Wednesday, December 26, 2018

STRESS: YOUR ENEMY OR FRIEND?






There are a huge number of players out there, both tournament players and recreational players, who cannot handle the stress of competitive tennis. 

If you ask most players why they play tennis they will say because "it's fun". However the anxiety caused by trying to play at the level you know you can play at, but constantly letting yourself down by making silly unforced errors, is more like a type of torture!

It's the age old enemy of most tennis players... STRESS


In nearly every tennis environment we  are trying to teach our players how to either manage or avoid the stress which is part of our game.  It's stress that causes us to blow a match when we are leading by a set and a break. It's this same stress that makes us miss those easy forehand put-aways with the court wide open.



Traditionally we have tried to eliminate stress in players through a variety of methods.



We have tried breathing techniques that help re-direct our focus from the stress of the match. Breathing techniques can also assist us in slowing the heart rate down and therefore calming the mind. 

The problem is that the match is on-going and the stress continues to come at us in even greater waves, especially as the match comes to its climax. There's only so many breaths you can take before you begin to hyperventilate!

There are rituals we can use that we hope will wrap us up in an "other world" cocoon designed to help us forget the stress of the moment. But players can become too reliant on them, almost verging on being superstitious sometimes.

I've had players with rituals (read superstitions) about wearing the same pair of shorts for every match. The problem arises of course when they keep winning (proof the shorts are indeed lucky?), and the same unwashed shorts are being used for the 5th match in a row!

Taking more time between points to collect your thoughts, playing one point at a time... these are all good and can work with the right guidance around you.

I tried another method of dealing with the stress of tennis competition recently which I want to share with you. Perhaps it will work for you as well.

A player came to me wanting help to deal with stress in competition.  He knew his results should have been better if only stress did not effect his matches as much as they did. 


After watching him play points I started to believe that each time he got the opportunity to finish the point, and stress arose, he would "switch off" mentally to avoid the uncomfortable feeling that comes with stress. I also felt that he believed "switching off" mentally at these crucial times was a legitimate technique necessary to master his choking in matches.

He felt s
tress was the enemy and at the crucial moments of the point stress needed to be avoided for the winning passing shot, mid-court forehand or cross court winner to be successful.


I began to talk to him in a different way regarding stress. I began to talk about stress as a good thing, even something that we needed to use as a tool to help us in matches.


Here are the key changes I asked him to make mentally regarding stress in matches:

1. LEARN TO PLAY WITH STRESS...

There's no point in trying to ignore stress. The better you get the more stress there is. I'm sure you're not playing for your country yet, or playing in front of thousands on TV. Billie Jean King once said "Pressure is a privilege", meaning the better you get the more stress there will be. Learn to deal with it!


2. LET STRESS BE YOUR FRIEND...

Acknowledging stress as you play will keep you focused. Rod Laver once said "Play scared and never let up". Play scared! That seems like a strange thing to say but Laver understood that acknowledging the pressure and stress within the match will keep you honest. Let stress become your friend and use it as a tool to keep you focused throughout the match. 


3. STAY WITHIN STRESS...

Recognize the little subtle ways your brain tries to avoid the stressful moments. The passing shot that's just too ambitious. The forehand mid-court put-away that is hit too close to the line. There are many examples I see in matches where players have switched off too early mentally. This rush to switch the brain off becomes a habit the player uses to avoid stress. Force yourself to stay switched ON throughout the finish of the stroke. Take responsibility for the result by not switching off early!


4. TAKE YOUR MENTAL RESTS BETWEEN POINTS...

All this effort to embrace stress in every point with every stroke takes it's toll. It's not easy!

I like to think of this process as if you are exercising a muscle, the “stress muscle” in your head. The more you exercise it in every drill, every point of every match your stress muscle gets stronger and stronger. This is what the best players in the world have done. The stress levels of playing a Grand Slam final on TV in front of millions of people is the most stressful thing you could ever do. But these top players have exercised their "stress muscle" for years, 

Learn to take your rest periods between points to relax the "stress muscle" in your head. But when it's time to play the next point... SWITCH ON AGAIN!

