Self-Confidence in Tennis…a Vital Ingredient

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John Cavill

All tennis and sporting greats have an abundance of self-confidence. To achieve, the player must have an ability to believe they can win and that they can be successful in their efforts.

Consultants at the United States Tennis Association report that self-confidence is one of the most important attributes an athlete can possess and should be fostered by both athletes and their coaches.

Personal Responsibility

Self-confidence is developed within the players own mind and is not something they can receive from others. Positive encouragement and feedback from coaches or supporters isn’t enough unless the player identifies with success. The player must take ownership of their confidence and not allow outside influences or circumstances to interfere with their self-image…even when they’re having a bad day!

Tennis requires leadership and self-reliance, as no one can help you when you are out in the battlefield of the tennis court. Personal responsibility is something that can be nurtured from a young age with juniors having to organise their own kit, hitting sessions with others, stretching, food choices and much more. With the player’s I have worked with, those who understand what the above means to being a better tennis player, have improved their game further than others in the same time period.

Influences and environment

To be a great player, you must surround yourself in a great environment. Self-confidence originates within the player, but positive role models and supporters will continue to reinforce positive internal self-talk. There are many places that players can look for inspiration and positive influence, for example, current or retired athletes, spiritual advisers, coaches and training partners.

I believe that environmental influences can make or break a player as every successful sports person can’t do it alone. The trust and bonds the players establish with people in their development stages give the player stability. The safety that provides the player, knowing they have people they can rely on will provide a positive platform and emotional safety net.

Struggles and set backs

Sport is like life…nothing goes 100% to plan! With jubilation, there will be turmoil but self-confidence isn’t reliant on a player feeling great all the time. There is not one athlete that hasn’t experienced negativity and self-doubt. Through adversity comes success as players will work through the tough times believing that they will come good again.

Roger and Rafa are prime examples of this…who would of thought that they would be at the Aussie Open Grand Slam final this year, especially after the 2016 they have both had. Elite players will have confidence in themselves and believe that they can bounce back from anything. This again is another important time for the player to be surrounded by positive influences who will tough out during the hard times with them so the player doesn’t feel isolated.

Managing emotional control and being able to not let external factors influence, are important skills a player must possess, otherwise performance is affected. Resilience and determination to fight back from failure and never giving up are attributes to self-confidence. Confident players don’t allow defeat to make them to feel angry or negative, but instead use the losses to give them motivation to train harder and win the next one.

Training

How and when a player trains are important elements to building self-confidence in a player. The day to day work that is performed is the reality of what they are doing. The more they practice, the better they get. Through practice and real-life improvement that they see, self-confidence will improve as their belief in their performance is grown and extensive training overcomes weaknesses. A player must win and be successful to breed self-confidence as they need to experience what it feels like so they get a taste for future success.

Improving Self-Confidence

Self-confidence comes from certainty, so the player must be doubt-free. If a player is only confident based on outcome, then this won’t build self-confidence as outcomes won’t always be good or certain. Permanent confidence will come from believing they will achieve. Confidence is based on the player’s self-assessment of their abilities and the task they face.

Because outcomes are not certain, when a junior player gets praise for them, they base their success on it. This is where the cracks will form in their self-confidence as they will perceive themselves negatively if they don’t win. As coaches and parents, we should be praising the things the player can control, e.g. behaviour, hard work, attitude etc. From this, the player will be able to rationalise their performance better so in the future the results will reflect with self-improvement.

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Are Junior Tennis Tournaments a Social Gathering?

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Todd Widom

I find it quite amusing when I attend junior tennis tournaments and see the teenagers huddled around each other either socializing or trying to snap a photo to put on social media.

Then all of a sudden, their name is called and they need to rush to the court to play a tennis match. They may win or lose, but if they do not perform up to their parent’s standard that they have set for their child, it will be a rough car ride home or back to the hotel.

