Wednesday, July 17, 2013

THE STAGES OF A PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER


PROFESSIONAL TENNIS IS PLAYED AROUND
THE WORLD AT MANY LEVELS

There are thousands of players, both men and women, who are trying to make their way in the world of professional tennis. I thought it would be interesting to clarify the steps, in my opinion,  that a player must take to get all the way to the top. 

  1. No National Ranking & No ATP points
Can’t always get into the qualifying draw for local futures and must rely on wild cards

  1. National Ranking but no ATP Points
Possible to enter qualifying of Futures events because of his National ranking but not always accepted

  1. Enough ATP points to enter Futures qualifying
Must compete in the qualifying events where physical & mental fatigue can be a major obstacle in progressing deeper in the tournament

  1. Qualifies into the main draw consistently
But has trouble progressing much further because of the physical and mental demands of qualifying

  1. Enough Points to enter Main Draw Futures
Can win through rounds of main draw consistently

  1. Ability to Win Futures titles consistently
This allows the player to achieve a sufficiently high ranking (approx. 300) to get into the main draw of Challengers.

  1. Plays both Futures and Challenger qualifying
In order to maintain their ranking because success in Challengers is limited

  1. Able to enter Challengers
Must be able to consistently get through to quarters in Challengers to defend futures points from previous events over 12 month period

  1. Ability to win Challenger titles consistently & play ATP qualifying
Sights firmly on the main ATP Tour but needs to maintain ranking so continues with Challengers

  1. Able to enter into major ATP Events
Can achieve a sufficiently high ranking from success in Challengers to get into main draw of ATP events (approx. top 100)

  1. Seeded in Grand Slam events
Has a ranking inside top 32 ATP and avoids top seeded players Initially

  1.  Wins ATP events



Sunday, June 16, 2013

ARM WRESTLING CAN HELP YOUR TENNIS - A LOT!

HAVE WE BEEN FOCUSING ON THE WRONG SET OF
PRIORITIES WHEN WE COMPETE


You see it more clearly when the players are young and new to competition, but it’s common to all levels of tennis. Two players are locked in an on-court battle for varying lengths of time and then one player wins the battle of wills that takes place in the head and the match is essentially over. Don’t be fooled by appearances, the remainder of the match may seem competitive and the points may be exciting, but the match was over once the battle of wills was decided.

That early “arm wrestle” decided the outcome of the match. Think about that for a moment. “THE ARM WRESTLE DECIDES THE OUTCOME OF A MATCH”.

In a majority of cases both players start matches believing they can win. Both players can even start the match believing that they will win. Something changes that self-belief during the contest for one of those players.

Is the importance of winning the game of wills really anything new to us? Haven’t people been saying that tennis is 90% mental for a long time now? If we believe that tennis is 90% mental then why do players still contest matches focusing solely on the quality of their “Game”, meaning strokes and strategy? I’m not saying technique and tactics are not important, I’m simply saying we may be missing an important point here, that the arm wrestle is the key to unlocking our opponents resolve and eventually you winning the match.

During this year’s French Open Rafael Nadal repeated a pattern throughout his matches that emphasized his belief in winning the arm wrestle first. In all his matches he played relatively conservative tennis in the early stages of a match, never going for too much, maintaining a cross-court pattern and putting a great deal of effort into defense when he needed to defend the point. Later, when he had won the arm wrestle and his opponent began to make errors Nadal would start hitting his forehand down the line more and come to net to finish the point when he could. He could sense his opponent’s will had been broken.

This “breaking of wills” can take varying lengths of time. With Ferrer in the final of the French Open it happened within the first 4 games. Some players take longer.

It’s no coincidence that the other great exponent of the early arm wrestle is Novak Djokovic. Djokovic won an epic match against Wawrinka at the Australian Open this year in a match that saw Wawrinka throw everything at Djokovic for 5 sets, only for his game to break down in the dying stages and lose the match.

Andy Murray and Roger Federer are two players who perhaps expect to play sublime tennis and win matches.  Sometimes this works with the other players but with Djokovic and Nadal, who are programmed to think in terms of the arm wrestle first, it’s not working.