Dealing with stress in competition is one of the biggest problems players face at all levels of our game. Try to change the way you understand stress and perhaps it will help you deal with it better as you play.


Friday, December 14, 2018

VISUALIZATION TECHNIQUES FOR TENNIS


IF the mind is such an important part of tennis, and it most certainly is, then visualization is one of the most effective methods of controlling the mind to think and react in the way we desire.

The action of visualization can change us from being sad to happy, from feeling cold to warm and from feeling hungry to satisfied.  The ways in which visualization can be employed are almost endless. 

In many ways we all use visualization in our lives without knowing it. We constantly play mental mind games to help us overcome moments during our day that come along  to test us.

I have seen these visualization "Mental Mind Games" work wonders on a tennis court to help players overcome their "demons", and to be equally effective in helping players to learn faster.

I have used three main visualization techniques over the years that have been very successful for me. These three techniques are:


  1. Evocative Role Model
  2. Evocative Phrase
  3. Evocative Animal

Here are actual examples I have used with players under my care.

  1. Evocative Role Model
Sunil (not his real name) had major confidence issues when competing. He was not able to play his best in competition because he became too stressed during matches and also had a very low level of self-confidence.

Training was helping, he was technically better than before and he now knew how to construct points better. But unfortunately when he played matches many of his old demons returned, especially if the match was close and he was under pressure. I needed something to give him to keep his mind positive and continue doing the topics we covered everyday in practice. I had to find a way to stop him reverting to his old negative ways.

I decided to give him an Evocative Role Model. This meant that he would have to come up with a player whom he admired a lot and who displayed the very same qualities he needed to adopt in matches himself.

I would then instruct Sunil to "become" that player. He would need to copy everything possible about that player, including his walk, habits, playing style and demeanour on-court. Most important though, Sunil would have to adopt the mental make-up of his Evocative Role Model.

Sunil decided to "become" Jimmy Conner's, one of the best players at that time and a player famous for his self confidence and courage under stress.

We needed to study Jimmy Connors a little, and we talked a lot about the energy and self belief Jimmy brought to the court in every match. We then went through a practice rehearsal on-court, trying to copy the mannerisms and mindset of Jimmy Connors. There was a lot of fun and laughter as we practiced our Evocative Role Model.

The transformation in matches was immediate. In our first ITF Junior tournament overseas Sunil went through the qualifying rounds and went all the way to the semi-finals.

The following week Sunil reached the final and had won the respect and admiration of the players and coaches on the circuit.

The final chapter of this story is equally important to understand. Eventually Sunil stopped being Jimmy Connors. It happened in a match in Pattaya, Thailand. Sunil was in a match and competing well until, for the first time in weeks, he stopped being Jimmy Connors!

A player will be able to adopt the Evocative Role Model for a certain length of time but eventually it will fade. By this time the player may have already become more able to maintain the mindset that you desired in the beginning.

If not, create a new Evocative Role Model and start again.

  1. Evocative Phrase
One of the greatest boxers of all time came up with a perfect Evocative phrase during the prime of his boxing career. Everyone has heard Mohammed Ali's "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" phrase. The genius of this phrase is that it does what all the best evocative phrases do... they evoke a feeling, an image and an emotion. They stimulate a response that can have an effect on a mental level and a physical level. 

Creating an Evocative Phrase requires you to sit with your student and find a phrase that evokes a positive change in your students reaction to a situation or a mental block regarding technique.

Having trouble staying mentally tough in tight matches? "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" might be the type of phrase that can help.

Come up with multiple phrases, mix and edit them until you end up with the phrase that touches the spot. Take your time. Getting the right phrase will evoke a strong emotion that will assist you in your matches or in accomplishing a particular technique.
  1. Evocative Animal
Similar to the previous two methods of visualization, Evocative Animal needs to stimulate an emotion and a positive response to help overcome a mental block in matches or in learning a technique.

The player must come up with an animal that will help them block the negative behaviour or response. 

Tina (not her real name) was developing her net game. Like all players who are new to net play she was having problems executing her new volley techniques AND being instinctive with her movement and positioning. 