The “cool” kids that love tennis tournaments so they can see their friends usually do not do well. Their mentality and preparation is wrong. For the serious kids, socializing is for outside the tennis facility. When you are at the tournament, the serious kids are there to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to win. Everything else is secondary.

For all the parents reading this article, the next time you attend a junior tennis event, just take a step back and see who is hanging around at the courts all day with no purpose. It is going to be the vast majority of kids, but also keep in mind that the vast majority of kids do not have goals and a purpose for why they play tennis.

There will be a couple of kids sprinkled around the event away from everyone else warming up properly, stretching, re-gripping their rackets, and maybe listening to music in a quiet secluded setting. They are not around many other kids socializing and listening to all the noise around them. These teenagers are there at this event and they have a purpose.

For many of you who have read my previous articles, you know that my tennis background was training with a couple of Argentine disciplinarian coaches who produced some of the best amateurs and professionals in the United States. I trained with these phenomenal coaches from when I was 6 years old all the way to 26 years old. As I reflect on how I was and what went through my mind preparing for a tournament, it went something like this.

Tennis for me was a blast from day one. I was obsessed with everything about it. I grew up and played with the best players in the country and in the world since I was 6 years old. I had two main coaches that truly cared for the students. They trained you multiple hours every day. You did not just take a lesson and then spend no time with them the following days. They were truly there for you to produce you into a champion. They were not running a lesson factory away from the other students. Tennis for me was a way to better my life.

What this means is that if I could hit that tennis ball better than most, I could find a way to better my life in something I truly enjoyed doing. I felt the love from my coaches because they knew I would run through a wall to win a point or perform the drill properly. When there is this mutual desire by both parties to go the extra mile, there was no way I could not be a serious prepared tennis player at a tournament.

To goof off at a tournament meant to me that I did not respect what they were doing for me, and what my mother was doing for me since there were tremendous sacrifices to see how good I could be. I was a reflection of their phenomenal teachings and I would not let them down if I could avoid it. You see, I was striving to be a top notch amateur and then professional, but I felt that they cared so much and wanted it for me as well, so we were in this process together working our tails off.

Playing junior tennis in Florida in my generation was very difficult. The talent pool was large.  If you did not prepare well in practice or in the tournament arena for your matches, you were not going to be successful. I would watch some of the top players and I knew that to ever beat them, things had to be done properly. I was also a top-notch player, but I knew that if something was off, it would be a quick match and I would not win.

These players would be away from the rest of the competition at events and you know they were getting ready for a prize fight. There was no socializing for these players. They were there for one reason and one reason only, and that was to win. I was not the only one trying to better my life by hitting a yellow ball better than the rest.

When I went to tournaments, I rarely stayed at the tournament hotel because for me the competition took place on the courts and I did not want to spend time or socialize with the competition outside the “boxing arena.”

In closing, if you ever wonder how you fulfill your potential in this game, it is to perform many aspects of preparation well, but to have the proper guidance so that your goals can become a reality. I am not saying that your child should not socialize, but what I am saying is that the tennis facility is there for tennis. The socializing for the serious children is outside of the tennis facility.  It is very easy to see who these focused children are at a tennis tournament.

What many children and parents need to realize is that tennis can open countless doors and the skills they learn on the tennis court can be lifelong. Many of these skills are not taught by studying out of a book in school. From very early on, I had a dream of playing professionally, and I knew tennis was the one thing I was best at, so when you have those thoughts of bettering the future of your life through tennis, you are going to have to do things better than most people.

There are kids all over the globe trying to get college scholarships or make it on the ATP Tour. What separates your child from the rest? Remember, if it were easy, everyone would do it.

Todd Widom may be reached by e-mail at todd@twtennis.com.

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How to Win a Tennis Tournament?

There is no better feeling than winning the tournament. When we win the last point in the final we start to respect our past work. We understand the reason of all hard practice sessions and we are happy that our internal motivation led us to this moment.

