Saturday, January 26, 2019

FUN WITH THE LANGUAGE AND THE THAI NATIONAL ANTHEM STORY!





The huge billboard on the expressway to Bangkok’s old Don Muang airport always made me chuckle.  I could picture the Thai workers diligently putting it up in the hot sun, but not really knowing too much about its message.  The picture was of a muscular guy standing proudly in his underwear, six pack tensed and with the caption below reading MEN  SUNDERWEAR”.  



For several years I entered my apartment block where a sign on the front door asked those who entered to be “QUITE PLEASE”.  This was a sign brought from a business supply store and I can only imagine that several thousand of these erroneous signs were sold around Thailand.  



I often wonder why many of these businesses didn’t have the English checked before putting signs up in public, like the restaurant near my home with the street sign out front saying “BOND STEET STAEK HOUSE” and the donation box for stray street dogs announcing “MEN’S BEST FRIENDS NEED HELPS”. 


Another donation box I saw recently in a local department store asked people to “DONATE TO THE MENTALLY RETARDED”! 


Some advertisements can be so politically in-correct as to be off the charts.  Like the advertisement in the back of a motor-rickshaw in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Some entrepreneurial people had got their hands on discarded rocket launchers from the war and created a unique business.  The sign in the rickshaw read “ROCKET LAUNCHER FIRING RANGE: YOUR CHOICE OF TARGET, CHICKENS OR COWS”.  I only hope the cow at least had a chance to run away. 


Some food menu’s can really make you think twice or at least consider what you are about to eat.  The “NOODLES (THICKEN SOUP)” sounds tasty but may have been tough to swallow. 


For years my name appeared in Davis Cup programs and on my team tracksuit as Pual Dale. 


But the laughs can happen both ways.  I have also had my share of embarrassing gaffs with the Thai language. 


I was presenting tennis awards to a large group of young players once and announced a girls name incorrectly.  As soon as I said her name I saw a horrified look descend over the entire gathering.  Instead of pronouncing her name correctly I had mixed my tones up (Thai is a tonal language) and instead of saying her name I had described the act a lowering a coffin into a grave.  Not a good thing in ghost sensitive Thailand! 


I also got things horribly wrong many years ago when I was learning to speak Thai.  I was particularly keen to learn the Thai National Anthem so that I could sing along with my players at the opening of International tennis events. 




My wife taught me The Thai National anthem which I was able to memorize ok, but I didn’t know the meaning of the words. 


The first chance I got to actually perform the song to a live audience was in Pakistan for Davis Cup.  Both teams were assembled along one service line and the national anthems were played while the crowd stood silently as a mark of respect.  As the Thai National anthem started up I was pretty confident I could go through the whole song without a problem.  I could also sense that some members of the crowd were watching me to see whether or not this foreign coach could speak Thai or knew the words to the national anthem. 


I began to sing but immediately realized the words I was singing were not the same as the rest of the team.  The player to my right Narathorn Srichaphan, gave me a sideways glance which caused me to stop singing.  


It turned out that my wife had taught me the words to a children’s nursery song which went something like “Chang, chang, chang, chang, chang, nong koey hen chang lue plaow”? This roughly translates into “Elephant, elephant, elephant, elephant, elephant, young boy have you seen an elephant before”? Very embarrassing at the time!

So, while I see Thais' butchering the English language all the time I think back to my embarrassing  first attempt at the Thai National anthem knowing that it's not an easy thing to learn a second language! 








Thursday, January 17, 2019

THE KILLER CALLED DOI SUTHEP


Whenever the Thai National tennis teams trained for an important event such as Asian Games or SEA Games, we often traveled to the northern Thai province of Chiang Mai.  

Training up in Chiang Mai helped the players by getting them away from the distractions of Bangkok. It was also ideal because of the opportunity it gave us to run up Doi Suthep, the mountain that overlooks Chiang Mai. 

It’s a daunting run but it always meant that my players were in the best possible shape when competition time came around. Doi Suthep was our endurance building block and I would see the benefits of all the hard work done in Chiang Mai come out in the important matches later.

We had two alternative morning runs in Chiang Mai, Either a lap of the city or part way up Doi Suthep. These morning runs were always competitive and although I would be first on the runs in the beginning of our sessions in Chiang Mai, after a week the players would be running past me and I would be finishing back in the pack!  

Running Doi Suthep was one of the toughest runs I have ever done but there were other runs almost as tough.  

