEANT TO HURT OR PUT STRESS ON THE CHILD!


I prepare myself to react to situations around players. I prepare for possible questions that may come, either in a few moments or in several days. I'm ready.

I also react to questions or situations in the third person. Often I observe myself speaking to a player from the perspective of the third person, monitoring my words, my tone and my body language.

Timing is important. Don't bring up possible stressful topics around stressful times, before or after matches for example. I'm not saying tough topics can't be discussed. I'm saying be smart with when you bring them up. 

DEVELOP EMPATHY FOR YOUR CHILD OR STUDENT

Parents often ask me what they can do that makes a real difference to their child's tennis. By monitoring how you act and what you say around your child you will create an environment whereby a happy, competitive player emerges. This is the single most important  ingredient in developing a successful player.

With enough awareness and empathy you will also be able to correct unwanted behavioural problems that have already developed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

4 STEPS IN UNDERSTANDING & MASTERING CONTACT: "Late & Early"





Lesson 1: LATE & EARLY CONTACT...

When you hit a ball with late or early contact, that can be a positive thing or a negative thing, you either did it on purpose or by mistake, 

Let's look at late and early contact in the positive sense first...


To master the tennis rally you need to be able to direct the ball both down the line and cross court at will. This is where the ability to hit late and early on purpose is crucial.


If you contact the ball early within the contact zone the ball will go cross court.  





If you contact the ball late within the contact zone the ball will travel down the line or inside out ( depending on how late you hit the ball)



This is the positive aspect of late and early contact.

However, most players think of late and early contact in the negative sense. This is when they struggle with timing the ball in the right spot within their contact zone.

Here are some reasons you may be hitting the ball late unintentionally:


  1. Your arms dominate your swing
All swings should start in the ground, it supplies the timing and power for your stroke. If you are not injecting "Ground" into your stroke as you start the swing then you are asking your arms to generate timing and power, neither of which the arms are able to do as well as the legs when interacting with ground.

  1. You don't begin your swing from the ground first
Sometimes you might be under pressure to set up "Ground" because the ball is either too deep or too fast for you ( or too deep AND too fast at the same time) to prepare.

This will lead to timing problems and invariably late contact.
  1. Your swing is manufactured and not practical
Another common reason for late or early contact mistakes is a players' fixation with producing "copy book" form.

Most early stages of tennis coaching involves showing the new student where to take their backswing and where to finish their follow through

The problem with this type of coaching is that it does not take into account the ball!

These players then continue trying to produce the "perfect" backswing and follow through on all balls, rather than "reading" each ball and adapting to the situation. 

In summary, 

1. Train yourself to be able to change the direction of the ball by adjusting the contact point.

2. Also, be adaptable to each and every ball by adjusting your backswing and follow through according to the properties of the ball you are hitting.

By working this first of 4 Steps in Mastering & Understanding Contact you will gain greater control and feel for this important fundamental.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

MARTINA HINGIS: "THE SWISS MISS"



In 2005 Martina Hingis decided to make a come-back to professional tennis.  Martina had walked away from tennis in 2002 after a career that saw her rise to number 1 in the rankings and stay there for a total of 206 weeks. She captured 15 Grand Slam titles which included 5 singles, 9 women’s doubles and 1 mixed doubles titles.

Martina’s first match back was going to be the Pattaya Women’s Open, held annually in the seaside resort town of Pattaya, Thailand.  The tournament is owned and run by an old friend of mine Geoffrey Rowe.  Geoffrey has been running women’s events in Thailand for many years and Thai tennis owes him a huge debt of thanks.  It was his wild card into the Pattaya Women’s Open that gave Tamarine Tanasugarn her big opportunity to break into the WTA Tour.  Ironically “Tami” under-performed in Pattaya for many years after her break through there, perhaps due to the pressure of playing in front of her Thai fans.

Each year Geoffrey asked me to help with sparring partners for the women participants.  Hingis was scheduled to arrive into Pattaya 10 days early in order to prepare. 

I took two male players with me to Pattaya, Alex Korch, a Canadian who had been training with me for the past few months, and Anuwat Dalodom, a Thai player who was in his last year as a junior.

The first training session certainly made it clear this was not going to be like any other training session we had done before.  There were television crews all the way from Europe filming her every move. Throughout the week we changed courts often and everywhere we went in Pattaya there were crowds of spectators watching our practise. 

I had also allowed my daughter, Isabella, to sit and watch at courtside. Early into the practice Isabella had made a noise that drew the attention of Martina’s mother Melanie. Melanie Molitorova was on-court for every session and she made it clear that there was to be no distractions at courtside during practice sessions. 

On-court Martina was the consummate professional, focused and hard working.  It was a great opportunity for me to see her game up close and to talk to her about her game.  It was obvious that Martina’s mother had a big part to play in getting her to the top.

Martina was drawn to play the German, Marlene Weingartner in a first round evening match of the tournament and a capacity crowd gathered to watch.  

When the match started Martina was clearly the better player and raced away to a handy lead in the first set.  What happened next was one of the most bizarre incidents I have ever witnessed in my many years of watching tennis.  

During a point Weingartner popped up a high defensive lob and Martina hit a confident smash to finish the point.  However the smash hit the courtside scoreboard, sending the metal letters and numbers flying in all directions.  