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Marcin Bieniek

But getting the trophy is not an easy job. Only one person can win the tournament and be really happy. So is there a recipe to have bigger chances for beating all rivals during the competition?

Hard work. Everybody knows that to get better, improve own skills and make chances bigger for winning the tournament we have to put a lot of hard work for many weeks to prepare for this deciding moment. This is the basic that all players and coaches have to implement to think about big goals.

But unfortunately it is not enough. In a regular draw there are 32 players with similar abilities who work really hard day by day. They make sacrifices, they train on the court and in the gym, they spend a lot of money on their career so the competition is really high. Where is the difference? What is the difference? How to win the tournament?

As we know tennis is a complex sport. If you want to be the best you have to take care of technical, tactical, physical, mental, and nutritional aspects. If you have weakness in one of them it can be a deciding factor. Lack of solid backhand can be used by your opponent to put you in trouble. Wrong strategy can lead to unexpected loss.

Inability to control emotions can cost you important points during the final set. Poor stamina can result in many unforced errors while being tired. Eating unhealthy can get your body recover slowly so even you played great the first match the second one will be a nightmare because you won’t have an energy.

So it all comes down to preparation. You can’t win a tournament if you are not prepared. If you put a lot of hard work during preceding weeks you can be sure that you are on the right track to get the trophy. But it is not all. If you want to beat your rivals and be number one you should focus on these 3 things. If you apply these tips you will get enormous advantage over your opponents.

 1.Reality

Mental aspect pays a crucial role in tennis. If you want to be a champion you have to think like a champion. A lot of times I see players who lack confidence because they don’t look at things as they really are. Athletes think that to win tournament they have to be better than 31 others athletes.

That is completely false. If there are 32 players in a draw you have to be better than 5 players to win the trophy. 1 in the first round. 1 in the second round. 1 in QF. 1 in SF and 1 in the final. That is the reality. There can be players who you always lose to but it doesn’t mean that you can’t win the tournament. Focus just on your opponent – not on others. If you beat one opponent at the time you have a big chance to finish as the best one.

 2. Physical preparation

Winning the tournament means getting through at least 5 matches. Additionally you will have to warm up every day and practice a little bit to stay in the top shape. Without proper physical level you won’t be able to achieve this task. There are a lot of players who play enormously well during first rounds just to play one of the worst matches in their careers while fighting for the final. It is nothing more than just poor physical skills.

To win the tournament you need constant solid performances so your body has to be ready for that. Make sure you put as much effort into your gym sessions as you do on the tennis court and winning the trophy will be your new reality.

 3. Recovery

Even the best athletes have limitations. Your body and mind have too. Only if you make smart decisions about your recovery you can be sure that you will be perfectly prepared for your next battle. If you think you are a machine you can pay a big price for that e.g during the semi-final. Players who wander all day around the courts are not the ones who lift trophy at the end of the week.

Your body and mind are under constant pressure so you have to implement recovery techniques to help them perform at the optimal level. Make sure you have plenty of rest between the matches, you drink enough liquids to replenish lost fluids and you sleep 7-8 hours to get the most of the best recovery for a human body.

Winning a tennis tournament doesn’t happen by a surprise. It is a planned mission that you can accomplish if you will implement given tips. Good luck on your next one!

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Serena Williams feels the magnetic power of the couch as well

When we look at Serena Williams or Novak Djokovic, we tend to believe that they are always motivated. That they are always ready to go out there and practice extremely hard and compete with all of their heart at any point in time.

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Adam Blicher

We think that they do not feel that magnetic power of the couch that all of us other normal human beings feel.

However, the difference between Serena and Novak and then all the rest of us is not in the feelings we experience. If you watch the Serena documentary, you will clearly see how she is often times struggling with motivation, and if you listen to interviews with Novak Djokovic after his long anticipated French Open victory, you will get to know that he has struggled to find the motivation to keep pushing himself further.