Marina Beach in Chennai, India, was difficult because of the length of the beach (reportedly the second longest in the world) and the extremely soft sand that made it difficult to get a good footing. But Doi Suthep was tougher.  As you climbed higher up Doi Suthep the air also became thinner and the incline steeper.  It was every bit as much a test of character as it was a test of fitness.

I can honestly say that I remember my runs in the various countries I visited with better recall than the matches played there. 

While in Tel Aviv, Israel I went running through the streets with a female player I was coaching on the tour at that time.  We unfortunately got lost and as darkness began to fall she began to panic, fearing that we would be stranded miles from our hotel with no way to find our way back. After many wrong turns and numerous stops to ask for directions we eventually did make it back to the hotel! 

While I was still playing competitive tennis in New Zealand I had a regular Sunday run from the township of Bluff at the very southern most tip of New Zealand, to Invercargill.  My Mother would drive me to Bluff early on a Sunday morning and I would run the 15 miles back home. It seemed to always be either cold, wet or windy, and often all three conditions on the same day was the norm. 

Over the years I must have run around Lumpini Park in the centre of Bangkok several hundred times.  It was never boring as the thousands of people in the park kept you motivated with their running styles, unusual running attire and crazy warm up routines.  

You had to plan your run in Lumpini Park so that you finished before 8:00am or that you started after 6:00pm so that the playing of the Thai National Anthem didn’t break your run. The whole park would stand still as a mark of respect for 2-3 minutes. As soon as the National Anthem was finished the whole park would again snap back into action once the music had finished. 

This ritual is repeated at the same time in parks and government buildings everyday, mornings and evenings, throughout Thailand.

But for sheer difficulty Doi Suthep was the toughest. It was a true test of character and fitness but it made sure that Thai teams during my time as Thai National Coach were the fittest in the competitions we were part of.  I’m glad I don’t have to do that run anymore.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

THE STRANGER AT COURTSIDE: TOKYO 1988

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In 1988 I had landed the role as Chinese Junior National Team Coach.  4 boys and 4 girls were selected from throughout the country and were trained for two months inside mainland China. This was the beginning of China’s emergence back into the international tennis mainstream after years of isolation.  We later played junior ITF tournaments in Jakarta, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Also on the trip was a Thai team under the management of a local ex-pat Gordon U.E Martin.  Gordon was a true tennis fanatic. Gordon helped put Thai tennis on the map in the early days by bringing  professional tennis to Thailand and starting ITF junior events for the first time. Those early ITF Junior events started by Gordon are still held annually each year. 

Gordon was particularly interested in the history of Asian tennis and after years of research he eventually published the Asian Tennis Encyclopedia. The book is still the definitive history of tennis in the Asian region.

Gordon and I spent a lot of time together on the trip and he was fascinated by my Chinese players as he seemed to have a real interest in things Chinese.

It was in Tokyo that my story takes place.  One evening as the matches were finishing for the day I was making my way back to the clubhouse and to catch the bus back to the tournament hotel.  It was bitterly cold but I noticed Gordon on the back courts watching a late match being played under lights.  

I approached him and he was quick to introduce me to the only other spectator watching the match. Gordon explained that he and the stranger at courtside has struck up a conversation while the man was watching his son. They discovered that they knew each other from years earlier in New York. Gordon used to buy his breakfast at the diner this man worked at and now they had met at courtside in Tokyo!

The three of us stood talking as the man’s son played his first round match.  The boy wasn’t bad either, a bit too laid back to ever make it at the top level but a solid player. The stranger was Mr. Sampras and his son Pete went on to have a fairly decent career winning 15 Grand Slam singles titles.

A few years later I met Pete's older brother, Gus in L.A.  My colleague David Nelson and I were meeting Gus to try and establish a link with their new company Pure Sports Management. We wanted to join with them in nurturing and manging top Asian tennis talent.

I related the story to Gus that day and he believed that it would have been one of Pete's first overseas trips, and that his father probably didn't attend another tournament Pete played in for at least another decade!

Two years later Pete Sampras won the US Open Singles title.

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. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

VETERANS DOUBLES: 7 TIPS TO BOOST YOUR GAME


It's a thrill for me to coach veteran players. Veteran players are all so open  and receptive to the lesson. Perfect students!

Because tennis singles is such a physical game, doubles is the most popular form of tennis for veteran players. 

Here are 7 doubles tips for veteran players that will help boost your game immediately.

1.   Serve Wide
When you start the point serving wide you are positioning your opponent off-court from the first ball.  The Returner now has 3 options, a more difficult cross-court return, a risky attempt at a down-the-line passing shot or a lob. 