I have heard it said that “The final tactic is Guts”. I believe the first tactic is guts. Tactics and technique create a platform, but the arm wrestle is god. Change your mindset and start putting the arm wrestle as your primary job, particulary in the beginning of matches until the battle of wills has been decided.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

VISUAL BLOCKING: CONTROLLING YOUR OPPONENTS SHOT SELECTION




Visual blocking is a technique you can use to force your opponent to hit the ball where you want them to.  The benefits are obvious.  If you can dictate where your opponent will hit the ball you can anticipate earlier and cover the court easier.

It can also be used to expose weaknesses. Several years ago I was watching a player of mine in a match where his opponent was having trouble hitting forehands down the line. In the heat of the battle my player couldn’t see this pattern but sitting off-court in the shade I could!

The opponent would return most balls crosscourt and when they did hit the ball down the line it was done very cautiously and without any confidence. Two things could develop from this knowledge that would help my player gain a big advantage in the match (1) we could anticipate that the vast majority of forehands would be returned crosscourt and be under no real pressure because we are essentially only guarding the crosscourt side of the court (2) we could hit more balls to the forehand hoping that they would make mistakes when they did try to hit the ball down the line. This is a common scenario in matches and visual blocking can allow us to exploit this situation much better. Here’s how to do it.

During this particular match my player began to hit to the opponents forehand and remain slightly crosscourt after his shot.  This sent a subtle message to the opponent that the down the line option was open to be attacked and that the worst option was the crosscourt target where my player had still not “recovered” from. On the first attempt the opponent made to strike at the vacant down the line target he mistimed the ball late into the doubles alley. From that point onwards the match became a formality. Whenever we were in trouble in the rally we quickly shifted the ball to the wide forehand corner, blocked the crosscourt and either attacked the weak returns towards the opponent’s vacant backhand corner or forced an error.

Another good opportunity to use visual blocking is when you are at net.  If you have played a volley wide to your opponent block their preferred option and leave their least preferred option slight open. This will again subtly influence their decision making and allow you to dictate the opponents shot selection.

On fast surfaces against a big server any way we can read where the serve will go the better. By visually blocking the wide serve on both the deuce side and the ad side, you are planting a seed in the opponents mind that the serve down the middle is the best option. You now have a better than average idea of where the serve will go, plus after returning the serve through the middle you physically finish hitting the return near the middle of the court, meaning you are in great position to start the rally from the centre of the court.  In other words you have dictated where the opponent will serve and where you will start the point.

Visual blocking can help change matches by eliminating your opponent’s strengths and give you the advantage of anticipation.

Monday, February 11, 2013

TEACHING BEYOND THE OBVIOUS


Never settle for the obvious because the real solution may just be around the corner


In whatever endeavor we tackle, if we never went beyond what is obvious or outside our comfort level, we would never develop at our chosen skill. 

Think about the level you have reached in coaching.  At the present moment you think you know a lot about helping players improve their rankings right?  Hopefully in six months time you can look back and say that you are another 15% better than you are now. This should be our goal.

The ability to improve your craft over time is dependent on you asking the hard questions of yourself.  Instead of using the same “fix” each time for a particular problem, try another way. In time you will have a variety of methods to solve a problem and you will be able to select which particular fix works for an individual player.

Many years ago I attended a coaching seminar and an old friend, Bernard Gusman, presented an on-court session called “Looking Beyond The Obvious”. What Bernard said that day changed the way I looked at problems during a lesson and also the process I used when searching for solutions.

It’s easy to create solutions to problems. But is your solution getting to the root of the problem, or is it only a cosmetic solution that will eventually have the player going back to their same faulty ways later? I have found that if you find the source of the problem, usually a faulty fundamental, you have solved the problem for good. If you create a remedy that is only near the source, the problem will eventually come back to haunt the player again in the future.

In his on-court session that day Bernard encouraged all of us to continually “go beyond the obvious”.  It was a key demand and made us all dig deeper for the root cause of the problems we saw.

