Thursday, April 24, 2014



For many years I have traveled with some exceptional players.  The very best of these players reached top 10 ATP and top 20 WTA rankings.  It was during these trips that I began to notice a certain quality that distinguished exceptional players from merely very good players.

I began to notice that regardless of the circumstances, these few exceptional players would come on-court, either in practise or for competitive matches and strike the ball cleanly and without error immediately. It would also continue from the first ball until the last ball. This may not sound that unusual but this would happen regardless of time, place, weather, occasion or equipment issues.  

It occurred to me that if I could find a way to develop this ability by a systematic training process I could be training the very essence of what holds back very good players from becoming exceptional players.

I developed a theory called the “3 AM Theory”.  The 3 am Theory assumes that if, say, Federer and Nadal were woken from a deep sleep at 3 am in the morning and instructed to play a tie-break, their reaction to having to play that tie-break and the level they would reach during that tie-break would be very different from the majority of players I work with each day. 

There are two key elements to the 3am Theory. The first element concerns mindset...

While most players would be thinking of the reasons why they would not be able to peak perform at 3am (stiffness, injuries, the need for a longer warm-up, not enough sleep, equipment problems…), Federer and Nadal would be thinking of how to take maximum advantage of the situation (He will not have warmed-up sufficiently, He will miss more 1st serves, He will not respond well to a net rush early in the tie-break, "I must start the tie-break well by hitting a high percentage of 1st serves and eliminate my unforced errors"…). This is a very unique mind-set. It's a mindset of taking responsibility and is empowering.

The 2nd element concerns the technical ability of the player...

Most players would also make a lot of errors at 3am when not physically or technically prepared.  Their timing might be "off". They would perhaps lose points early in the tie-break because of poor technique due to the limited preparation. A whole range of issues including timing, balance and control could contribute to too many errors.

My belief is that "If you can produce your best tennis under any situation you have mastery over your game" and you must obviously understand and be able to execute the elements responsible in making your game function properly. Your ability to recall these critical elements of your game will make you a much better player than you are today.

One of the ways I train “3 am” is by using the Nominated Player Game.

Before you start the drill decide what aspects you want to improve.  Go back and analyse your recent matches. What parts failed you during these matches. Be brutally honest! Some ideas could include:

  • Finishing the point better from the mid-court
  • Gaining a more confidend 2nd serve
  • Creating a more effective 1st serve
  • More consistent returns
  • Constructing the point better
  • Defending better
  • Being more offensive
  • Approaching the net more
(The options are really endless)

The drill requires two players to play points.  Our student of the 3 am Theory sits in a chair in the corner watching!  As the two “Player’s” play points, the coach waits for the opportunity to send the 3am student in to play a selected point “cold”.  

Imagine how you would feel coming in to play the points cold after sitting in the corner of the court for 5 minutes, and have to execute the very skill that you struggle with in matches.  Very tough. If you are asked to win points from the chair multiple times you begin to understand the most important element(s) necessary to achieve success with a particular skill, whether it's mental or technical. Recall that important element enough times and it becomes instinctive.

The crucial part is that you have to play points “cold”, without warming into your task. It will be the most productive time you ever spent sitting down!