Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Power of Consistency

I have been writing posts with valuable information about how to develop tennis players this week.  I want to round it out by talking about the power of consistency.

The first thing that comes to most people’s mind when I say consistency is keeping the ball in play.  Be clear that is not what I am talking about here.  What I mean by “consistency” is the consistency in coaching and the messages the player is receiving over a long period of time.

Algebra 101Imagine yourself in a high school algebra class.  On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday you have Mr. Smith as your teacher and on Tuesdays and Thursdays you have Mrs. Jones.  Mr. Smith and Mrs. Jones are both award winning teachers but they never talk to one another, never plan anything together, and have different proven methods and progressions for teaching algebra.  As a student you get confused very quickly because there is no consistency from day to day.  In fact, you never end up learning algebra from either one of the world-class teachers because you never get to practice the same concepts consistently over the course of time.

All too often the same exact thing happens in the world of developing tennis players.  There are many great and proven coaches.  All good coaches have, over time, developed their own teaching methods and progressions.  I personally do not agree with many things other coaches do and I am sure many do not agree with me either.  The truth is neither is probably right or wrong.  The only time it becomes wrong is when a player is trying to learn from both coaches at the same time.  The messages are not consistent and it is a disaster and real shame for the player’s development.

This inconsistency often happens within junior tennis programs as well.  If all of the coaches are not on the same page with what they are teaching, the methods, progression, and terminology it is inconsistent and works against maximizing player development.  Even though everything is housed in one location the message is still inconsistent.  This is exactly why schools have curriculums and invest heavily in educating their staff.  The secret is not one magic curriculum or algebra teacher.  Instead, the secret is consistency and progression in the messages being sent over the course of weeks, months, and years.

I have been to visit some of the greatest tennis programs in the country, such as the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC).  In my time spent there the thing that sets JTCC apart from so many other programs is consistency.  All of the coaches are on the same page and are working towards the same goal.  Much like a school, the JTCC heavily invests in educating their own coaches.  The messages the players receive on a daily basis are consistent and that is the real secret to the work they do.

JTCC's Outdoor Courts

JTCC’s Outdoor Courts

To prove my point about how important consistency is look at some of the best tennis players in the world.  Think about players like Andre Agassi, Martina Hingis, Serena Williams.  They were all coached by their parents for most of their lives.  Their parents were not world-class tennis coaches or players but their parents were consistent.  Some of them consistently crazy but none the less consistent.  Even Rafael Nadal was coached and still is consistently by his Uncle Tony who taught him to use his left hand, even though he was right handed!

So please if you are reading this blog post understand the importance of consistency in working with a coach.  Not everything will always go smoothly when developing a tennis player.  There will be times of struggle and there will also be triumph.  The good and bad times are what make a relationship strong.  Even though at times finding a new coach when things are hard may seem like the right thing to do be wise in sticking with a coach consistently.

The power of consistency is invaluable over the long-term climb up the mountain of player development.

The Secret 80% of People Do Not Know

I am going to let you in on a little secret.  It may be the most actionable piece of information you ever hear for developing a champion athlete.  And if you really use the secret you’ll be doing things different than 80% of the people in youth sports.

The secret is to think in terms of Long-Term Development.  You see I would venture to say that 80% of people think about things in the short-term.  They think about doing well in the tournament next week or cramming in lessons and training right before the varsity tennis season starts.  They want results “right now” and are constantly looking for the short-term fix.  This is the reason you see junior players bounce from program to program and pro to pro.  When something is not working “right now” they think the answer is to make a short-term change.  This is the mentality of about 80% of people out there.

Long-Term Development

Now contrast that with a mindset of Long-Term Development.  This mindset is nothing more than planning from the very beginning for the long haul and mindfully aligning everything in an effort to reach that goal far off on the horizon.  It is characterized by a growth mindset, slow and steady progress, making little improvements each day, and not getting caught up in short-term successes and setbacks.

Planning for the long-term is not easy because it takes a great deal of wisdom and foresight.  In the world of tennis this would be taking a 7-year-old and developing him or her to become the best they can be at 20+ years of age.  Along the way taking no shortcuts and committing to believe and trust in the plan.  In my experiences those who have had the most success were also those who committed to the idea of long-term development from the very beginning.

If you think about it, regardless of the sport, you are really only competing against 20% of everyone involved.  Right off the bat, about 80% of the people are only focused on the short-term and that means in the long-term they really have no chance to do something special.  If you have the mindset of long-term development, you are only competing against the other 20% of people who are thinking the same way as you.

Having the mindset of long-term development will give you the edge when it matters most in an athletes career.

Mountain of Player Development

I just recently sat down with two parents and a young man to discuss moving into the world of tournament tennis.  In that conversation I compared climbing a mountain to developing a tennis player and I am going to share the same analogy with you.