The difference is in whether we sit back in our couch and wait for the feeling of motivation to arrive. And if it doesn’t, we will stay in the couch not putting in the necessary work to simply have a shot at fulfilling our long-term goals and acting in accordance with our values.

A lot of us believe that tennis should be fun, and if it is no longer fun, we shouldn’t be doing it.

But in reality, getting out of the magnetic field of the couch, all depends on how committed we are to achieving our goals. Being committed is much more important than being motivated.

Committed to a bigger purpose. Having a clear set of goals and values that you follow.

If you do decide to go out on the practice court instead of sitting around waiting, you might just experience the motivation that you have been looking for. You might feel it as you step foot on the court, you might feel it half way through the practice session, or in some instances you might not feel it at all. But at least you did what was necessary to achieve your goals and follow your values – key ingredients for successful players.

So remember that what is important is to not sit back and wait for the feeling of motivation to come. Instead, get out there on the practice court. You may not have a perfect practice, but you have still come a long way if you are having a good practice on the days where you have no motivation at all.

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College Tennis Coach Reality Checks

Throughout my years of collegiate coaching, I listened to many bold statements from players, and I learned to become increasingly skeptical when I would hear these lines from recruits or players on my team.

I would try to decipher whether these players believed what they were telling me, or if they were just selling me a line to get what they felt they desired. Here are a few examples of statements that would be voiced to me on a semi-regular basis:

 “I want to play professional tennis”

“I love tennis”

“I am a really hard worker”

“I want to play higher in the lineup”

“I like to be criticized”

“I am really tough competitor

It was not just players who expressed these thoughts; parents and coaches voiced them too. I listened to a lot of talk while witnessing a great deal of inaction. Usually, the players who loved tennis worked extremely hard, embraced criticism, were tough competitors and played high in the line-up rarely spoke about possessing these traits – they just lived them. It was like the ones who openly voiced these statements were constantly trying to convince themselves, their parents, or me that they were something they were not.

I tried to remind myself that it is not solely the fault of the young athlete. Most of them have been bombarded with all sorts of confusing feedback and advice from coaches, parents, and social media throughout their junior careers. These players were once that big fish in a puddle, and innocently believed their own hype. They often lacked a level of self-awareness and knowledge of what actions they should be taking to back up their goals.

You should think critically about what it is you want to accomplish, and have a sense of when you are being overly influenced by your peers, coaches, parents and even social media. Ask yourself if what you are saying is truly what YOU desire.

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Coach Mullins

College tennis coach reality check # 1

You don’t have to be the hardest worker, the most coachable player or the toughest competitor at your club, academy or team – AND THAT IS OKAY!. Those titles are not for everyone. Stop comparing yourself to others and focus on maximizing your own potential. College teams are hopefully made up of a group of hard workers and tough competitors, but not everyone can be “the” hardest worker or “the” toughest competitor.

I will work through a few more of these statements and give you some brief insights into what college coaches actually hope to see and hear from potential recruits.

“I want to play professional tennis” – This statement became a lot more prevalent from recruits in my final years of coaching. I am not exactly sure why this was the case. However, I have a few theories! I know for certain that some of these players had been told by their junior coach that they would only work with them if their goal was to play professional tennis! Maybe these coaches know they can extract more money from a pupil if they keep convincing the parents that their kid is special, and “has what it takes” to become a professional tennis player. Parents, understand that this kind of coach is also telling another 40 players that they also “have what it takes”.

I believe that if junior players hear this kind of talk from parents and coaches, they are likely to internalize such messages without understanding what is actually required to make a living as a pro tennis player. Unrealistic expectations rise and they erroneously convince themselves that college coaches need to hear about their professional aspirations in order to be interested in them as recruits. It has now become a throwaway line that means very little at all, especially when the actions are not there to back up such statements.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with aspiring to play professional tennis, I know I did. However, ask yourself if professional tennis is truly something YOU want or if it is just something you think you need to tell parents, other players or coaches to validate their investment in you and your tennis. If you don’t want to play professional tennis, then don’t state that. Instead, focus on maximizing your capabilities during the time you are willing to devote to your tennis. Being the best tennis player you can be doesn’t always have to involve some grandiose goal.

