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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Mental Toughness…It’s a Choice!

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John Cavill

Recently I have been watching a programme on BBC2 called the Special Forces: Ultimate Hell Week which coincidentally a friend of mine from University was participating in. To give you a brief background to the programme, 29 of the UK’s fittest men and women are pushed beyond their mental and physical limits by battle-hardened veterans from the world’s toughest special forces including the US Navy Seals, Israeli YAMAM, Philippine NAVSOG, Australian SAS, Russian Spetznaz and British SAS. The contenders endure 2 days with each special force and at any point they can be sent home due to a lack of commitment, ability, attitude or even due to injury…a bit like tennis!

Last year I competed in Ironman, one of the world’s most challenging triathlons, so a lot of what they were going through resonated with me. I think that any endurance athlete can associate with the requirements above and tennis players are no exception. While watching the programmes you get a feel for each contestant’s physical breaking point as they vary in age, size and gender but the ultimate overriding element was mental strength. Where people were physically broken, starved, dehydrated and deprived of sleep, only the strong could take it to the next level to accept the situation and deal with it positively.

Many people, including myself, believe that mental strength is what makes a tennis player but one of the problems we have in the UK is that pushing people to the point of breaking or collapse can be deemed as dangerous and irresponsible. The other issue when pushing people to their limits is that you don’t know what long or lasting effects it will have and by going over that point you may cause damage both physically and mentally that will last for life. I believe that pushing limits are essential to achieving greatness but provisions must be made for monitoring and accessing players to ensure their welfare is cared for. Most coaches don’t have access to psychiatrists and a medical team, like they did on the programme, so we have to make a judgement which usually means we will protect the player far earlier than what they possibly could have endured, so does this mean we’re not getting the most out of our players?

In my experience talent and intelligence don’t play nearly as big of a role as you might think. The research studies that I have found say that intelligence only accounts for 30% of your achievement — and that’s at the extreme upper end. Mental toughness — or “grit” as they call it — plays a more important role than anything else for achieving your goals which is something that can be developed unlike the genes you were born with. Mental toughness, perseverance, and passion all have a greater impact on your ability to achieve goals. Mental toughness predicts whether or not a player would be successful, not their talent, intelligence, or genetics. Through mental toughness and that tenacity to keep going and be better, players eventually get better results.

You have probably seen evidence of this in your own experiences with friends who squandered their talent or people who have squeezed the most out of their potential. Have you known someone who was set on accomplishing a goal, no matter how long it took?

In every area of life — from your education to your work to your health — it is your amount of grit, mental toughness, and perseverance that predicts your level of success more than any other factor we can find which leaves talent and intelligence overrated.

It’s great to talk about mental toughness, grit, and perseverance … but what do those things actually look like in the real world? In a word, toughness and grit equal consistency. Mentally tough athletes are more consistent than others. They don’t miss training sessions, they are reliable and do everything properly with no short cuts. Tennis is an individual sport (unless playing doubles which requires other attributes) and each player is expected to be their own leader. Mentally tough leaders are more consistent than their peers. They have a clear goal that they work towards each day. They don’t let short–term profits, negative feedback, or hectic schedules prevent them from continuing the march towards their vision. They make a habit of building up the people around them — not just once, but over and over and over again. Grit and perseverance can become your defining traits, regardless of the talent you were born with. You can become more consistent. You can develop superhuman levels of mental toughness.

 So how do we development mental toughness?

  1. Define what mental toughness means for you. For an aspiring tennis player it may be not missing a fitness session or eating the right foods. Whatever it is, be clear about what you’re going after. Mental toughness is an abstract quality, but in the real world it’s tied to concrete actions. You can’t magically think your way to becoming mentally tough, you prove it to yourself by doing something in real life.
  2. Mental toughness is built through small physical wins. You can’t become committed or consistent with a weak mind. How many workouts have you missed because your mind, not your body, told you that you were tired? How many opportunities have you missed out on because your mind said, “Nine reps is enough. Don’t worry about the tenth.” Probably thousands for most people and 99% are due to weakness of the mind, not the body.

