Recognising the situation
I’ve had a few weeks to think about this article and during that time I have tried to look at my players and others to identify certain aspects of ‘Recognising the situation’. In tennis, this term is associated with when a player identifies a certain situation through observation and creates a response based on this information. An example may be that a player sees that their opponent is going to hit the ball short so they take a few steps up the court in anticipation to this response so they can get to the ball in time and in position.
Experience is one of the most important ingredients when helping a player to recognise a situation as the more times a player has competed, the more situations they would have been in. The other important ingredient is memory recall. Memory recall is the ability to remember information based on a previous experience.
It is very common in elite performers that they have a photographic memory. Their ability to recall information within fractions of a second and select an appropriate response is one of their greatest assets. As a tennis player they make thousands of decision in every match and not everyone will be the best. This is why I believe that tennis and life are very similar as the more experience you have, the better you are at making decision.
It is fair to say that when a player starts off on their tennis journey, the results come pretty quickly as their learning curve is very steep. But when the player finds their level and the increments for improvement are much closer together, the players understanding of the game becomes even more essential as where before they could just rally the ball back until their opponent made a mistake, they are now in the situation where they must conjure up tactical patterns of play to outwit their opponent.
During a session I was running for some of our top teenage juniors, I consulted my coaching team about this very subject. There was no surprise to see that those who have been competing at a higher level and for a longer amount of time were the ones that read the game the best. I don’t believe this to be the deciding factor in whether the player recognises the situation as there are a few players that have been competing since they were 5 years old and didn’t spot obvious opportunities to take advantage of the situation. With this in mind, it led me to come to the following conclusions:
The player doesn’t retain information on previous experiences very well
The player isn’t confident of their ability to use their skills to exploit the situation.
As a coach I think it is vital that we understand which category of the above the player falls into as it will determine the route in which the coaching should go.
So how do we help people who don’t retain information very well? I don’t believe that there is one answer to help everyone but the approach I would take would be to continually ask questions throughout their practice match or sessions. The lines of questioning would be ‘what would you do differently if you had that situation again?’, ‘Did you know what your opponent was going to do before they did it?’ OR ‘Why did you make that decision?’ If they struggle to answer then showing them video of themselves can help. Only with your players feedback can you really understand whether they understand what they should be doing within the situation if they don’t execute it.
So what do you do if the player does know what they should be doing in a certain situation yet they decide not to? You have to understand why and in my experience it can be one or a combination of the following:
- Fear of missing / making a mistake
- Lack of physical ability
- Lack of technical ability
Again, once you understand the player, you can tailor the practice sessions around addressing the issues. I think that the fear of missing is something linked to confidence and through experience and repetition, confidence will come. Going back to my earlier example of recognising a short ball being about to be played by your opponent, I would look at my player’s movement to the ball and spend time getting this correct before ensuring the technique of the shot is being executed properly. The player will improve their confidence and skill level to execute the shot through many basket drills and open play situations where the player is awarded for taking on the short ball e.g. if they attack a short ball and miss, then the point is played again (which takes the pressure of missing out of the equation) or they win 3 points if they win by attacking the short ball.
Every player has strengths and weakness and these will also play a part in the player’s decisions when they recognise a situation. Another interesting observation I have about those players who recognise a situation quickly is that they are very much aware of their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses as well as their own and they are able to impose their strengths onto the opponent’s weakness consistently.
Being attentive, gaining experience, digesting information and practicing hard should all be highlighted elements when growing your players awareness so that recognising a situation quickly will result in the best tactical response.