I recently worked with a young player called Willie.  Willie has a good all round game but is very stiff on his backhand side.  This means he has trouble getting any penetration off the bounce at the other side of the net.  Notice that I am not so concerned with the stiff look of the backhand, but much more focused on the result of the backhand, his lack of penetration at the other side of the net.  This is the first commandment in going beyond the obvious…

1.     Worry less about what it looks like and more about the result at the other side of the net!



My immediate solution was to loosen the swing and see if the increased fluidity allowed Willie to increase the pace and penetration of the ball on his backhand. Visually he lacked hip and shoulder rotation, surely this was the cause of the stiff “look”.  Soon Willie was hitting better.  The increased fluidity had helped but after many years of “going beyond the obvious”, in all honesty it was not good enough for me. The simple truth was that rotation, while helping, was obviously not the root cause of the stiff backhands and lack of penetration. I needed to follow the second commandment which is simply…

2.   Look beyond the Obvious



I began to ask questions as I watched Willie battle with his backhand.  Why did he revert to an under-spin backhand so quickly on short balls and wide balls? In both cases he could have continued with topspin and been far more effective.  So why was he reverting to under-spin whenever his balance was tested (topspin on both the wide and short balls would have required a long last step and balance during the execution)?  The third commandment you need to follow is…

3.   Ask why the player NEEDS to do it this way



Whenever he was required to step long and balance he neither had the strength nor the confidence to create the contact foot necessary to execute the stroke well. When a player can’t start the bio-mechanics from the ground they are forced to use the upper body.  The upper body however is far less effective at producing a free flowing stroke with perfect timing and energy for the swing.  I remebered that Willie often mishit the ball on backhands when under time pressure.

Therefore the question being asked as to why Willie needs to avoid hitting topspin on balls that tested balance is fundamental to finding the solution to our backhand problem, penetration.

I saw that Willie’s lack of balance stemmed from a poor contact foot, in this case his right foot.  Once we started focusing on a better quality contact foot in the lesson the upper body relaxed and began to rotate naturally, the stroke began to flow and more importantly we started to penetrate off the bounce at the far side of the net.

We had reached the finish point.  We were achieving our goal of penetrating the ball at the other side of the net and under all situations. Therefore commandment four tells us…

4.   If you can’t go any further, you have reached the fundamental source of the problem-fix it and you’re finished



Not only does searching for the root cause of the problem help the player permanently, but also, over time, takes your coaching skills to the next level.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

BEATING BERNARD TOMIC: STEP BY STEP

In his lead-up to the 2013 Australian Open Bernard Tomic has won every match he has played, including a win over Novak Djokovic during their encounter at the Hopman Cup.  Many are now picking Tomic to blaze a trail of destruction in the Australian Open, some even saying he could beat Roger Federer if they meet, as expected, in the 3rd round.

While his early form has been good leading up to the Australian Open, all players have strengths and weaknesses. If his good form continues many of his opponents will look closer at his likes and dislikes, and eventually devise a strategic plan to beat him. Here is my strategy on How To Beat Bernard Tomic, Step By Step.

  1. Don’t let the flashy winners fool you, Tomic is essentially a counter-puncher. Counter-punchers need someone to attack them and preferably with pace on the ball.

Tomic has been counter-attacking opponents that have played themselves out of position.  If the ball has the required pace and the gap has opened up, he will strike. Otherwise Tomic has been happy to rally and wait.

Players need to be careful not to over-play the rally by doing too much. Focus more on being accurate in the rally and don’t try to over-power him.

  1. Tomic needs pace to operate

Early in his career Tomic had problems with his technique.  His poor technique meant that he had trouble whenever he tried to generate power, particularly on the forehand side.  Players with this particular problem are happy when the ball comes to them with pace but struggle to generate their own power off balls that are slower.

To expose this weakness opponents should angle an off pace ball to his forehand wing during the rally. Don’t do it all the time but mix one in sparingly so that he isn’t aware that you are doing it as part of your overall strategy.

  1. Force him to hit his forehand down the line

Now that we are trying to set up a certain type of ball on the forehand side, let’s add something else that will make it even more effective. Whenever you execute the correct ball, a soft angle with less speed to his forehand side, stand a little towards your forehand side (his preferred crosscourt target option), leaving the down the line slightly open. Invite him to change direction down the line. This is called visually blocking your opponents shot.

