Psychological Secrets of the Champions

Psychological secrets of the champions from the book Maximum Tennis by Nick Saviano.

Secret 1. Focus on only those things that you can control and disregard the rest

Nick Saviano 150x150 - Psychological Secrets of the Champions

Nick Saviano

This is the first and most important concept, and it must be the foundation from which to build your psychological approach to competition. If you can grasp and apply it, it will help you to free you psychologically to play the best tennis you are capable of.

Great athletes mention this concept all the time. Sometime they say it in fewer words, yet we often don’t seem to hear them. Monica Seles (who I felt was one of the greatest competitors I had ever seen in any sport before her unfortunate attack by a crazed fan) said it before the 2000 French Open: “I truly will try to worry about things I can control and not worry about stuff that’s really outside my control”.

Andre Agassi was quoted by USA Today before a tournament as saying” “If I come in here physically ready and hungry, then I‘m giving myself the best shot to win here”. And perhaps John Wooden, the great basketball coach at UCLA, said it best: “The more concerned we become over the things we can’t control. The less we will do with the things we can control.”

Why is this so important? If you are not focusing on what you can control, you are no longer giving yourself the best chance to play up to your potential. It will create problems such as fear, anxiety, frustration, significant fluctuation in motivation, and stagnation in your development. It will also affect your ability to analyze the match and to adjust tactically.

Conversely, when you are engrossed in what you can control, you will find that you are more relaxed and your concentration improves. The result is that you not only strike the ball better but your ability to analyze the match and make good tactical adjustments is enhanced. Finally, and most important, you will enjoy the competition.

Don’t get me wrong. You should be aware of such things as your opponent, the score, the environment, and the like, but they are simply a means to gather information so that you know what actions you might take.

The most difficult aspect of this concept for players to buy into is that they can’t control winning and losing. The phrase “I control my own destiny” is not totally true on a tennis court or in life. Here are a few examples that may help illustrate this point.

Imagine that you are playing Andre Agassi in a two-out-of-three-point contest. Can he guarantee winning the points? No. He might make an unforced error or twist his ankle, or you might hit a let cord that drops for a winner. Even against you, Andre cannot control winning and losing. What he can control, however, is how he plays, the pace between points, his shot selection, and so on. If he focuses on the things he can control (which he does to a great extent), your odds to beating him won’t good!

It doesn’t matter what the situation may be. You don’t control winning and losing. You can profoundly affect the outcome and put the odds in your favor by focusing on what you can control. Positively affect what you can, and don’t worry about what you can’t. You’ll be surprised at how successful you’ll become. Once you let go of the false notion that you can completely determine the outcome, you’ll find that you are more likely to get outcome you want.

When you catch your mind drifting towards the mental quicksand of things you cannot control (which means no chance for a “flow state”), tell yourself to stop and refocus.  Get yourself back on solid ground by focusing on the things you can affect.

When you are able to do this, you are a major step closer to achieving your optimum state, physically and mentally. Your chances of being able to flow in your play and reaching your ideal performance state are far better. The remaining secrets are all things that you have a great deal of control over and are inextricably tied to the first secret.

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Let’s Start Over

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David Mullins

Okay Millennials, Snow flakers, and up and coming Gen Z’ers, Linksters or whatever else they are calling you these days. I am referring to those of you who are entering into adulthood, and more specifically, those entering college campuses these next few years. We coaches are starting to accept the fact that you are not going to change or meet our long-established expectations and norms. Maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s us?

We are taking a hard look at ourselves, our relationships with our players and starting to do the difficult, painful work of reflection and change. We are craving information to learn more about your generation, so that we can better understand how we might best work together going forward. We are going to lectures from experts that are focused upon your generation’s thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes, your preferred communication styles and looking at the influences in your life that have brought you to your current mindset.

We are reading books to better educate ourselves on what approaches might actually be impactful in helping us get the most out of you. We are lowering our expectations in many areas, and trying to meet you where you are at. We are no longer going to bang our heads against the wall, complain about your lack of understanding, ability to handle criticism and your low levels of resiliency. Instead, we are going to regroup, start a fresh and work towards a more enjoyable, sustainable relationship with you all.

However, we can only go so far. What are you willing to do to try and understand our generation? What are you going to do to better educate yourself on what the older generation of coaches are going to expect from you? How are you preparing yourself for your college experience with coaches and professors? Are we really supposed to give you a pass for everything because you were rewarded with a medal every time you sneezed, or soothed with an iPad when you started to get a little antsy?

It is widely recognized that every new generation brings about a higher level of tolerance for other people, but does that progressiveness extend to older generations, or is it based solely on class, religion, race and sexual orientation? Will you take the time to bring this same level of broadmindedness to understanding older generations, or will you just write them off every time you disagree with their decisions or feedback?

