Concentration Competition

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John Cavill

Recently in my coaching sessions both myself and the other coaches I work with have been assessing the player’s ability to concentrate. As defined in the Oxford Dictionary, concentration is ‘the action or power of focusing all one’s attention’. This definition sums up several elements that a player requires to be able to concentrate well. The reason why we have been looking at whether people concentrate, how long they can concentrate for and when they concentrate will help us to further explore avenues that will help the player develop their tennis and life skills.

“One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular. ” -Tony Robbins

Personally I find it hard to concentrate on tasks which are either boring or very difficult and I don’t think I’m alone. The problem is that those tasks which are boring or difficult are very likely to be the most important and the fun stuff is only possible with the tough stuff done. We set up a challenge for the players whereby they had to rally to a high number of shots depending on the age and ability. With the 10&U players they had to get to 100 shots and if they make a mistake they go back to the start. We timed how long it would take for the first pair to achieve this and took notes on the children’s behaviour as time went on.

As you can imagine, the children were up for the challenge at the start but after 40 minutes and no success, they were showing signs of frustration, anger, disappointment, negativity and boredom. It was also interesting that it was very rare the players would do a big rally e.g. 80 shots, then make a mistake and follow it up with another big rally straight away.

Normally they would make another mistake within 5 shots and repeat this a couple of times before focusing again to start building another long rally. At the end of the session we asked the children whether they enjoyed what they were doing, how they were feeling and any other feedback they had. It was interesting to understand how the individual perceived the exercise as it gives a good indication of their belief, motivation to succeed and awareness of themselves.

With the feedback from the players and our observations, we are able to identify the players needs to improve concentration, so I have compiled a non-exhaustive list as below:

  1. Identify what really matters – You must know what will make you a better player whether you like it or not and you must spend time doing this well until it is done or improving. Being honest with yourself is paramount!
  2. Select key tasks – There may be 2 or 3 things you MUST do every day, so don’t avoid them. Whether it is eating the correct foods, following your physical programme or getting up really early for practice, if these things are done your day is a success.
  3. Don’t delay…get it done now – Whatever you have to get done, just get it done! Usually first thing in the morning is best otherwise distractions and other work may interfere. I know that if I don’t go training at 6am then it’s unlikely to happen so for those 10 minutes in the morning while walking around like a zombie, I feel like a champion by 9am when it’s all done.
  4. Nothing else is important in your success apart from getting the core tasks done – It’s so easy to log into Facebook, send a few text messages and answer emails but DON’T!!! They are not as important as getting your core tasks out of the way. Turning your phone off to complete the tasks is the best way.
  5. Multitasking is a bad mistake – You may think you can do lots of things well at the same time but you can’t! Responding to Facebook notifications while completing your stretches will divert attention and focus which will take time to regain. This is a very inefficient way of working.
  6. No interruptions – While completing your tasks, make sure that you can do so without disturbance. This may mean choosing the right location or time and disconnecting from the outside world.
  7. Plan time for other distractions – If you have a task to get on with then plan a time when you can change your attention. This may mean leaving the internet, social media and emails until 11am and then checking things again after lunch. I’m notorious for doing some work then seeing an email come in and then replying to it. I have much less stress if I get the important things done and then make time for the rest.
  8. Less is more – Don’t pack out your day. As a tennis player, you must have time to relax, eat well and study / work. If you have back to back activities, then you feel as if you are rushing and you are less focussed on the important tasks.
  9. Expect things will take longer – By giving yourself more time than you think you require, you will not come up against time pressure which can detract from focussing on the task. A good example is to allow more travel time to training or tournaments. I see players leaving themselves the minimum amount of travel time to get to an event and then compromising on warming up and pre-match preparations which can have a negative effect in the match.
  10. Rewards and breaks – Concentration can only last for up to an hour so rather than battling against it, take a break and reward yourself. This could mean that the player finds somewhere quiet to read a book or listen to music for 10 minutes before they get back to the practice court. I promise you that you’ll feel more focussed after the break.

If you are player, coach or parent and willing to try and take on board some of the information above, hopefully you’ll be better at what you’re doing and able to increase your endurance levels of concentration for even more success!

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Novak Djokovic Completes Grand Slam Collection

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Allen Fox

Just a few thoughts on the men’s French Open final: I was happy Djokovic won because over the years I’ve grown to respect his work ethic, humor, intelligence, and fighting spirit. He needed the win to complete his Slam victories, so good for him. This is not to dismiss Murray, who I also have respect for – just not as much respect.
As for the match itself: Djokovic started out with a lack of feel. He lost the first set missing his normal aggressive shot-making. Murray played solidly.

Then in the second set, Djokovic intelligently started to body-punch and run, taking less risk so as not to just give points away with high-risk shots and errors. His second adjustment was to work the point until he got an opening for an approach shot and net attack. This became his basic offense rather than his normal attack where he went for winners off the ground.