College tennis coach reality check # 2

College coaches are no longer falling for this line, but will play the game and entertain your interest in pro tennis. They know which players truly have pro potential and a mindset to match it. A coach will be far more interested in you if you set goals for college, are a process-oriented individual and are willing to work for your place in the line-up and in the college game, before setting your sights on something bigger.

Break down your goals into manageable chunks and prove yourself at each level before setting a new performance related goal. Understand the difference between goals and dreams. Dreams usually leave people in a fantasy land, wishing for the thing they want to happen overnight. Goals involve an action plan and a timeline.  

“I am a hard worker” – compared to who? The other kids at your local club? Your high school team? Your siblings? Usually we have a very small community in which to compare ourselves, so we believe we are working extremely hard because those around us are in awe that we might go for a 3-mile run at 6 am. Ultimately, we don’t want to compare ourselves to anyone, and we want to be honest with ourselves about our effort and output. We SHOULD also want those advising us to inform us when they believe we can be giving more.

My point is that if your goal is to be a top college player, or even a professional player, then you better be sacrificing a great deal. Your work ethic/sacrifice should match your goals. The bigger your goals, the more discomfort and sacrifice you need to be willing to experience. I have come across many players who had audacious goals but their physical and mental output, and the level of discomfort they were willing to endure, did not even come close to matching their ambitions.

College tennis coach reality check # 3

Stop talking about how hard you work, and focus instead on being very intentional with every aspect of your training. Take inventory of how much of the training you do is done in a deliberate manner. You may, in fact, just be going through the motions and checking off the hours logged. College coaches want players that can fully engage with the 15-20 hours per week that they get to work with them.

If you are on the court yelling or moaning about how badly you keep hitting your forehand, or appear distracted by the test you have 48 hours from now, then don’t expect them to be impressed because you did an extra set of sit-ups in the weight room one Wednesday afternoon. Let your consistent actions speak for how hard you are working. Most importantly, ALIGN your goals with your ACTIONS and be brutally honest with yourself when they are misaligned.

“I am a tough competitor” – remember that one time you came back from a 1-5 third set deficit to win the match 7-5 in the third set? It felt good, right? Unfortunately, that one performance does not mean you are a tough competitor! It is difficult to even define what a tough competitor looks like, especially when the # 1 player in the world, Andy Murray, looks like a whiney little baby on the court half the time.

However, competitiveness comes down to a player’s resilience in pressure situations, or times when they are feeling far from their best, either physically or mentally. Regardless of the situation, a tough competitor puts forth a consistent mental and physical effort despite the score-line or circumstances, and is always willing to push past what they perceived were their limitations in every match they play.

College tennis coach reality check # 4

College coaches love to see emotion and enthusiasm for competition, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with showing your passion on the court, pumping fists and all that jazz, but are you that way all the time, regardless of who you are playing? Coaches want to see and coach a player that is consistent with their approach to competition.

That looks differently for all of us, and sometimes certain circumstances will bring out more emotion than others. Stay true to who you are, increase your understanding of your thoughts during competition and be honest with yourself when you have given less than your best, or if you are making excuses during or after a loss.

Build your resilience every chance you get. We are hard wired to gravitate towards what is easy or convenient in life. If you want to achieve your potential, then look towards the more difficult path. When you feel terrible on the court, that is an opportunity to build resilience and not succumb to what is easy, which would be giving less than your best. Treat your resilience like a muscle, and when you get put in a tough situation understand that you can either train that muscle or let that muscle atrophy.

As a player, I was guilty of some of these false beliefs and statements. I did not know what it meant to work hard, be a tough competitor or let my actions speak for themselves. I learned this throughout my college years. Hopefully you can learn it sooner than I did, but it is never too late.

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