Fitness During Tournaments for Tennis Players Trying to be Elite

This past December I had a discussion with a young touring professional  who was having trouble sustaining his level of fitness during matches on the ATP tour. He had some very good chances to win matches against good players, but he would run out of gas and not be able to sustain his level of play. After telling me his physical issues during his matches, he asked me if he should be doing fitness during tournaments. My quick response was of course.

Working out during tournaments

The vast majority of your children are not going to do what this article is discussing. To be elite in this sport, you have to be different than the rest, and it is the small things that make the biggest difference if you want to be special. If you do not go above and beyond the call of duty, you will be like the rest.  It all depends what your child wants out of their tennis.

Included in this article is information on fitness for those who are trying to become elite junior tennis players. The norm for a junior tennis player is to warm up for their match, play their match, maybe stretch 5 to 10 minutes, get food, maybe play another match or go to the movies, or hang out with their tennis friends for the rest of the day. If the junior tennis player trains well for a tournament, they should be physically fit entering each and every tournament.

The reality is that if this player does not keep up their level of fitness during tournaments, they will be out of shape when they come back to train once their tournament is complete. For every day they skip doing some physical fitness during a tournament, they will lose a bit of their physical conditioning, which will have to be boosted up again when they come home to train.

Doing fitness during a tournament will help maintain one’s fitness level and it is not about becoming more fit or stronger. You want to try your best to maintain your level of fitness so that when you get home to train, you are not starting from scratch, and you can keep progressing to becoming more fit and stronger. From a parental perspective I know what you are thinking: I do not want my child to be tired for their next match the next day, I want them fresh.

If your child has been training well and is fit, doing 30 minutes of exercises is going to keep them sharp, because they should be used to doing lots of tough physical work at home. If your child has two tough matches in a day at a tournament, then doing anything strenuous is not too smart, but if your child has some easy matches or one easy match, I would highly recommend them doing some very sport specific exercises to keep them sharp at tournaments.

This comes down to common sense. For example, if your child has an easy match or two in one day, they definitely should proceed to do fitness for at least 20 to 30 minutes. They should do tennis specific movements to keep their fast twitch muscles firing for the matches the next day. They could also do some body weight exercises, core or band work for some upper body strength.

If your child had a brutal day at a tournament and is tired, they should have a very good cool down session and recover well for the next match. This may consist of a light jog or bike ride to flush out all the lactic acid that developed in their muscles. Then you need a great recovery plan to make sure your child wakes up the next day with a fresh body so that they are able to compete again. I will discuss the recovery plan in a future article.

As I discussed earlier in the article, most kids are not going to do this without someone helping them, and if they do this on their own, you have a very special mature young person on your hands. Tennis is becoming a more physical game and the ball is going faster generation after generation. I can tell you that many injuries come from improper training.

Also, tennis players who have become out of shape and then trying to push their bodies to higher levels of fitness or tennis when their bodies cannot handle that type of training at that moment, is a recipe for injuries. When a player is at a tournament, it is all about trying to maintain your level of fitness so that when you come home to train, you are not out of shape and having to start from zero.

I always tell the players I train on a daily basis, that if you think your matches at tennis tournaments are very tough physically, then you are not fit enough. Your training should always be tougher physically than your tournament matches, and if this is not the case, then you need to train tougher physically. Best of luck and remember that going to tournaments are fun, but you also need to keep up with your fitness if you want to keep progressing physically.
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What Every Player Should Know Before Joining a College Tennis Team

I spent four years competing as an elite collegiate tennis player and another 12 years coaching college tennis in three different conferences, on both the men’s and women’s side. The landscape of college tennis and college sports in general have changed dramatically since I commenced my playing career over 16 years ago.

Picture of Coach Mullins

Coach Mullins

There is more money and resources available to these student-athletes than ever before and it appears that there has never been a better time to be a student-athlete than today. The quality of coaching, the access to medical care, the extra money available from student assistance funds, the ability to showcase their talents via social media, the internet and on cable television. The list goes on and the college experience I enjoyed in the late 90’s looks very different to how it does today.