Murray, on the other hand, seemed totally confused as to what to do about it. He was not able to out-steady Djokovic and when he went big, he missed. (It also seemed like Murray was trying to control his emotions better, but in so doing he lowered his intensity to the point where he was sluggish and making too many errors.)

In any case, Murray got worse and worse as Djokovic got better and better. By the later stages of the match Djokovic was able to open up off the ground and go for (and make) his riskier down-the-line and wide crosscourt winners.

The lessons to be learned from this are that even if you begin the match out of touch and playing badly you must recognize how you are losing points and adjust accordingly. Djokovic was making errors so he hit less risky shots and depended on his court coverage and consistency. Then, as he gradually began to feel better he was able to open up and take his normal risks. He never got rattled emotionally during the process. This allowed him to make intelligent adjustments.

Poor Murray, on the other hand, just deteriorated as the match progressed. He seemed to have no firm game plan (which is always a mistake), was at sea emotionally, and was thus pushed around by the ebbs and flows of the match.

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Garbine Muguruza beats Serena Williams to Win French Open 2016

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Allen Fox

The Muguruza – Williams final was an exciting, pressure-filled contest. Serena didn’t play her best, but did play considerably better than she did against Kiki Bertens in the semis, where she was terrible in the first set (Her first serve was basically awol.) and only slightly better in the second. Bertens, whose groundstrokes consistently landed on the service line or missed, was her best ally in reaching the final. (My guess is that the importance of the situation was getting to Serena. She was close to the title and may have been thinking about it too much.)

Muguruza, on the other hand, played an excellent match, considering who she was up against. Serena must be a nightmare to play. She can hit winners from any position at any time, starting with her serve, which is the best I’ve ever seen in women’s tennis. But she gets nervous, and can miss at any time from any position also. So as an opponent, you get no rhythm. You have to withstand the uncertainty and keep your own game functioning, and it is tempting to just keep the ball in the court and hope Serena will miss. She induces you to do this by streaks of misses rarely seen at the highest levels of women’s tennis. But if you fall for it, Serena becomes very dangerous. (Just when you need her to miss, she starts hitting winners, as so many of her opponents have found out to their grief.)

Muguruza, to her credit, kept going for her shots. Yes, Serena was in the missing mode, but Muguruza hit enough great shots to keep her there. This was despite a few streaks of nervous double-faults when she was up service breaks. (Of course Serena is very scary when you have to hit her a second serve, but you just have to ignore her winners and keep making your normal plays.)

And Serena appeared quite gracious in defeat, which helped make up for her moaning, groaning, and looks of disbelief after most of her misses during the match. (The poor emotional control exhibited by Serena was a good example for young players of what NOT to do. It just makes you miss more.)

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Developing Sports Kid

Youth Development:

My Five Key Guidelines when it comes to developing sports kid:

5 key guidelines

I believe that the single biggest mistake made in kids coaching and the developing of a young athlete is that the fundamentals are not taught well enough and the development process is rushed.

Especially, the moment a kid gets a result or wins something ‘big’, the carefully set development plan is thrown out the window with the kid then being transported from one side of the country, competing in tournament after tournament.

Personally, I like many of you reading this, love training and working with young kids (6-10 years). I find at such a young age they are more ‘plastic’ to molding and shaping. The older they get the more challenging and difficult it is to ‘reverse’ a bad pattern or poorly taught skill. Much the same as driving a car all your life incorrectly and then having to re-learn the proper way.

Did you know that 70% of kids give up their sport before the age 13, mostly because of burnout, loss of fun or pressure?

In my opinion, the main reason why this happens is due to parental influence and the excitement, addiction and sometimes ego (the parents) of chasing trophies and accolades.

So here are my 5 key guidelines for developing sports kids:

1. Stay the course, no matter how advanced they are. Learn, apply, teach and stick to the fundamentals of the sport.

2. Focus on developing the athlete. Remember that kids under the age of 13 should be spending at least 40-50% of their time on other athletic skills and games.

3. Follow the long term plan and don’t be side tracked by early success. Develop all the necessary skills – do them well.

4. Let them compete, but the goal must still be focused on working on their skills and game. Each match or competition should have goals that are performance and skill driven, NOT result driven. Mistakes should be encouraged. Results can come later!

5. Last but not least, find a coach who understands the development path. A coach who is not results driven, but development driven. A coach who makes it all FUN.

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Davis Cup Champions…Where Do We Go from Here?

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John Cavill

First we had the answer to the annually asked question of ‘When will we have a British Wimbledon Champion?’ in July 2014 and now we have an answer to British success in the Davis Cup! British tennis is buzzing with a positive vibe felt by many across the country and the hope that this success will propel us out of the shadows we’ve been in for many years.

What Team GB achieved in the Davis Cup was something quite remarkable after only being in the Europe/Africa Zone Group 2 in 2010 with a play-off match against Turkey which decided whether they would be demoted to the bottom level of the competition. At this time, reaching the final like they did in 1978 or even going one step further like they did in 1936 where they won would have seemed a million miles away. A lot has changed since 1936 and other countries have overtaken Britain in the sporting arena, but it takes one or two exceptionally great players to change a nation’s fortune.

