Wednesday, April 10, 2019

QUESTIONS ON "CONFIDENCE"



WHAT IS CONFIDENCE?


Although it is difficult to accurately explain exactly what confidence is, we certainly know when we have it… and we know when we have lost it!



Confidence is not an object or a piece of equipment.  You cannot put Confidence inside a box or hold it in your hand.  Confidence is a state of mind. It’s a belief we ourselves have created inside us.



We can be confident about our strokes, our ability to beat certain players, our chance of winning on a particular surface and when we play with “hometown advantage” and the support for us is greater.



Similarly, we can lack confidence in our strokes, our ability to beat certain players, our chance of winning on particular surfaces and when we play “away from home” where the support for us is less.



Confidence is something many players and their coaches strive to develop. Having confidence before you go into the match is deemed a good thing and virtually insures that you will play to the best of your ability or close to your best.



WHY DO WE PLAY BETTER WITH CONFIDENCE?


The sayings’ “We are what we think” and “Your perception is your reality” go a long way to explain why we play much better when we are confident. With belief we have an inner confidence that what we attempt to do, will transpire.



Belief comes before Confidence



Our minds can be incredibly strong. If we believe something is true or will happen, there is a high chance that it will.



Likewise, if we believe that something will or cannot happen, there’s a high chance it will not happen.



It’s therefore obvious that in order to be mentally strong in tennis you need to be rock solid in your self-belief when you compete in matches.  A mind that allows itself to become insecure regarding strokes, the type of surface you play on or the opponent you are competing against, will most certainly not be Confident!







WHY CAN WE LOSE CONFIDENCE SO EASILY?


If you accept that Confidence is a mindset, a belief, this means we can believe we have confidence, and that we can also believe we have lost it!



Confidence therefore can be a roller coaster of playing matches with it and without it. Confidence materializes within us when we have a run of success, and disappears within seconds after a few errors.



The problem therefore is in the belief that confidence exists at all. The problem is self-made because we have brought into the myth that Confidence exist at all, and that therefore after having made a few errors, we must have lost it!



This is how the belief starts in your head that you have “lost your confidence”. Remember, “We are what we think” and “Your perception is your reality”.



Better to forget this whole notion of a mythical Confidence nirvana. It’s a fragile mindset and unsustainable.



By not accepting the existence of Confidence, and not trying to depend so much on it to help boost you mentally,  you will no longer ride the “confidence roller coaster” in competitive matches.





CAN CONFIDENCE BE TRAINED?


If we accept that Confidence is merely a state of mind, perhaps we should also be less concerned about trying to train it. Trying to train it might in fact be taking us down a path whereby “real” preparation for matches is being neglected.



Here’s what I mean…



Many players like to hit hundreds of balls in an attempt to prepare for up-coming matches. They attempt to “groove” their strokes. These players feel mentally more confident once they are timing the ball better and the process of doing repetition drills also helps them to get rid of pre-match nerves. In my opinion this repetition training, or grooving your strokes, is nothing more than a placebo effect. 


After hitting hundreds of back-hands in practice your back-hand begins to “feel” much better and therefore you feel much more confident… But let’s look at what you have actually done during those hundreds of back-hands you just hit.


All you have done is “grooved” the mechanics of the back-hand. Nothing more!

In a competitive situation you will be required to:

1.    Anticipate where the ball is going
2.  Coordinate your movement to the ball
3.  Make decisions on where you want to hit the ball
4.  Make decisions on how you want the ball to go there
5.   Create a method of recovering to the next shot

That’s a lot of areas you haven’t covered in your practice session when you were hitting hundreds of back-hands!

Most players spend hours hitting ball feeds, knocking with other players, doing unrelated stroke bio-mechanics and then when we are in an actual match, they find the requirements are completely different!

In my experience players who train in this way begin to break down at a certain stage of the match, usually while under pressure. When this happens, the reason given for the collapse in form is that the player “lost confidence”.

Try to eliminate your dependence on the placebo style of preparing for matches. The placebo effect will wear out within the match itself and leave you with nothing to fall back on. It’s the cause of a lot of frustration for players around the world.

Instead, turn your attention to a more solid foundation. Focus on ANTICIPATION making DECISIONS on MOVEMENT, WHERE TO HIT THE BALL, HOW TO HIT THE BALL and RECOVERY

I deal with these topics in detail and how to better prepare for matches using a much more reliable method called “THE 3am THEORY”.

Click on the link at the top to go to this, and other topics explaining how you can prepare for match-play far more effectively in the future.