When Tomic goes down the line off a slower paced ball he tends to get very wristy and often makes mistakes. By visually blocking his preferred option you are subtly controlling his shot options.

  1. Tomic serves well in the clutch

While my previous points are based on his weaknesses, you also need to be aware of a major strength.  Whenever Tomic is in trouble on his serve he is able to come up with a great serve that gets him out of trouble. I have not been able to detect a preference of targets, meaning countering this ability to serve his way out of trouble is difficult to neutralize through anticipation.

I would try being semi-offensive on the return.  Don’t stand too deep hoping to “see” the ball better. Due to the new breed of strings available today, players are able to get much better angles with their ground-strokes and serves. Stand closer to the baseline and visually make his target look smaller. By standing further back you are only giving him a bigger looking target.

It will be interesting to see how far Tomic progresses during this year’s Australian Open. I will be watching with interest to see if anyone works out an effective strategy to beat him



Sunday, December 30, 2012

YOUR BEST COACH IS MYELIN



No matter how good a coach or player you think you are, you would be nothing without the help of a substance called myelin. The better you are as a coach at creating myelin in your players, the better their results will be. The more myelin your players have, the better they perform. It's as simple as that!

Think what could happen if you understood how to train to create myelin and were able to even increase the production of myelin each and every practice session. Do I have your interest yet?

Let’s start by explaining what myelin is first. 

Myelin is a substance inside your body that coats itself around the neurological pathways and assist with any activity that you do often. Instead of having to re-learn a tennis fore-hand every-time you went out to play, the body creates myelin to help you “remember” the process. It creates a neurological "super highway".

Someone who plays tennis only on week-ends will have less myelin around the “tennis neurological pathways” than a player on the ATP or WTA Tours. The myelin build-up of an ATP or WTA professional tennis player will be considerably more than that of a weekend player because they play and practice every day for hours.

For years medical people have noticed this excessive myelin build-up in people who specialized and excelled in their particular field of endeavor. Tennis players, violinists, racing car drivers, scientists, barbers, anybody who performed an activity intensely over a long period of time produced excessive myelin build-up.

 It was thought that myelin was present in these exceptional people simply because they performed their tasks more often. Our earlier belief was that the mere repetition of an activity created myelin, but we didn’t know why the body needed to produce myelin nor what purpose myelin actually served.

Knowing the reason why we produce myelin and the purpose it serves has only just been discovered. Our new understanding of myelin has profound implications on how, as coaches we should teach tennis and how we should conduct our on-court practice sessions each day.

Why We Create Myelin

We all know that if you hit thousands of back-hands during practice your back-hand will get better. If you practice your back-hand for one full hour on Monday it will feel much better on Tuesday. That feeling has been termed “gaining confidence” and is sometimes called “grooving” the stroke, but that is being too simplistic.

In pre-historic times the human body created myelin so that we are able to perform very important activities when we were faced with danger. It was about survival.  

Myelin helps make an activity more efficient. Done enough times, climbing that tree to avoid being eaten by a predator will become very efficient, and thankfully so! It’s linked to us surviving as a species.

What Creates Myelin in a Player

Remember how well you played after a few continuous weeks of tournaments? Waking each day and playing to the best of your ability against high caliber opposition? You started to feel really good about hitting those clutch passing shots and serving yourself out of trouble on break points. 

You were creating myelin during those important matches. This leads to the most important ingredient when attempting to create myelin… STRESS!

The more stress we are repeatedly under, the faster myelin is produced and in greater quantities. This is important and worth repeating: DOING AN ACTIVITY FREQUENTLY AND UNDER STRESS CREATES MYELIN FASTER AND IN GREATER QUANTITIES.

How to Train Myelin

Players will thrive on the additional pressure and become much better instinctively in matches

To help develop myelin faster all you need to add to your practice is tennis related stress and pressure.  This can take the form of:

  • Time pressure
Create time limits that add pressure to drill

  • Target pressure
Set-up target drills and demand accuracy through rewards and penalties

  • Skill complexity pressure
Put a variety of strokes together in the drill that demand more of your player

  • Complex patterns
Develop complex hitting patterns that duplicate real points and match situations

  • Peer pressure
By training in groups and demanding more of each player you are automatically creating peer pressure. Nobody likes to be the weak link in the drill.