What the LTA did back in 2010 when they appointed Leon Smith as the Davis Cup captain was a very smart move. By appointing Leon, Britain were able to write the tennis fairy-tale where Andy gets to play for his coach from his ‘junior days’ and share the journey with his brother. Many know that Leon worked with Andy Murray when he was 11 years old and again worked with him when he returned from the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona, but that relationship between the two was the key to our success. There is no denying that if Andy wasn’t playing for GB then we would still be knocking around the lower groups of Davis Cup tennis, but Andy couldn’t have done this on his own without his brother.

The nation must be very grateful that the Murray brothers represent GB and that their dedication, hardship, work rate, determination and belief has ultimately paid off so that we can celebrate the pride of being British. The demands of being a top tennis player are incredible and playing in the Davis Cup isn’t always a great reward for the players with increased matches adding to their already hectic schedules, the increased risk of injury and the lack of financial reward.

Playing for your country is a privilege and an honour, which is certainly something Andy Murray prioritises. With the negatives that surround participating in this competition, they are further expanded for a top player if they are having to travel to places to compete in the world’s 3rd division of tennis! If Britain had any chance of being a success in the competition they needed Andy Murray as with all top nations you need top 20 players in your team. At this point it is worth saying that Jamie Murray, a top doubles player in his own right, was another essential part of the puzzle as without him, those vital doubles wins would not have been possible, especially on a few occasion when he needed to carry his brother in matches.

Over the years Andy’s dedication to compete when he could, even with injury scares in certain ties, is phenomenal. Now that Andy can join Federer, Djokovic and Nadal as a Davis Cup Champion further cements his status as one of the top players in the tennis history books during what arguably is the toughest era for a male tennis player.

I’ve talked a lot about Andy Murray and his undeniable influence in the Davis Cup team but what about the others who have also contributed to our nation’s success? During this campaign I’d like to highlight James Wards outstanding performance against the US with the world number 111 beating John Isner who was ranked 20 with a tremendous fight back from a two-set disadvantage to win 6-7, 5-7. 6-3, 7-6, 15-13 in almost exactly five hours.

Another notable match was in the final when Leon played his cards right with an in-form Kyle Edmond, who is ranked 100 in the world, making his debut to the competition against the world number 15, David Goffin. The competition could have been over by Saturday as Kyle took a 2 sets to 0 lead in the first match. That exposure for the young 20 year old will hopefully give him hope and belief to go on to do better but I believe that with these players rubbing shoulders with the likes of Andy Murray they are inspired and believe they can win.

What does this victory mean for British tennis? Andy Murray told the BBC on Thursday 26th November, the day before the finals started: “This might attract new fans who can see the team and how pumped up everyone gets in a different format and different atmosphere.”

“It’s a great opportunity to promote the sport in the UK and, hopefully, if we can get the win at the weekend that would be huge for tennis.”

“But it’s not our job to capitalise on the success of the team, that’s the job of the governing body and that’s what they’ve got to do.”

Controversially David Lloyd, former GB Men’s Davis Cup Captain, criticised the top British players for not growing the game in Britain by stating: “The British players in recent years who have been good — Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski, Andy — they don’t put enough back.”

“I mean putting your heart and soul into it, a passion that is bigger than the person and even bigger than the game. “

“It’s about getting a kid who wants to play for Manchester United to want to play tennis instead. Andy is in such an incredible position with power to do that but he doesn’t.”

“I don’t think Andy does justice in presenting himself. I don’t think he goes out of his way to present the game.”

Personally I don’t think it is the sole responsibility of Andy Murray or any of the others to develop British tennis, as this is the role of the LTA, clubs and coaches in this country.

Murray dismissed the criticism as “background noise” by adding “It’s like, you know it’s there but you’re not really listening.”

“My job here is to try to win the tie, give my best effort — like me and, I believe, all of the team have done the last five years.”

“We may not get the outcome we want but it won’t be through lack of trying or lack of care.”

“It means a lot to everyone to be in this position. Five years ago we were way, way behind in this competition — I think it was the lowest position we’d ever been in, so five years later to be playing and competing in the final is a great opportunity.”

Everyone in Britain has to take responsibility for the state of our tennis. Blaming, pointing fingers or making excuses is what we have done for many years and like with the change of success for the Davis Cup team, we need to change our attitude now for a better future. If everyone looked at what they do and how they could do it better with the tenacity to keep improving over a sustained amount of period then we will be better. Even before the final we heard the pessimists saying that Federer, Djokovic and Nadal didn’t play in the competition so it’s a shallow win…or… we only have 1 player and without Murray we are nothing.

I understand where they are coming from but the other players could have played if they wanted to and most Davis Cup teams are centred around one world class player. We should be using this success to inspire our top juniors to see what British success looks and feels like and continue to grow the game with the belief that future success is dependent on the efforts we put in now.

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