Yes, we are the adults, we should know better, and many of those that have invested their lives in the coaching profession have done so to have a positive influence on future generations. It is their job to take the lead on bridging the generational gap but they also don’t want to lower their expectations too much, or stray too far from their coaching philosophy. If they do this, they will come across as phonies, and may lose their connection with why they are coaching in the first place. I assure you, you don’t want that.

You will spot the phonies a mile away, and will have a hard time buying into their message, even if they are “fun” and allow you to stay in your comfort zone. You may not be aware of this just yet, but I do believe you want those that are coaching you to be authentic, honest and demanding. Despite your need for instant gratification, history shows that looking towards the long term is the safer bet, and that some short-term pain will lead to long term gains.

Let me try to explain some things from a Generation X coach’s perspective, which will be the generation that currently assumes most head coaching positions. Believe me, we are not nearly as tough as the generations preceding us. We did not experience war, major depressions, life without electricity, no indoor plumbing and many other daily scenarios which we can’t possibly comprehend.

Our generation have plenty of our own issues and have been accused of being quite self-obsessed ourselves. We have lived in an age of technology and convenience too, we just didn’t spend the majority of our free time engaging in these technologies. We were provided a lot more freedom and independence which allowed us to fail consistently, and forced us to figure out things for ourselves.

When it came to our tennis, we were mostly responsible for organizing our own practices with one another and had very little supervision. We did not have all the latest and greatest development information at our fingertips, and Facebook feeds of drills and strength exercises we should be doing.

Our parents took an interest in our tennis and supported us a great deal, but they left a lot up to us to figure out, and for the most part we just got on with it. Based on our upbringings and experiences, we are going to be scratching our heads when we see you do the following:

  • Getting to the tennis courts and having to wait for the coach to start warming-up
  • Assuming that all criticism is an attack on your soul
  • Believing that every difficult experience you face is the end of the world
  • Focusing on what you don’t have instead of what you do have
  • Setting big, hairy, audacious goals but doing little to actually pursue them
  • Needing Instagram posts to inspire action in you
  • Quitting at the first sign of adversity
  • Blaming others every time you make a mistake

Perhaps we might find a productive middle ground if you meet us half-way and understand that we are different from you. Understand that we only believe we are doing our job well if we are pushing you out of your comfort zones in many areas of your life. Understand that we have a very good sense of what it will take for you to improve as a tennis player, and as a person, but that you are not always going to like it, nor should you like it.

We hope throughout your college years that when things get arduous, you learn that these are opportunities for you to grow, and ask some questions of yourself, rather than looking for an escape hatch.

As coaches start to lower their expectations around your ability to handle criticism and your levels of self-awareness, you will do well to lower your expectations around how much “fun” you are going to have every day during your collegiate career. You should also lower your expectation on how the coach is somehow a perfect person and is going to get every decision right, and handle every challenging scenario that arises with great diplomacy.

Have an understanding that the coach is usually operating and making decisions based on a lot more information than you might be privy to at the time. That they are looking at issues that arise from many different angles where you might be seeing it through a narrow lens. Despite this, they will still make mistakes in their efforts to help you, and your team, accomplish all your goals.

In order for any relationship to work, both sides must be invested in the relationship and willing to make compromises. The player-coach relationship is no different. Yes, your relationship with your coach might be strained from time to time, this is normal in any relationship. Don’t be surprised when such disputes occur, and have the courage to discuss them face to face with your coach rather than behind their back.

You can’t just take from your coach at all times and never invest in who they are as a person, or your relationship with them.

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Doubles – the game of pressure

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Marcin Bieniek

Doubles. Who doesn’t love to play this game? Four players on the court. Wider playing area. Possibility to run less, play more volleys and win even if the opponents could easily beat you in singles. It all looks really simple but too many times players competing in team format don’t know exactly what to do in doubles to have more success.

To create successful strategy for doubles we have to understand the differences between singles and doubles formats. If there are two players on the court each one has more space to hit the ball so it means that the opponent has to run. Additionally each competitor plays most of the shots around the baseline so there is more time to prepare for all strokes. And let’s not forget about accountability. In singles there is no one else to blame – if you make mistakes it is all on you.

On the other hand, we have 4 players on the court competing on wider tennis court. Players have less space to hit into so they have to control the ball more. There is also a rival staying at the net most of the time so abilities to observe this opponent and anticipate his actions are crucial to win more points. Of course we don’t have to run as much on the baseline in comparison to singles but if we are really effective with our footwork at the net we can also burn a lot of calories in doubles.