Saturday, April 6, 2019

2 SIMPLE SERVE BOOSTERS!




If you can’t hold serve you can’t win the match 



That’s how important the serve is in tennis. Players with average groundstrokes but great serves have done well in tennis, particularly on the faster surfaces.



The serve is not a complicated stroke but it can be prone to break down under pressure in matches. It’s important therefore to understand the key elements of the serve so that under pressure you can focus on 1 or 2 things that will make it work for you.



Here are the 2 key elements I recommend you focus on when under pressure in matrches. Each of the two elements, if done correctly, will cover any problems you may be having with your serve.



THE FRONT FOOT:



The front foot is the “Bridge” for your serve. It’s the transfer point for your forward movement during the serve.



If this “Bridge” is weak or not operating well enough your serve will lack power, timing and balance.



The Front Foot is therefore responsible for…



1.   Supplying Power

2.  Is the source of Timing

3.  Creating Balance



THE WRIST:



The wrist puts the ball in. It adapts within the contact zone to meet the ball early, late. Left or right. It is the steering wheel for your serve.



The wrist also transfers the energy within the swing into the ball. Much the same as you throw a ball or crack a whip, your wrist can increase the velocity of the racquet head by accelerating during the swing.



The biggest single problem with most serves is a stiff/ locked wrist. Make sure your wrist is relaxed and flowing in order the transfer efficiently the energy sent to it by the Front Foot.



The Wrist therefore has 2 important functions when serving…



1.   Finding your target

2.  Accelerating the racquet head



Within these two techniques you have the answer to any problem you will experience.



During practice sessions focus on isolating these important two elements to solve problem issues that arise.



Wednesday, April 3, 2019

LEARN FROM ROD LAVER





MY FAVOURITE PLAYER  GROWING UP WAS ROD LAVER. 

What I admired most about "Rocket" was that he was just a normal guy, humble, down to earth and hard working.

During his career Laver was known for his ability to play his best tennis when it mattered most. He hardly ever lost a five set match.

Here are 2 ways for you to learn from Rod "Rocket" Laver:

#  1  Stay focused in the present. Allowing your mind to get too far ahead or beating yourself before you get on the court can be disastrous. Avoid the internal mind games by sticking to tactics and don't allow yourself to lose focus on executing them throughout the match.

Laver built up a reputation during his career of coming up with something special when a match got tight. Begin building your legacy in tight situations!


#  2  Simulate match pressure during practice sessions:  Train in a similar way to what you will experience during competition. 

Laver and many of his peers trained under the legendary Australian coach Harry Hopman. In his day Harry Hopman revolutionized  the way tennis was trained. He insisted on each one of his players being extremely fit, far beyond the norm during that era.

In matches Hopman was also famous for telling his players to "Relax and hit for the lines". 

This is how Laver trained under Hopman both as a youngster and while he was on top. By adopting a similar attitude and work ethic in your training also, you will be able to better handle yourself under difficult conditions in real matches.    

Sunday, March 31, 2019

KEYS TO THE TWO-HANDED BACKHAND






1.    THE BOTTOM HAND

The bottom hand on the grip is responsible for controlling the length of the contact. The further up on top of the handle the bottom hand is positioned, the longer the contact zone.


The further around to the front of the grip the bottom hand is the shorter the contact zone


This is because the bottom hand dictates how long the racquet face can continue forward through the contact zone.


Positioning the bottom hand on top of the handle makes it a lot easier to hit your down the line shots, while positioning the bottom hand in the front of the handle makes it easier to hit extreme crosscourt angles


You need to learn to play your backhand in a variety of positions on the handle. The important thing is not the position of the hands on the handle (grip), it’s having complete control of the racquet face angles and contact zone.


Most coaching that deals with teaching grip positions first, will limit the player later when they start to play competition. Every grip has its benefits and limitations. By shifting your focus off the position of where the grip “should” be, and instead focusing on the racquet face,  you will avoid the limitations of having a fixed grip for all backhands.



2.   THE TOP HAND

The first function of the top hand is to set the angle of the racquet-face before you start the swing. The top hand acts as a rudder on the racquet-face for setting heights.

This process of setting the racquet head with the top hand involves you transferring your focus to what height you want the ball to cross over the net before your do anything else.

As you set the racquet head with your top hand you should also relax the bottom hand slightly and allow it to “find a new position” on the handle. This process has achieved two important functions for you during the preparation (1) it has set the angle of the racquet face to where you want it (2) it has changed the grip of your bottom hand into its ideal position

The top hand is also responsible for generating the swing to the ball. Try to dominate the swing with your top hand in order to achieve a smoother, more versatile and more powerful swing



3.      THE SOURCE OF POWER & TIMING

To add power to your two-handed back hand you need to interact with the ground through the contact foot. This is your source of power.