Tina came up with an Evocative Animal that helped her mirror the demeanour she wished to copy when she was at net. She decided on a Tiger as her Evocative Animal. A tiger image helped her move quicker, change direction easier and close in on short volleys more instinctively, whereas previously these qualities seemed beyond her capabilities.

Visualization is a fun yet very effective teaching tool that can be used to overcome mental and technical issues. It can be used as a last resort back-up when all else fails or it can be used initially to assist a player understand a concept or physical action.

All coaches need to have visualization in their tool kit.




Tuesday, December 11, 2018

WRITING A PROPOSAL FOR TENNIS SPONSORSHIP



When tennis players begin to compete internationally the expenses involved in traveling overseas to events such as airfares, accommodation and food are quite high and put a significant strain on most family budgets. Players and their parents often try to off-set some of this financial burden by looking for sponsorship. 

Here are some important points to consider when approaching companies or individuals for tennis sponsorship.

It's important to put yourself in the shoes of the head marketing person of a big company. He/she are busy and any proposal you develop should be clear in what you want to happen. Don't presume that they know what you want. You need to tell them in a clear and precise way.

This marketing manager has a yearly marketing  budget which they have put together to gain maximum positive branding exposure for their company. 

This marketing budget will include advertising their companies services or products in newspapers, television and increasingly in the most popular social media platforms. This is essentially your competition... you are competing against these businesses for a piece of the company's marketing budget.

There may however be a part of the companies marketing budget set aside for sport, even perhaps specifically tennis.

I was lucky enough once to approach the car manufacturing company Volvo, very soon after Volvo distributors worldwide had been directed by their head office in Sweden to include tennis in their marketing efforts. This was just luck on my part but it's an illustration that you need to approach companies that already have an existing interest in sponsoring tennis or a history of sponsoring  tennis.  Also do some research as to what type of tennis sponsorship they participate in. Is it sponsorship involving individuals or events?

Once you have done this type of research and have identified a company involved in tennis sponsorship already it's still your responsibility to create a good proposal to help them decide whether you are a good "fit" for their marketing efforts.

Your proposal should include 3 important sections

  1. WHAT YOU WANT TO DO
  2. HOW MUCH MONEY YOU NEED 
  3. WHAT YOU WILL GIVE THEM IN RETURN
Here's what to include in each section...

  1. WHAT YOU WANT TO DO
In tennis terms this should include the number of tournaments you will play in for the following year (most sponsorship will be for a 1 year period), and the corresponding expenses involved in traveling to these events such as airfares, hotel accommodation, food and local transportation.

You can also include other expenses involved in travelling such as visa fees, tournament entry fees, stringing costs etc. Coaching fees and gym membership are other cost that you may want to include.

It will depend on how financially involved you feel the company wants to be in your tennis career.
  1. HOW MUCH YOU NEED
You don't have to be exact here. Try to find an average amount of all the above expenses and multiple by the number of tournaments you have decided to play in.

Once this has been done, round the figure up. Don't try to leave an exact amount to the last cent and certainly don't settle on an amount that could possibly run out before the end of your tournament year. If you have spent all the sponsorship money early it will be almost impossible to go back to the company asking for additional funds!
  1. WHAT YOU WILL DO FOR THEM IN RETURN
This will be important information for the marketing manager to take to his Board. He needs to show others within his company that there is value in you as a part of the company's marketing effort for the year.

You need to come up with ways in which you can promote the company through your tennis career.

Company logo's on your tennis shirts and shorts/skirts will give the company visibility at the tournaments you play in. 

Social media outlets such as Facebook. Twitter, Youtube and Instagram are excellent tools to get the message out about your results and your sponsors. Decide which social media outlet to use based on the companies customer demographics.   Include a social media presence in your proposal.

You should also be prepared to create written reports on a quarterly or half yearly basis. These reports need to demonstrate exactly how you are helping to promote the company's brand within the tennis community and your progress as a player (results).

Following this format outlined above will help you clarify your thoughts and allow the marketing manager to make an informed decision of whether you and the company are right for each other.