Now as we know the crucial differences between 2 formats of tennis game it is time to start working on skills that will allow us to win more doubles games. Doubles is the game of pressure. Even when you don’t have exceptional skills you can win a lot of combats if you know how to put pressure on opponents.

Matches are not won by winners – matches are won by errors so if you „help” your opponents to make more mistakes you can be a great doubles player. Too many times athletes think that to beat great rivals they have to play extremely well, possess terrific skills and hit winner after winner. That’s not true at all. Solid game combined with a lot of psychological strategy will give you bigger chance to leave the court with balls in your hands.

Ready to put some pressure on your rivals? Here are the areas you have to implement in your next game:

Net game poaching

One of the basics of putting pressure on your opponent is poaching. If you try to cross the center line and intercept the ball using volley you make your baseline opponent really stressed. He doesn’t know where to aim the next shot. Additionally you can also use fake-poaching approach when you imitate poaching but then you stay in your regular position. After few attempts of these 2 tactics you will see many unforced errors from your opponent because of uncertainty of your next action.

Serving position

There are many opportunities to put pressure on rivals while serving. Firstly, if you serve you can change your position. You can serve closer to the middle of the court or you can pick position almost in the doubles alley. This change will give you new tactical opportunities as also it will put returner into uncomfortable position. Secondly, when your partner is serving and you are at the net you can make returner more stressed when you change your position. Remember that you don’t have to stay on the opposite side of your serving partner. That is only one option. You can also pick staying in the middle (kneeling down) or you can stay in line with your teammate. Make these changes and you will see more opportunities to hit offensive shots or to get unforced mistakes.

Rally strategy

The biggest mistake that doubles players make is to stay with wrong strategy for the entire match. I see many players play 1 up 1 back formation for the entire match and lose 1/6 1/6. If you lose so many gems in a row it means your approach is not effective. You have to try something different. Move back and stay with your partner on the baseline. You will see if your opponents are as skilled with drop volleys as they are with deep ones.

It doesn’t work? Don’t worry. Try to come to the net as soon as possible and play with your partner at the net. Maybe rivals know how to play at the net but they are not as effective while hitting passing shots under pressure. There are many tactical variations that you can use so if something doesn’t work in your favor try to put pressure on your rivals in different way.

Doubles is a great game because it creates different opportunities than individual tennis. You don’t have to be great individually to win most of the matches as a teamplayer. Always remember that doubles is a game of pressure so don’t think about your strokes – THINK HOW YOU CAN PUT PRESSURE ON YOUR RIVALS.

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How Parents Can Help to Develop Young Tennis Players

We received the following question from a tennis parent

“I have two daughters 6 and nearly 5 and two sons 3 and 1 year-old. My aim is to get them into sports especially tennis. As I read a very good advice I need a good program to start  my plan. I am not a tennis coach but I think I  can help towards it. I am asking if you have any CD or any other information how to start my kids slowly and surely? Looking forward to your answer.”

Our tennis experts Marcin Bieniek gives his advice on how parents can help to develop young tennis players

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Marcin Bieniek

Nice to hear that you are ready to do so much for your kids. At this time you have 2 groups of kids and your approaches should be totally different. Your daughters are older and they are ready to do a lot of activities with racquets. Your boys are pretty young so having fun with balls and doing simple physical exercises are priorities for them.

You have to understand that you are really important in their development and there is a lot you can do to help them with the first steps. You don’t even have to play by yourself because at this age having fun and falling in love with tennis don’t require advanced tennis education.

There is a lot of stuff on YouTube as also on instructional tennis websites that you can be interested in. If you want to do it by yourself then search for videos related to tennis U10. You can also type name “Mike Barrell” or “Emma Doyle” – they are really good at working with kids. If you would like to get help from professional coach to create individual development plan for your kids then you can contact me. All the best with your mission.

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What Should a Tennis Parent Tell Their Child Before They Go on the Tennis Court?

What should a tennis parent tell their child before they go on the tennis court? Only this: “have fun”.

Ray Brown 150x150 - What Should a Tennis Parent Tell Their Child Before They Go on the Tennis Court?

Ray Brown

The reason is that a child has a way of misinterpreting almost anything a parent says. For example, if they say “good luck”, the child could think: They do not think I am good enough to win without luck.

If the tennis parent says “play your best”, the child can read this as: They think I do not play my best so I had better do something extra to win their approval. This can lead to a rapid series of unforced errors and a quick loss because the child is so stressed about losing their parent’s approval.

Kids can misinterpret anything a parent says to their demise. This is because the child is completely dependent on the parent for they safety, security and well being and so may be constantly on the lookout for any indication that this may be taken away.

It is irrational, generally, but kids do not think like adults and so the parent must chose their words carefully if they are to inspire their child to play their best rather than detract from it. “Have fun” is your best and safest comment as a parent.

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