All 3 of these options put you the server at an advantage!

2.   Keep the Ball Low
This will help in two important ways… it limits your opponents' ability to attack the ball and will also provide you with many more opportunities to attack the resulting high balls (high volleys & overheads)

3.   Get Fitter
One of the biggest factors in Veterans Tennis is the physical limitations that come with age. Speed, strength, endurance and recovery time are all factors that affect your performance. 
Commit to getting in better shape.

4.   Dominate Cross-court
The team that dominate the cross-court contest will dominate the match. Dominating the cross-court exchange forces your opponents to change direction down the line or to lob, both play into your hands!

5.   Make Your Opponents Lift the Ball
Look for ways to force your opponents to lift the ball. Think "one-two punch" by either keeping the ball low or hitting to your opponents’ feet. Both these tactics will force your opponents to lift the ball. 
Any ball that you can contact high puts you in an attacking position .

6.   Focus on the Serve and Return
The two most important shots in doubles are the serve and the return. In both cases, if you serve or return well, you will be giving yourself an excellent chance to win the point. When serving, focus on getting a high percentage of first serves in play.
When returning, focus on consistency, getting lots of balls back into play. consistent returning puts pressure on the serving team.

7.   Keep Their Feet Deep
If you are playing a very strong team, or any team for that matter, its important to keep their feet deep in the court when they hit the ball. If your opponents are hitting their shots while standing inside the baseline, chances are that they are dominating the match. 

Keep their feet deep and make them play their shots from behind the baseline.

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.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

HOW MANY CHANCES DO YOU NEED?




I WOULD HAVE A VERY GOOD CHANCE OF BEATING ROGER FEDERER… if I was given multiple chances to correct and replay any shots I didn’t like.

Here’s an example. If I was given multiple attempts at all first serves and was able to select the one serve that I liked the most amongst my many attempts, my service game against Roger Federer would probably be good enough to hold my own.

Expand that concept to every shot I play and allow me to (1) Prepare for his shot with much better preparation (I now know where it’s going and the speed and the angle of the ball because I have already seen it) (2) Make correct decisions on where and how I want to play the shots, and (3) Technically perform the shot perfectly. With multiple chances I have a very good opportunity to beat Federer.

Now you are saying “but nobody has the luxury of taking shots again” and you would be correct. But let’s look at why this “2nd Chance” scenario is important to understand for both Coaches and players.

When Federer plays a match he almost never needs a “2nd Chance”. His game and the games of the other top players are almost 100% correct most of the time in terms of their decision making and the their execution of the shot. 

And this is where every player trying to take their game to a higher level can learn from this “2nd Chance” concept. 

You may already have the technique and strategic thinking to be able to play amazing tennis and to be ranked well above your present position in the National or ITF rankings. But the speed at which your brain processes information during a match only allows you to operate at 50% of your optimum ability. The other 50%, which would give you massively better results, is absent because YOU DON'T THINK FAST ENOUGH OR CLEAR ENOUGH!

I see this all the time when working with developing players. These young players, if given multiple opportunities to correct and improve their shots or decisions would perform overall MUCH better.

So what are the lessons to be learnt from the “2nd Chance” concept?

ALL MISTAKES IN A MATCH ARE ULTIMATELY MENTAL MISTAKES


The top players think faster, sending their awareness to the key elements that make each specific shot work best. The lesson to take away from the “2nd Chance” scenario is that you as a player must train to think faster and more accurately in order to play at your optimum level, a level which is already present inside you.

Training the brain to think faster, like most things in tennis, should happen on the practice court. 

You'll need to break your practice into two mindsets. The first mindset is "The decision you make" in the various situations during the points and the second mindset is "The technique you employ" for each individual shot. 

It's not necessary to analyse every shot you play, just the times you make an error. By working together, both player and coach can decide which was the culprit, the decision or the stroke. The player must work very hard to mentally retain the feed back from mistakes during these practice points and try to perform the particular situation better each time. 

Here's an example... 

the player has made a mistake on a running forehand. The error could be based on poor shot selection. Instead of playing the shot down the line he/she should have played the higher percentage shot, cross court.  

But let's imagine the error is a technical one. The player is not giving the ball enough spin to keep it in. The passing shot is going over the baseline without enough arc. By making a few technical adjustments the shot begins to go in. 

In both examples, over a period of time the player is practicing each day with the goal of making quicker and more accurate decisions. He/she is also learning to send their focus to two of the most important aspects of playing matches well, decision making and technique. 

Comment below... What do you do, either as a player or coach, to optimize the full potential of your game?