So often we think that mental toughness is about how we respond to extreme situations, for example, how did you perform in the final of the tournament? There’s no doubt that extreme situations test our courage, perseverance, and mental toughness … but what about everyday circumstances? Mental toughness is like a muscle. It needs to be worked to grow and develop. If you haven’t pushed yourself in thousands of small ways, of course you’ll wilt when things get really difficult. It doesn’t have to be that way! Choose to do the tenth rep when it would be easier to just do nine. Choose to create when it would be easier to consume. Choose to ask the extra question when it would be easier to accept. Prove to yourself — in a thousand tiny ways — that you have enough guts to get in the ring and do battle with life.

Mental toughness is built through the individual choices that we make on a daily basis that build our “mental toughness muscle.” We all want mental strength, but you can’t think your way to it. It’s your physical actions that prove your mental fortitude.

  1. Mental toughness is about your habits, not your motivation. Motivation is fickle. Willpower comes and goes. Mental toughness isn’t about getting an incredible dose of inspiration or courage. It’s about building the daily habits that allow you to stick to a schedule and overcome challenges and distractions over and over and over again. Mentally tough people don’t have to be more courageous, more talented, or more intelligent — just more consistent. Mentally tough people develop systems that help them focus on the important stuff regardless of how many obstacles life puts in front of them. It’s their habits that form the foundation of their mental beliefs and ultimately set them apart.

We all have mental toughness in us but the true answer lies within…how much do we want it and how far are you willing to go?

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Great Coaches Are Great Demonstrators

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Allistair McCaw

Back in 2013, I was invited to attend a 3-day basketball clinic held at the Nike headquarters in Portland, Oregon. It was a coaching clinic for mostly coaches of high school and colleges.

Besides not being the most ‘gifted’ or skilled person in basketball, among other things, we were put through a series of drills and exercises on the court. The reason being, so that we (as coaches) had a deeper understanding of what the drill or exercise feels like. It’s important that we have a better insight of what the athlete will experience learning that particular skill. Also we need to be able to demonstrate it well enough.

I’ve always believed that as coaches we need to be able to demonstrate and relate to what we are teaching. That doesn’t mean we need to be Steve Nash or Kobe out there, but it is important to demonstrate to the athlete what we want to see.

What struck me most, was how well some of these coaches could shoot, dribble and play. Also, just how detailed they were on getting the technique 100% right. They asked for guidance from the clinic instructors over and over. These coaches were scholars of the game and like great athletes who stay after practice to get better, so too do great coaches.

Great coaches are great demonstrators. They don’t only bring their message across in a simple and well understood way, but they can demonstrate well what they expect from their players.

This is definitely one distinct advantage good level ex athletes and players have, an ability to demonstrate the specific drills and technique well.

In my own time, I often pull out some cones or bits of equipment to work on drills and exercises I know I will be showing my athletes that week. I must add that it is usually far away from the crowd and watching eyes!

I just believe that as a coach, I can and have to be better in demonstrating, not just instructing. Great coaches are well prepared, just like a professor or teacher takes a class of students, they do their preparation and homework before hand.

Any athlete will tell you, especially the higher you climb the ladder in level of athlete you are working with, that if you can demonstrate well, you are respected even more. We also need to remember that athletes learn a lot quicker visually (being shown) than verbally (spoken).

Coaches, how must practice do you put into the drills and exercises you demonstrate (or don’t demonstrate) to your athletes? Are you investing that time to better your own skills?
What does it cost to invest 20 minutes a week in getting better in some exercises or drills you frequently use?

All great coaches are well prepared and are great demonstrators.

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A Letter from a Tennis Mom

This letter was written by a tennis mom

The best website I ever came across when I started taking my daughters’ tennis endeavours seriously is Tennis Consult. I have 2 daughters I thought were good players. My junior ended up as a doubles runner up 2015 in South Africa for doubles U10. Having researched all the material on Tennis Consult I had a very RUDE AWAKENING indeed. Competitive tennis is addictive and attracts A Drive parents and personalities. And parents who tend to live vicariously through their children.

I love tennis. I was a dancer, gymnast, provincial athlete, never a tennis player until my 30’s. Then I started playing at 30 and was HOOKED on tennis! My daughters inherited their father’s ball skills and I thought it was GAME, SET AND MATCH. Weekend after weekend we attended tournaments across the country, winning and losing tournaments. It was a fabulous family affair. I will never regret that aspect nor will I regret the sense of order and self-discipline my daughters learned as a result of competitive tennis. In fact my brother in law was the MD of an International Banking Institution and his criteria for employment was to employ candidates who competed in any sport at a Provincial or National level.

