It’s Saturday morning… I’m with my younger daughter (9 years of age) who has her last tennis practice before the next day tournament.
As it ends, I ask Bianca to play a practice match against her older sister, Cezara.
Bianca, who lately has been dominating the “battle of the sisters” is up 9 – 6 (tie-break to 10 points). Match point, right? But that’s when she makes the mental mistake that only inexperienced players allow to happen:
“- Daddy, if we get to 9 – 9, are we going to play by two points?”
I take a deep breath, forcing myself to control my frustration. I know what is about to happen:
Her opponent (Cezara) comes back to even the score at 9 – 9 and eventually wins the match: 13 – 11.
So what is this about?
When Bianca was ahead 9 – 6, her mind should had been focused on winning the next point and close the match. Instead she thought about 9 – 9. Whatever her mind was preoccupied with… happened.
This was her lesson which I hope she understood:
Whatever our mind focuses on, happens!
Whether we visualise good or bad things, that’s what we get. It’s a universal law that applies to everything in life, including tennis.
One of our subscribers, recently, shared a story saying that he is teaching a young man whose serve is great during his lessons when there is no receiver at the other end. But during his tennis matches, when there is the pressure of having somebody returning serve, his student often chokes. He wanted to know what he can do to help him…
My advice (and I was hoping you will find it useful too) was the following:
His student is probably too concerned with what the opponent’s reply will be. He’s anxious about the return and therefore he cannot relax when serving.
He must be taught to focus (when serving) on things like: breathing, spin and visualization (seeing the ball going to a certain spot inside the service box, etc.) – this would help him take his mind off of his opponent. (Mental Tennis – articles)
And he should have somebody return his serve (e.g. his coach, practice partner) most of the times he practices it.
Of course, his coach, will have to stay next to him and correct serve technique most of the time but they should change it up sometimes. For example: the student can hit 20 serves with the coach next to him then 20 serves with the coach returning the serves – in this case the student should be doing it until the coach/practice partner returns 20 balls; and so on.
I just finished watching an excellent movie, “Ender’s Game”… It made me “jump” on my keyboard and write these thoughts:
Tennis is a sport which gives us pleasure in two ways: competing in it, or… the feeling of working out/hitting the ball.
If you are in this sport to compete, then: you need to learn how to win!
Many tennis coaches and players spend hundreds of hours perfecting the stokes technique. While that is very important I do not think it should be over-emphasized.
For me, the priorities in tennis are: 1. Technique 2. Movement 3. Tactics/Strategies
In this movie I mentioned above, there is a character who is not the best fighter or the smartest among his peers – he is just the best at understanding how to defeat his enemies. He knows what it takes to win and he makes sure he gets it done.
Tennis players often spend too much time perfecting the technique. It should be done according to the tactics that one has to apply against certain opponents.
That’s because, for example, the forehand is not always the same when hit from different parts of the court or rally situations (stretched, close to the net, defending from behind the baseline, off balance etc.).
It is more important that you study the court geometry, strokes options (placement and spin) AND begin to pay attention to your opponents’ weaknesses from the beginning of any match.
Those are the skills that will allow you to enjoy the sport even more and win more tennis matches.
I’ve spent a great deal of time providing you with my best knowledge in the area of winning in tennis so you can too understand and enjoy it at the higher level.
Whether you play singles or doubles, there is a wealth of information on how to beat the pushers, the serve-and-volley players, how to deal with the wind (in singles) or how to win using the one-up-one-back formation, how to position yourself on the court for the best results, how to use the I-formation (in doubles) and so much more.
Also learn the court geometry (positioning so that you use less effort and get the best out of your shots) and strokes tactics (how, where and why you should place your serve, ground-strokes, volleys etc.).
All you have to do is visit these pages (membership access is required) regularly; you will find winning tennis matches easier:
SINGLES TACTICS (learn how to beat the pusher, serve-and-volley player, all court player etc.)
DOUBLES TACTICS (make the best of your doubles matches when playing any type of formations)
A couple of months ago I finished reading Nadal’s book – “Rafa” – and there was one statement that he made which I have been thinking about ever since… He said that his sister and the rest of the family consider him as being far from coordinated and a terrible driver. Nadal, himself, admits that the only reason we see him move so well on the court is because he has been spending so much time doing these movements that they just became natural and easy.
This brings me to a subject I have always found fascinating – the tennis talent.
Is there really talent that some people are born with
Talent is a skill that we develop through meticulous repetition?
As I was growing up I thought my brother had a talent for sports: he was faster and more coordinated than me. My father wanted to prove me wrong and showed me that hard work can triumph over talent. As a result I did overcome my brother’s talent in the last tournament we played when we met in the final: I won due to the extra hours me and my father put in just to prove this theory.
Years later I had the fortune to read two great books: “Bounce” (by Matthew Syed) and “The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How” (by Daniel Coyle) which explain in details and with concrete examples that talent is not something we are born with; instead it is something that we develop through thousands of hours of specific repetition.
That opened my eyes to the fact that all these geniuses we admire, in fact, were not born with talent. All of them have been very early practitioners in the field they eventually excelled in.
Take Nadal for example: he began tennis at the age of 3 under the supervision of his uncle Toni. Mozart (in music), another genius, was actually introduced to music by his father (an experienced music teacher and composer) at a very early age of 1. Tiger Woods, introduced to golf by his father before the age of 2, is another example of what we call genius.
All these people and many other ones that we look up to have excelled in their field not because they were “gifted” but because they have started their career at a very early age.
Researchers came up with a statistic that in order to achieve excellence in anything you must do two things: 1. begin practicing at a very early age, 2. spend over 10,000 hours / 10 years of specific practice in order to master it.
I personally agree with this research but as a parent of two girls I cannot help noticing that there are actually differences that people are born with: my younger daughter seems to be catching up with many things a lot easier as long as they are physical activities while my older daughter loves and excels in mental tasks: reading, math etc.
I agree that we are born with a certain conformation in which our nervous system functions but ultimately the talent is the result of one main process: specific repetition.
This being said, I believe that repetition can take us places that we don’t even see ourselves capable of.
Just like one of my fellow teaching pros once said to his student: “Ok, Mary, this is how you hit a one-handed backhand. From now on, all you have to do is repeat this 3,000 times and you’ll have a great backhand!”