However, I don’t necessarily believe that nicer facilities, bigger scholarship checks and more support staff is always of greater benefit to these young players. Many NCAA Division I universities have created endless safety nets in order to protect these students from failing, which they believe would negatively impact a team’s success or an Athletic Department’s reputation. My belief is that it will be a difficult path for student-athletes to experience deep growth and make positive changes in their lives if we don’t allow them fail.

It was once understood that being a student-athlete would be a rewarding yet very challenging experience. Personally, I had a difficult freshmen year as I adapted to the college game, a different court surface, a new coaching style, a strange culture, and gaining my independence among other things. However, I endured many small challenges and by the end of my first semester as a sophomore I was thriving and taking full advantage of this unique opportunity. I grew each and every year, and by the end of my 4 years, I felt prepared to take on the real world.

The lessons I learned from my athletic experience and coach far outweighed what I acquired in the classroom. I had become tougher, better able to handle any adversity thrown my way, all while developing my leadership capabilities. As a coach, I have had the great pleasure of watching many other players under my watch go through this same process time and time again. I have dozens of letters from former players thanking me for putting them through some of these difficulties and challenging them every step of the way. They did not understand it at first, but they persevered and benefitted greatly from the experience. Today they are applying these lessons in their personal and professional lives.

It appears now that many players, parents and athletic department administrators no longer trust in this four-year process. If players are criticized or challenged early in their career, they want to transfer, quit (but keep their scholarship) or run to the athletic administration to have someone set the coach straight! In recent years, I have seen this occur more frequently in all sports in many athletic departments throughout the country, and it is a very concerning trend for the future of our sport and, quite frankly, the future of our society. How can we develop leaders if they only believe everything should be “fun”, conflict-free and have no interest in being pushed outside of their comfort-zone?

There are many parties to blame for this trend, including the college coaches. We promise these student-athletes the world during the recruiting process and then wonder why they feel entitled when they get on campus! However, players and their parents need to understand that it is an honor and not a right to receive a scholarship to represent and compete for a specific institution of higher learning. Players need to truly understand what it is they have signed up for and look for ways to be better prepared for the realities and expectations of being a student-athlete. I hope in some small way, the following list can help current and future collegiate tennis players:

1. You are no longer paying the coach for their input, like you have done for most of your tennis career. The coach, or more correctly, the University is paying YOU. Understand that one of the reasons your junior coach was probably super positive and encouraging was because you were contributing to their wages. They were willing to hold back their opinions and avoid being completely honest with you so that you would continue to pay them for their services.

2. I hate to call playing college tennis a job, but the process of receiving a scholarship can be a great transition from High School into the job market. You are being paid for your dedication to the program just like you would be paid for any other job. With that, there will be expectations placed upon you. Don’t be surprised that your “boss” (your coach) has high expectations for you and your attitude towards playing for a team, training and competing. Your college scholarship is probably worth more than the average yearly salary for most people in the U.S.A. There is no perfect job just like there is no perfect collegiate program. There are going to be challenges and difficulties along the way. Embrace them, learn from them and keep persevering.

3. You will either play low in your team’s line-up or will not play at all if you are not performing. You are not guaranteed a spot in the line-up because you believe yourself to be the hardest worker or make some better life decisions than some of your teammates.

4. Practice match wins rarely count in how the coach determines the line-up. I have a practice match win over former top 10 ATP player, Mardy Fish, it doesn’t mean I believe I should have been Top 10 in the world!

5. Your college coach cares about you a great deal, despite their actions at times. It would mean they did not care for you if they were not willing to hold you accountable for your actions. If they let you do whatever you wanted and never pushed you out of your physical and mental comfort zone then they are not a coach, they are a cheerleader.

6. Understand that the only way to resolve issues with your teammates and coaches is to communicate with them. They may not always agree with you, they may challenge your thinking patterns, but it does not mean they are unapproachable and it should not stop you from keeping the communication lines open at all times. If you have an issue, then speak with that person about it. Your parents, or anyone else for that matter, cannot solve these issues for you. Have the courage to speak your mind; you have to be around these people nearly every day and it won’t be enjoyable if you are harbouring some ill will against a fellow teammate or coach.

