Thursday, September 26, 2019


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

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. 

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!

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).

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. 

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.

Monday, September 23, 2019


AS A COACH THE LANGUAGE I use is important. Something said the wrong way on court can have a negative effect on the player, while compliments tend to have a more positive effect.

I use the “X SIX principle” when talking to players on-court or whenever they have just finished their match. 

The “X SIX principle” means that anything you, say either as a parent or as a coach, is magnified by six times in the head of the player. It is therefore always important to filter your comments through the X SIX “filter” and imagine how your comment will be perceived if multiplied six times.

An example could be if, as a coach or parent you remarked that the player had missed many first serves in the match (which could be completely correct), and told the player this soon after their match. The result of that comment could be disastrous (remember the X SIX Principle) because the player could take the comment as a personal attack on them and their ability. Done repeatedly over time, these seemingly harmless comments around the practice court and during tournaments create a poor dynamic between the parent and their child.

Examples of this breakdown in the relationship between parents and their children are plentiful in tennis.

So, what to do?

Every young player, and many players not so young, want their parents to be parents first, and not their coach. They need separation from their tennis careers and their family life.

After a long day training or playing matches the player wants a safe space to relax. They may have played well or poorly that day but they don’t want to review the whole stressful account of the day in the car going home. They need the ride home to be their safe place.

As a parent, continually getting involved in a post-match autopsy that goes over every negative part of the match will at the very least turn the child off tennis and competing, but a much more serious outcome is that it could permanently hurt your relationship with your child.

Another unwanted outcome is that your criticism will eventually creep into your child’s demeanor during matches in multiple ways that could include forms of fear, anger issues and a general lack of motivation.

Here’s a two-step method for every parent to follow to help eliminate these negative issues already present in their child or to stop them developing in the first place:  

Be a Parent First
I remember my daughter being on court in matches and thinking how lucky I was to have a healthy, motivated daughter participating in sport. I used to think of how many children in the world that didn’t have the same opportunity to play tennis because of health issues or the fact that they had to grow up in a country where war or poverty restricted their ability to live normal lives. And here was my daughter playing tennis! Be eternally grateful for the opportunity to watch your child play tennis!

Use The “X Six” Filter
Before you make any comment to your child about tennis (at home or around the courts) use the “X SIX” filter on what you are about to say.

Do this by running your comment through in your head before you speak. Still want to say it? Ok, go ahead… otherwise put your comment away and leave it out. As you start to do this you will find that many of the things you would have said previously to your child regarding their tennis really didn’t need to have been said at all.

It’s not easy being a tennis parent and there are no manuals to help you know what and what not to do. Define your role as a parent (not as a coach). Apply the X Six filter to your communication whenever the subject of tennis comes up and your child will develop into a mentally well balanced competitor.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


I’m not a fan of using repetition to practice when training players. I use repetition drills very rarely. Repetition drills are when a player has to hit many balls one after the other, either from a basket feed or with someone at the other end giving you the same ball.

Repetition drills contain very little that is similar to match-play. I understand it looks good to people watching the lesson from a distance outside the court and on Instagram posts but repetition drills offer very little to players wanting to develop a new technique or pattern for their next match.

Often coaches feel that they have done their job by showing the student the new technique and then drilling it many times through repetition. They believe the transfer of information (the new technique being taught) from practice court to match court should happen automatically and is the players responsibility.

This is false. It’s the coach’s job to introduce the new technique AND to create a “Bridge” to match-play so that the player can integrate what they have been taught.

Part of creating that “Bridge” is the ability to recall the key elements of the new technique.  By training the recall abilities of the player you are ensuring a smooth transition from practice court to match court.


I focus mostly on training a player’s RECALL of a new stroke or match-play pattern. Here’s an example which can be used by you for any stroke or pattern you desire…

“John” was trying to improve his serve so that it’s a bigger weapon and can do more damage to his opponent in matches.

I worked with John on his front foot, in the knowledge that a technically better front foot will improve his timing, feel and power, and that will translate into a much better service weapon.

This is the stage I deviate from conventional training methods. Many coaches would have John hit from a basket, perfecting the serve and the front foot in particular for the remainder of the lesson.

This is the “Repetition Method” of teaching a stroke. With basket repetition the player is solely practicing technique by means of muscle memory.

Training a player using the “Recall Method” is different and much more effective than the repetition method, especially later when the player needs to use the technique in matches and under pressure.

Here’s how I trained John’s ability to Recall the key elements of the front foot. There were 5 key components I used that you need to be aware of when training your players:

1.    Common Errors

John and I took note of the common errors that were occurring as he tried to implement the improved front foot during the serve. 

One of those common errors was his tendency to shift his weight onto, and off his Front Foot too quickly during the serve. John was rushing the technique and needed to spend more time on top of his front foot during the service motion.

By identifying the most common errors that occur the player can focus on these common errors and be more aware of their remedies

2.  Strengths and Weaknesses

I asked John which service target was his least preferred option when serving and he told me it was the serve down the “T” (middle) on the deuce side.

This is where we focused our attention mostly in the drills and points that followed.

Make the player aware and practice those vulnerable parts of a player’s new technique that have the potential to cause problems later in matches

3.  “Point” focused

After a very short time of showing John the front foot technique we very quickly progressed to playing points.

The reason is I see no value in repeating the front foot technique many times from a basket, when under match conditions later other factors will be tested. Those “Other Factors” cannot be tested while hitting from a basket.

If you are training tennis players always remember that tennis is competitive and includes scoring… all new techniques must be taught with the understanding that the new technique must help the player win points and that it must hold up under pressure in matches.

4.  Consequences

If there were no consequences to us making errors or playing poorly what would be the point in trying to improve!

Creating consequences for John helped him improve the front foot faster. While playing points John was faced with the following consequences (you can try to introduce these consequences to your players also):

SCORING: Because we played points and kept score (short tie-breaks are perfect), if John’s serve didn’t perform well he lost points and obviously then found it difficult to win!

RESULT: If John didn’t use the front foot well the ball tended to go long over the service line (out). If he used the front foot well the serve would be much better. 

He got immediate feedback on his new front foot technique based on the whether the ball went in or out – consequences!

DECISIONS: Serving from a basket (repetition) doesn’t involve decisions on what type of serve you want to hit. During the points the decisions John made each time he served had consequences.

He had to perform the new front foot technique AND make good decisions about the speed and placement of the serve and live with the consequences such as his opponent
attacking his 2nd serve, approaching net on the Return or simply continually putting him under pressure because his serve is not good enough.

Don’t wait and expect the “Bridge” from practice to match-play to develop automatically. It just won’t happen.

By teaching recall whenever you work on a new stroke or pattern you are ensuring that the player is prepared for up-coming both technically and mentally.