  • Over-loading
This can be achieved by having players perform “cold” without a warm-up as is the case in the “Nominated Player Drill”.  Start complex, skill complex drills that have consequences early in the practise rather than later when players have "found their feet".

  • Penalties
  Always create consequences for sub-standard  performance

Understanding myelin and the purpose it serves helps us to re-jig practice sessions so that they become more meaningful and productive. Players will very quickly develop a natural instinct in all facets of the game necessary for competition.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

THE TASK V'S EGO MOTIVATED PLAYER


IT'S IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND NOT ONLY WHAT MOTIVATES A PLAYER, BUT ALSO WHAT DE-MOTIVATES THEM 

Learning what motivates each player to train hard and compete strongly in competition is critically important to a coach. Understanding what dominates a player’s mindset allows us to “push the right buttons” when needed.

Players in competition operate under numerous stressful situations, conditions and mindsets. All these various situations, conditions and mindsets create special mental challenges that test them throughout the competition and can affect their confidence and ability to perform at their best. These mental challenges can be categorized under two broad headings, Task and Ego related.

I like to categorize players into either Task or Ego motivated players, meaning the motivation that rules their response to training, competition and problems will be dealt with from a Task or Ego perspective.

Task motivated player’s are the type of players who thrive on working hard towards a goal.  They see a clear link between working hard off-court and being rewarded with improved results on-court. Coaches enjoy working with players who are Task motivated because they have a great work ethic and respond well to instructions.

THE TASK MOTIVATED PLAYER BELIEVES THAT WORKING HARD WILL ACHIEVE IMPROVED RESULTS IN COMPETITION

The Task motivated player sounds like the ideal player to work with but there are also dangers. Simply working hard does not insure that anything gets better. Player’s who are too Task motivated train hard but sometimes don’t train smart.  In tight matches they also believe it is their right to win because of the effort they have put into their training off-court. They can under-achieve during competitions.

Ego motivated players are a lot tougher for coaches to understand than Task motivated player’s because they sometimes seem aloof and unwilling to follow instructions. Ego motivated player’s can also be moody and become disinterested after losses because their personal success indicators are linked to only one factor – winning.  As we all know, success often doesn’t come without taking one step backwards before we are able to take two steps forward.

Early on the Ego motivated player is labeled more “talented” or “gifted” because they rely on flashy strokes, increased variety and a winning mindset. They find a way to win and achieve good results early as juniors. This winning mindset can also get in the way of working on improvements during practise and these players can often go through periods of depression when opponents they used to beat, begin to beat them.

EVERY PLAYER RESPONDS DIFFERENTLY TO YOUR COACHING

A player’s Task v’s Ego tendencies are set before they come to us for training. We do however need to work with the player to eliminate dangerous tendencies that may cause problems later.  Therefore knowing whether your player is Task or Ego motivated will help you deal with these players both on the practice court and during competition.

You are probably now wondering which is the best mindset, Task or Ego? It’s the key question that needs to be answered before I outline ways to improve the two different mindsets. The answer is…

   PLAYERS REQUIRE ENORMOUS LEVELS OF TASK MOTIVATION AND ENORMOUS LEVELS OF EGO MOTIVATION TO REACH THE TOP.

Players need large doses of Task and Ego mindsets. Look at the top players today and you will see that a strong desire to work hard, coupled with a strong desire to achieve results creates a top player.

Training Task and Ego

It depends on whether you train players individually or in a group but within a group environment the Ego motivated players can be “tricked” into commiting to task related activities such as fitness and drilling. The group will maintain a high workload and pull the Ego motivated players along with them.


To create a more competitive mindset in the Task motivated player start to incorporate scoring, competition and points in everything you do (this will keep the Ego motivated player happy also).  Get them excited about results by talking about rankings, reputation and rewards.

Anything that helps you understand each player better will make your job easier and certainly help the player become more balanced in their approach to competition.