7. Understand that you have a role in the team’s functioning and success as much as the next person on the team. Learn to take responsibility for your actions and truly understand what role you are playing in any type of team dysfunction, on or off the court. There are always two sides to every story.

8. The college coach is watching and evaluating you every day in practice, in competition and in the team environment. They often know you better than you know yourself, and they definitely know your game inside and out. Your junior coach probably did not get the opportunity to see you compete as much as they would have liked. Your college coach is sitting on your court for every match you play (which is a lot of matches) so believe me, they probably are not missing much. They know where you belong in the line-up better than anyone else, and it is not even close!

9. If you do play in the line-up, be grateful for the opportunity and don’t complain where you play. Each match is worth the same amount of points so you are playing an equally important role as the person playing No. 1. Put the team first and don’t complain about where you think you should be playing. The coach ABSOLUTELY knows best as to what line-up sets the team up for the greatest chance of success.

10. Stop telling yourself that the coach is putting pressure on you to win. There is inherently some pressure involved with trying to win for something bigger than yourself. But remember that any pressure you perceive is self-inflicted. You can choose not to succumb to that “pressure”. Again, if you don’t perform, you don’t play. That is life, get used to it. Don’t blame someone else for the things you have going on in your head. Take responsibility for your actions and your performances.

11. ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH: you will get yourself into a lot of troubling situations if you don’t own the truth. Your coach will be very understanding if you are quick to own up to any mistakes you make. You are in college: you will make plenty of mistakes. That is to be expected. Own the mistake, learn from it and help your teammates learn from it, too.

David provides more insights into how to be prepared to play college tennis in his “How to Dominate College Tennis” Guidebook. Go to www.davemullinstennis.com for more information.

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Is Novak Djokovic Losing his Game?

The last Grand Slam of the year is here – and even though Novak Djokovic may still be a favourite for many fans and professionals alike, it is impossible to deny that lately we have not been seeing the same man play. Now the world‘s #1 is still ridiculously far ahead with his ATP points standing at 14840, with an advantage of more than five thousand over Andy Murray, but since Wimbledon, Djokovic started to seem more and more human.

Yes, it would be a bit daft to just look at a few results and think that his golden era is slipping away. Novak Djokovic has been ridiculously good – so good, in fact, that it makes people watching sometimes forget that keeping up a track record like that is pretty much impossible. And yet, the Serb has managed it so far, making his competition struggle and then struggle some more.

However, you can‘t help but look at his latest results and start scratching your head. In Wimbledon, he was out after the third round loss to Sam Querrey who is currently ranking as 31st in singles. While the American is no rookie, it still feels off to watch Djokovic go off and lose so early on in a Grand Slam, and not even to one of the living legends that are rocking the courts today.

Obviously, anyone can have a bad game, and the world’s #1 absolutely smashed it in Toronto Masters, taking out Kei Nishikori in the final. Everything was right with the world again – until Rio, that is. Now if you though Wimbledon was bad, Rio was horrid. Djokovic lost his very first match against Juan-Marin Del Potro, whose ranking in ATP is only #142. However, the Argentinian was admittedly brilliant and came out with a silver medal.

Now if it was anyone else but Djokovic, these results would be a perfectly acceptable slip-up. However, he’s already lost six matches this year and won 51, when he finished 2015 with only seven losses and 84 victories – a worrying difference. Without any doubt, the Serb’s performance in US Open will be very telling.

According to the UK-licensed bookie TonyBet, he’s still a favourite to win with his odds being at 1/1, however, he doesn’t have the ridiculous advantage that he used to have, and Andy Murray is hot on his heels with a 2/1. In a sport that is as individual as tennis, it’s very important to have your head in the game. – and it’s likely that playing just got a whole lot tougher for Djokovic in his mind.

Plus, the once indestructible players seems a lot more beatable now, which puts his opponents at more ease than normal. Can he recover? Absolutely. Will he though? Now that is a much tougher question. What’s clear is that Novak Djokovic is still one to watch at the US Open – even if it isn’t solely for the usual reason of seeing a phenomenal talent play.