Learn to create your Contact Foot from either foot and be equally proficient hitting off a front foot or back foot. This versatility is the foundation of a great back hand

The ground is also the source of timing for your stroke. All timing will come from the foot you use as your contact foot.

By sending your awareness there as the ball is arriving you will be able to time the ball better that ever before.

It’s also important again to practice “timing” off both feet AND front foot and back foot


  1. ADDING SPIN

Avoid spinning the contact. Instead, add topspin to the ball by finishing both hands high after contact.

The problem with spinning the contact is that you lose feel for height and you lose penetration at the other end. Sure, it’s safer initially but long term it holds you back.

By finishing with your hands high you maintain the clean ball strike and a better awareness of your heights.

To add underspin to the ball, finish with the racquet face open to the sky


  1. CHANGING DIRECTION
Change direction by changing the position of the contact point.

Hit crosscourt by contacting the ball earlier in the contact zone.

To hit down the line or inside out hit the ball later within the contact zone.


By changing direction in this way it’s much easier to achieve success under all conditions, particularly under pressure. It makes more sense!

These are the key elements that will change your backhand dramatically. 

If there’s something missing that you think should have been mentioned chances are that it is not an integral part of the back hand and could instead be a less important cosmetic of the back hand.








Wednesday, March 27, 2019

IMPROVING MATCH FOCUS




You would think that Novak Djokovic hardly knows what it's like to lose. After multiple Grand Slam and ATP titles, he must enter each tournament with a high degree of confidence that he will win.  Maybe not!
Last year, 2018, Djokovic was the best player in the world. During the year the combined percentage of points won over all matches he played was 55%!  This was his average for the entire year, which he dominated!

That's a lot of losing for the best player in the world. 

What you have to realize from this surprising statistic is that in tennis you will lose a lot of points, even if you are the better player, as Djokovic was in most cases.

But here's the problem... many players can't handle losing a lot of points!

If you are like most players you probably go through a roller coaster ride with your confidence levels during a match. The momentum in a match can swing back and forth often. It's these momentum swings that test our perseverance and our resolve during matches. 


Obviously Novak Djokovic has learnt how not to let losing 45% of points throughout all matches last year stop him from playing his best tennis for every point, and in every match.


Here's what you need to remember about maintaining your focus during a tennis match...



1,  You're going to lose a lot of points... get over it!

2.  Understand that the nature of tennis scoring means your lead is never secure. You must start each game anew. That's an opportunity for your opponent to come back!

3.  If you are behind in the match...  re-read #2 again one more time!

4. Confidence and self-belief during matches is created in the hours, days and months before you play your match. Don't just prepare technically during your practice sessions, prepare mentally as well by adding stress and decision making to everything you


5.  You have "Time Buffer Zones" within tennis. These are times when you can collect your thoughts, re-assess your tactics and flush out any negativity that might be effecting your performance. 

"Time Buffer Zones" include the time between points, the change of ends and medical time outs. Use them wisely.

Introduce rituals, breathing techniques and visualization during these Time Buffer Zones to re-direct any wayward or negative focus issues.


Working on maintaining a consistent focus may be the missing ingredient to your otherwise great game












Monday, March 25, 2019

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY!



A coach can only do so much with a player who is experiencing destructive mental issues related to tennis competition.

Players who find competition mentally too much to handle and suffer from choking, low levels of self confidence or an inability to close out important matches are generally the victims of their environment. They are reflecting the environment they live in everyday when they compete in matches.

Prolonged and repeated negative mental issues in matches when competing as a junior player, also continue to be a problem for the player much later in life, even though the environment which has caused the mental issues in the first place might have changed for the better.


Considering a majority of competitive junior players suffer from an almost crippling mental war inside their heads, it would be fair to say that a majority of players never fully reach their true potential.

It therefore becomes clear that the  environment we grow up in when we start our tennis is critically important. 

Coaches can sometimes merely inherit the mental problems of their students, although in some cases coaches actually add to, or at worst create the negative mental issues.

This article therefore is for Parents and Coaches who need help in understanding how to avoid their child or student developing mental issues related to competition in the first place. It can also be a reference in how to handle players who have already developed issues mentally and ultimately how to reverse the problem.


A father recently messaged me while on his way to a tournament with his son. They were on their way to play the first day of the Nationals.

The stress in the car must have been considerable because his son had asked his father "What if I lose"?

His father had messaged me asking "What should I tell him"?

The most important thing for Parents and Coaches to remember is that in order to play at their best a player must enjoy the process of playing. Enjoyment unlocks the mind and allows you to perform to your potential. Any form of mental contamination will hurt your performance.