Last year we met a seasoned tennis father who had personally spent hundreds of thousands of rands exploring, developing, hungering after his daughter’s tennis success. When I read your impartial, empirical article on the actual costs involved and statistics of the number of tennis wannabees who actually succeed in a LUCRATIVE tennis career, his disappointment his inflated goals and ideals for his daughter began to resonate with my own realisation that one has to approach this “monkey on the back” with extreme caution and a whole lot of research and pragmatism.

If your children are not playing, training blood sweat and tears and LOVING THE GAME of their own accord, FORGET IT. Use competitive tennis as a means for intilling self-discipline, the art of negotiation, success in a competitive corporate world and health aspirations for your child. Just another Mummy’s crazy thoughts! Love it or leave it I don’t care!

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How to Attract More Girls to Play Tennis

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John Cavill

There are four times as many boys playing tennis in the UK compared to girls, so what is the reason for this and what can British tennis coaches do about increasing the numbers? I always like to write about topical items that I’m involved with and we recently did a survey of the number of girls in our programme at Stony Stratford Tennis Club. We seem to be attracting a slightly higher percentage of girls than the national average with 28% of our weekly development programme being females. The percentage then drops rapidly if you look at the number of teenage girls, which only account for 5% of the programme. In our competition programme which is designed for those wanting to regularly compete, we have 50 players of which 8 are girls.

I would highly recommend that any coach takes an hour to study the stats of their programme as it gives you a clear picture of the programme demographics and areas you may wish to improve on. From the information I have gathered, we decided that we need to increase in the numbers of girls playing from the ages of 5 to 9 years old. The reason for targeting this age group is because those who are still playing as teenagers all started when they were under 10 and those that wish to compete also tend to start playing when they are young. By increasing the base of under 10 girl tennis players, we increase our chances of retaining more girls into their teenage years and more that want to compete. We have also seen that girls like to be with other girls so if you have a group who grow up together and are friends, that social element counts for so much if they are to continue playing for many years.

Off the back of this information, Tennis Works have recently launched an ambitious scheme aimed at encouraging more girls to take up tennis which starts in primary schools across Milton Keynes. We have also secured support and funding from the club, the Bucks Lawn Tennis Association and local schools. The project which is title ‘Girls Tennis’ aims to introduce more than 1,000 girls to the sport in its early stages.

The project has three phases; schools, free demo, club coaching. I compiled a database of schools and created a letter explaining the scheme, opportunities and benefits which was emailed to the school. The scheme starts with fun coaching sessions at the schools which last for 30 minutes each and are aimed at girls in years 1, 2 and 3 (ages 4-8). The best way to fit the sessions in with the schools is to run them during their PE session. For that session, the class would be split into boys and girls of which the PE teacher would take the boys and we would coach the girls. The feedback from the girls is great as they loved having a sports session without boys! We have to maybe go into the school over 3 different afternoons due to the timings of their PE sessions, but this worked well for everyone. At the end of the day all the girls went home with a letter selling the benefits of tennis and offering a free ‘girls only’ session at the club.

The parents then sign their daughter up via the contact details on the letter (we use an online form but an email address is also effective) and we communicate further with them on which day their free session will be. So far, this is where we are with the scheme and we are going into a number of schools over a 6 week period to promote Gils Tennis before the free demo sessions at the club start.

Once everyone has attended the free session we will offer them opportunities to continuing playing at the club with a subsidised ‘Girls only’ course that runs in small blocks of 6 weeks. The reason for this is that it keeps the course cost low, girls much prefer being in groups with other girls and the parents feel happy about not committing to a long term programme until their daughter has settled in.

With female participation in tennis being far less than it is with males, the only way this will be addressed is with the commitment of the schools, parents, coaches and club. Tennis is a great game and it’s not about looking for the next Maria Sharapova but to increase female participation for the enjoyment and health benefits tennis provides.

Our target is to get at least 45 new girls playing regularly at the tennis club which will increase our girl participation figures to around 45% from 28%.

I hope that this article helps you reflect on what can be done in your own programme which will have both financial and sporting benefits for the future.

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