Play stopped while the young Thai ball-boy replaced the metal plates on which the letters are painted.  Unfortunately the ball boy began struggling with the surname Weingartner and made several failed attempts to get the name right, much to the amusement of the large crowd.  By the time the ball-boy had made his fifth attempt at Weingartner  (without success), the crowd were hooting with laughter.

The only person not laughing was Marlene Weingartner.  She was being beaten badly in the match by Martina Hingis and now even her name was receiving ridicule from the crowd. She must have felt very disrespected!

When the match finally resumed Weingartner began to go for her shots.  She was hitting everything as hard as she could and everything was going in.  She seemed to have overcome her slow, hesitant start and was now playing like someone who not only thought she was worthy to be on the same court as Martine, but should also win the match!

Marlene Weingartner went on to win the set and the match thanks to some old fashioned controlled aggressive anger.  The Hingis come-back had suffered a major set back.

Despite her loss in the Pattaya Women’s Open Hingis did go on to win 3 more singles titles before retiring again a few years later.  Alex, Anuwat and I were privileged to spend time with her on and off court during her time in Pattaya. 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

STOP UMPIRING... YOU'RE A PLAYER!






It's really important to have a sharp competitive mindset if you want to be successful in matches. In my practice sessions I encourage players to compete in everything they do. 

In my sessions most drills have a "Finish", meaning the players are required to play the point out at the end of every drill. By practicing this way I am attempting to change the mindset of players who are having trouble competing successfully in tournaments.

By practicing under this highly competitive atmosphere everyday the players become comfortable competing. It becomes natural for them.

But there is always another ingredient I must insist on during these practice sessions, and it's just as important.

I need to tell players to be PLAYERS FIRST, UMPIRES SECOND!

You see it often... players who are returning serve more concerned with calling the serve in or out. It's their first priority! They are literally putting their return of serve "On Hold" until they know if the ball has gone in or out.

Obviously if your first priority is to call the ball in or out you're not preparing to return the ball with 100% focus. There will be a delay in the preparation of the return.

Sometimes in juniors you can get away with being in an "umpires mode", but in seniors you will need to be 100% in "players mode",  or you won't get the ball back!

You also see the "umpire mode" in effect when there is a deep ball close to the baseline during a rally. Instead of positioning and preparing the themselves for the shot, the player is in frozen "umpire mode", and their focus firmly in calling the ball in or out! 

You can hear me shouting to players during the first few days of camps and clinics I conduct "STOP UMPIRING"!, "YOU'RE A PLAYER, NOT AN UMPIRE"! and "FOCUS ON BEING A PLAYER, YOU CAN BECOME AN UMPIRE ONCE YOU RETIRE"!

I'm trying to establish the "Player first" mentality and thus encouraging preparation for each and every shot, not in calling balls in or out. This small detail will improve the level of the return of serve quickly and replace a negative habit that was harming the players return game, with a positive one.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A MENTAL ROADMAP FOR MATCHES



A player involved in a match and trying to play smart tennis is constantly assessing a variety of factors when trying to maintain their good momentum or make significant changes in the match because they are behind on the scoreboard.

If a player feels they are losing the battle either technically, tactically, physically or mentally, there needs to be a process each player can go through to make those necessary changes. As a Davis Cup and Federation Cup captain I often had to go through this mental process myself in order to turn a match around by adjusting the way my player was competing.

Those adjustments came about after a process that involved accurately reading the situation and deciding what needed to change (or in some cases to not change at all) and putting those changes to the test during the match.

Here is that process in detail:

1.     EXPLORE (Analyse)
This is the stage where, if there is a change of strategy needed, the player explores the possibilities. At the same time as they compete in the match every player needs to monitor a variety of "aspects". The particular aspects I like to monitor are called "The 8 Opposites". The 8 Opposites can be used to exploit weaknesses in the opponent.

I have dealt with this subject previously within the “The 8 Opposites” blog article.  The “8 Opposites” involve the variables of High v Low, Wide v Tight, Fast v Slow and Up (net) v Back (baseline). The opponent’s preferences need to be assessed as the match progresses and a specific strategy designed to exploit the weakness you have identified.


2.   EXPLOIT (Plan)
The player now needs to exploit the perceived weakness by devising a plan. Within each of the 8 opposites every player will have a preference. Opponents will prefer one of the two options, High or Low, Wide or Tight, Fast or Slow and Up and Back.

This step should involve designing a plan based on The 8 Opposites. Whatever the perceived weakness of the opponent, it needs to be exploited.

3.   EXECUTE (Just do it)
Now the new tactics need to be executed on-court. The player needs to put the new changes to the test within the match. Experienced players will execute new strategy swiftly, accurately and with conviction.

4.   ADAPT (continue to monitor the situation)
Matches are constantly in a state of flux. What was working early in a match may not be working now, after-all the opponent could be going through a similar process of analysis and creating fresh tactics when facing defeat. 

Players must constantly stay aware of the developments within the match.

 EXPLORE......EXPLOIT.....EXECUTE....ADAPT
  
This whole process must continue throughout the match if momentum is to be maintained or if you have to change a losing situation into a winning one.