The root causes of contamination are broad but can include unrealistic expectations, unrealistic pressure, low self esteem, low self confidence and fear.

In my experience most of this is picked up by young players from the people they want to please the most, parents and coaches. It is therefore important to know now that what you say as a parent or a coach becomes extremely powerful... the emotion you send to a young player within your comments is magnified 5 times!

 IF YOU THINK THE SUBTLE COMMENT YOU JUST MADE WAS NO BIG DEAL, MAGNIFY IT BY FIVE TIMES... NOW TELL ME IT WASN'T MEANT TO HURT OR PUT STRESS ON THE CHILD!


I prepare myself to react to situations around players. I prepare for possible questions that may come, either in a few moments or in several days. I'm ready.

I also react to questions or situations in the third person. Often I observe myself speaking to a player from the perspective of the third person, monitoring my words, my tone and my body language.

Timing is important. Don't bring up possible stressful topics around stressful times, before or after matches for example. I'm not saying tough topics can't be discussed. I'm saying be smart with when you bring them up. 

DEVELOP EMPATHY FOR YOUR CHILD OR STUDENT

Parents often ask me what they can do that makes a real difference to their child's tennis. By monitoring how you act and what you say around your child you will create an environment whereby a happy, competitive player emerges. This is the single most important  ingredient in developing a successful player.

With enough awareness and empathy you will also be able to correct unwanted behavioural problems that have already developed.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

THE CRAZY GUY FROM KOREA





The Korean guy in the front row was losing control. 


It was 1991 and Beijing was the venue for the Asian Games.  We were playing for at least a Mixed Doubles bronze medal and Thailand hadn’t won an Asian Games medal in tennis for almost 40 years! Personally, this was the biggest match of my tenure as Thai National Tennis Coach.  


The Thai team of Wittaya Samret and Orawan Thampensri were in a match with a typically tough Korean team.  You can always count on Koreans to make it a battle.  They are always in great shape physically, mentally very strong and always 100% committed.  


I had encountered the Korean attitude in many events prior to this.  Players from Korea could sometimes over-step the boundary of what was considered good sportsmanship sometimes.  This didn’t make them any friends on the tennis circuit and I had even witnessed Korean coaches physically abusing players several times.


I’m not sure whether or not the guy in the front row was a coach attached to the team or not, but he was calling instructions between each point.  The rules of tennis clearly state that you can not communicate with the players in any way during the match, either verbally or with signals. 


Several times he had been warned about communicating with the players’ during the match but he continued to do so.  


I caught his attention and asked him to stop talking to the players.  He replied that he was not “coaching” the players which, even if true, didn’t alter the fact that he was communicating non-stop with them.



News of the match had also now spread to other sporting venues in Beijing and the Thai media covering the Asian Games started arriving at the tennis venue in anticipation of a rare tennis medal for Thailand. Every Thai television channel was represented and all the Thai newspapers were there. 


I already knew all the Thai media people from other events we had played and they had always supported me personally and written favorable articles about my work with the Thai team.  For them and me, an Asian Games medal was the icing on the cake.  



But there was still the matter of this crazy Korean guy in the front row!  As the Thai duo began to dominate, he got more and more irate.  Once again I asked him to stop communicating with his players.  This time however he began climbing the seats in front of me with the clear intention of punching my head off my shoulders!  As he climbed over the first row and made his way up to my seat he continued shouting abuse at me, the blood vessels in his neck bulging and his face turning purple. 


The media guys around me began sensing a much bigger story than the Thai Mixed Doubles team picking up a bronze medal!  Camera lenses were poised for the biggest scope of their fortnight in Beijing. I could visualize the headlines in Thailand the next day announcing “Thai Tennis Coach Involved in Brawl at Asian Games”.  


Thankfully other more sensible Koreans in the group had a firm grip of his jacket and pulled him back to his seat.  Several from the Thai Media were claiming “He was going to pick a fight with you”! Still concerned about newspaper headlines the next morning I deflected their concerns by down-playing the whole incident.  


Thankfully Wittaya and Orawan did win Thailand’s first Asian Games tennis medal for 40 years. 


For years after Beijing I never traveled to Korea.  I guess my early experiences put me off going there, believing that the place would not be that friendly and the people difficult.  When I did actually go there several years ago with players I was shocked to find one of the prettiest countries, and the friendliest people you would wish to meet.  What a contrast!  

During the month of May Korea is stunning

Today it would be my first pick of countries to live.  However if I ever did live there I might have to keep looking over my shoulder for that crazy guy from Beijing!