The Serbian Tennis Monster Janko Tipsarevic

In 1999 I had a good Easter Bowl finish in the boys 16 and under division. Due to my results, I was invited by the USTA to go on a trip for three weeks to Europe and play some of the best 16 and under European tournaments on red clay. I was very excited to say the least. These players in the draw of these three tournaments were mostly from Europe and they were very good, especially on red clay. I thought I was great on clay because I grew up on clay in south Florida and I was coached by Argentine coaches my whole life. Being good on green clay in the United States and being good on European red clay are two very different things.

Janko Tipsarevic

Janko Tipsarevic

Some of the kids that I saw on that trip would be my competition on the ATP Tour a couple of years later, but there was one kid who caught my eye at the first tournament in Torino, Italy. I did not know who he was, but I knew that if I played him, I may not have gotten games off of him. He was that good and not only that, he was a year younger than me. This guy was built like a monster from his upper body to his legs and he was sliding on these red clay courts like no other fifteen year old I had ever seen. I thought I was pretty good at sixteen years old. I was top five in the United States in the 16 and under division and already had some low level professional experience.

The boy’s name was Janko Tipsarevic from Serbia and thank goodness I did not play him on this trip because I was very certain this guy was much better than me. I ended up taking a beating my second week in Milan, Italy from a guy from Switzerland (not Roger). I lost 6-1, 6-1 to this guy and I thought I played well. I was sliding well on the red clay and ripping the ball heavy and I got a lesson in about an hour. This was my “ah ha” moment, that I needed to become much better if I had any chance of playing against the best players in the world on the ATP Tour.

Fast forward a couple of years to 2001 and many tough hours of training later plus a semester of college tennis at the University of Miami. I met Janko Tipsarevic in the second round of the Orange Bowl boys 18 and under, played on Key Biscayne, where the Miami Open aka the Sony Ericsson professional tournament is played. I knew who he was but he had no idea who I was. He was the number two junior player in the world and at seventeen years old he already had extensive professional experience.

I had little to no world junior ranking because that was an area I never pursued. I was one of the top juniors in the United States and I had a little bit of professional experience, but not much. On paper, he should have smoked me and he probably believed that he should have. We start our five minute warm-up and he is warming up with his shoes untied. Talk about no respect for me! I looked at his shoes and then him, and it gave me more determination to beat him, which I did in a long tough three set match.

The moral of the story is that you should never underestimate anyone, even if you have never heard of them or seen them. There are players that are phenomenal all around the world and they are very good, but if you put in the extremely hard yards and train focused you could be a top player. There is no one right way to get there except by training hard and with a purpose. We had two totally different paths between our junior careers and professional careers, but I guarantee he was working his tail off in Serbia trying to make it on the ATP Tour.

I ended up playing Janko Tipsarevic in a challenger in California when he was ranked around 140 on the ATP Tour and I beat him again. His shoes were tied this time in the warm-up.

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Mirror Reflections

Picture of Allistair McCaw

Allistair McCaw

I really felt it was high time to write this piece. Maybe it’s because, as coaches we might sometimes find it a bit personal or difficult to tell a parent. I mean it would be pretty forward, but sometimes honest to say: “The reason why your child doesn’t react well to defeat or stress, is because you as a parent aren’t being a good enough example to them”. – Harsh? maybe, true sometimes – Yes.

So often I will consult parents who will tell me all the things their kid CAN’T do or what they do wrong in their sport. Right there starts the problem. For example, their kid gets frustrated and negative every time they feel pressure or begin to lose. They seem to think it’s all on their kid and feel the kid is the solo culprit.

Well, let me ask you this: how were you when you were young, how did you react to mistakes, failure or things that maybe didn’t go your way? Were you the perfect example?
Did you ever double fault or miss a pass, kick or catch under pressure?
Let’s Start right there.

In consulting well over 1000 parents in my 20+ years in coaching, I would say that more than 80% of the parents are actually the root cause to start with. Often they will tell me “Allistair, you need to speak to my kid!” When in fact I should rather be sitting down with the parent themselves.

Now, before we go any further, this is by no means an attack on the parent (believe me, I’ve had the hate mail!), but rather something that I’ve discovered and the main reason I’m writing this piece, is to help. While I’m on it, I’ll admit that us coaches are totally guilty here at times too.

Kids are a mirror of their parents, quite simply because they spend the most time around them. Kids reflect what they see, for better or worse, and for the first decade or so of their lives, what they see most are their parents. You see, it’s our words and actions they emulate as they make their first tentative contact with the world. Let’s face it, at first, it’s nice and cute when your kid displays your facial expressions or generally starts behaving like a mini-you. It stops being cute when the kid begins evidencing some of your less-than-flattering behavior, for the world to see.

Just small things that happen in everyday situations, such as the way you react to dropping the milk in the kitchen, to someone pulling out in front of you in the car – the way you react to these situations have a bigger impact than you think.

Dad’s, here’s one for you: The way you react whilst watching your favorite team getting a beat down on the TV!

Or let me ask you this: How is your mood in the car on the way home after a game? Are you heading off to McDonald’s after a win and racing straight home in silence and misery after a loss?

Even your complaining if something didn’t go your way or gossiping in front of your child, these little things make them feel that it’s alright to do as well. Complaining about line calls or unfair decisions comes down to the same thing – the way you as a parent handle lives unfair giving’s and situations.

Talking in front of your child about what they can’t do. What are you doing here in the bigger picture? – Simply breaking them down and making the mountain even bigger. I completely understand you only want the best for your child, but by constantly reminding them of their limiting factors doesn’t help in the long run.

If you aren’t having a ratio of at least 4:1 positives to negatives, you are raising a negative and fixed mindset. Even better, parents who love to remind their kid about their ‘choking’ moments for example: “Every time Johnny feels pressure he begins to crumble”. Well, think about this: maybe ‘everytime’ little johnny gets in a close match he’s thinking “Here I go again, I wonder what mom or dad are thinking!” They have developed a fear mindset. I mean, holy smokes, no wonder they choke every time!

Especially living in Florida, the sports state of USA, I’ve seen some crazy stuff in my times. But the best are those parents who can’t control their frustrations and anger, but then expect their kids to act like role models on the court or field!

Remember, that as adults, be it as a coach or a parent we are here to help, not hurt or hinder a kid’s progress. Understand that there is so much power in your words, facial expressions and constant reminders. The truth is, no kid wants to fail, neither does a kid want to let you down as a parent. As hard as it may be, we need to first take a look at our own self. How do we handle stress, challenges, failures, the unexpected? – are we the perfect example?

Here’s another commonality and interesting thing I’ve discovered, and that is the well-liked kids I’ve worked with have a lot do with their parents personality and parenting style. For one thing popularity runs in the family. It goes in hand-in-hand, Parents who are well-liked among their peers tend to have popular children. Parents who adopt a growth mindset approach and are fair, supportive, and who teach their children to follow the rules of social etiquette are likely to raise well-adjusted kids who relate well to both adults and peers.

You see, when it comes to sports, to me a great parent isn’t judged on how well their kid plays a sport, but rather on how well their kid can follow instructions, be respectful, listen and have a great attitude.

By contrast, permissive parents who set few standards and have little control over their children tend to raise children who are disrespectful, aggressive and if good at something, feel a sense of entitlement.

Adults, let’s stop and sometimes take a good self-reflection. Let’s take a look at ourselves and see how we react and handle stress and pressure. A child will see your example more than hear your words. Lets rather see how we can help our kids, lets remind them of what they CAN DO, and not keep reminding of what they can’t do. In fact, I’ve seen it happen many times with an athlete, that the problem disappears once the attention has been taken off it! – I especially love using this approach.

Remember that children are mirrors, walking reflections of the real, unadulterated you, and what they display to the world isn’t always pleasant. The way your child interacts with the world is a reflection of your values, standards and example.

You, the parent are the most important part of this puzzle. We as coaches value and respect all you do. it’s one tough job! But a big part of helping your child succeed comes from your example, your words, reactions to defeats or failures, and challenges.

I agree, not always easy, but something to stop and consider.

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