Player Development Mountain

At first climbing a mountain is easy,  the slope is not very great and you can cover a lot of ground quickly.  The same is true in tennis,  when you first begin your journey the concept is simple, play a lot of tennis.  The more balls you hit, lesson you take, clinics do, and matches you play the better you become.  There is a direct relationship between the time invested and rate improvement.  Tennis is a repetition sport and you cannot skip past putting in the time no matter how good the instruction.  Quantity is important but I should make a point to say in moderation.  If a 7-year-old is playing 80 hours of tennis a week that is not good for their long-term development.

As a climber makes his way further up the mountain it becomes more and more difficult to make progress.  The same is true for tennis players.  Eventually there comes a point where hitting more and more tennis balls has a rate of diminishing returns.  This is a big sticking point in a player’s development.  At this point in time the level of instruction a player is getting is of paramount importance.  In order to continue to climb and improve mental and emotional skills must be developed.

Mental skills are concepts like shot-selection, routines between points, and momentum management.  Emotional skills revolve around understanding match-ups, balancing respect for an opponent, and overcoming the pecking order.  Players at this level must work both incredibly hard and smart.  Working hard alone is not enough to continue climbing the mountain of improvement.  At this stage progress is slow and as Coach Chuck Kriese says,  “The work a player does here pays off 6 months or a year from now.”

If a player makes it this far up the mountain they are better than 80% of the people in the world who play tennis and continued improvement is just as difficult as getting past an overhanging ledge right before you reach the summit of the mountain.

When someone climbs Mt.Everest they hire a guide because the guide has been to the summit and know the best path to get there.  The same is true for a tennis player in the last leg of his or her development, they need a guide.  Getting past that overhang is incredibly difficult and it takes good coaching, mentoring, and role-models who know the way.  Certainly a player could go out and make it on their own with no guidance just as someone could summit Everest without a guide.  However, having a knowledgeable mentor at this difficult to navigate pass saves a tremendous amount of time and costly mistakes.

Let me know what you think about this analogy in the comments below and if you are looking for a place to get in the repetitions early in your journey or develop mental and emotional skills to continue your progress consider my Summer Tennis Camp.  If you are at the overhang send me an email and I’ll put you in touch with a world-class mentor.

The Strength Deficit as it Relates to Tennis

WeddingMy wife and I workout together in our cozy little home basement gym.  She has been crushing it for some time now and getting strong!  She normally doesn’t ask too many questions and just does what I program for her.  And I do have a method for programming workouts that involves what I am about to tell you about.

However, the other day she decided to do one of those follow-along video workouts. There was a lot of plyometric jumps involved which sparked some conversation over dinner about a little known concept called the Strength Deficit.  I am going to simplify the concept for you and if you are a tennis player it is absolutely critical to maximizing performance through off court training.

There are two kinds of strength you need to understand before we can move on to defining the strength deficit.

The first type is Absolute Strength.  This kind of strength is the absolute maximum amount of contractile force a muscle is capable of producing involuntarily.  In a laboratory setting we could stimulate your nerves with an electrical impulse causing the muscle fibers to contract.  In doing this experiment one could theoretically measure the absolute maximum contractile force your muscles are capable of producing.  Absolute strength is closely related to the size of the muscle fibers.  In other words, the larger the muscle is the greater the absolute strength potential.

The second type of strength is the Competitive Maximum.  This is the maximum amount of contractile force a muscle can produce voluntarily.  In other words this is the force you are capable of creating under your own control.  The competitive maximum is related directly to your central nervous system (CNS).  The stronger the impulse your can send through your nerves to the muscle fibers the more forcefully you can get them to contract.

So now that you understand that the absolute maximum is involuntary and the competitive maximum is voluntary we can get to the Strength Deficit.  The strength deficit is simply the difference between the two.  It should be noted that the absolute strength will always be higher than the competitive maximum because you will always be able to involuntarily contract muscle fibers to produce more strength compared to what you can do voluntarily.

Strength Deficit

What the strength deficit tells an athlete about their current state is amazingly insightful.  And if you know how to interpret the information it gives you a roadmap for how to continue making strength gains.

Here is how to interpret the strength deficit…

If the competitive maximum is close to the absolute strength you have a small strength deficit. A small deficit means that an athlete is able to send strong messages to the muscles and stimulate a strong contraction.  This is a very good sign because it means they are capable of utilizing most of their capacity for strength.  If an athlete with a small strength deficit wants to improve they need to focus their efforts on muscle hypertrophy or growth in order to raise the level of absolute strength.

If the competitive maximum is further from absolute strength you have a large strength deficit.  This means the potential for strength is there but the CNS is not capable of creating a strong enough signal to excite the muscle fibers to utilize it.  This tells an athlete they have room for strength gains without putting on more muscle.  Gains can be made by specifically designing explosive training sessions to stimulate CNS development.  Focusing on gaining more muscle mass will only increase absolute strength and the strength deficit further.

Now before I go any further the strength deficit is a fairly advanced concept and I do not want you running out and applying this to kids or beginners.  You really need to know what you are doing and this is just a overly simple blog post explaining the bigger concept.  If you want more information I recommend reading a highly complex book translated from the work of Russian Sport Scientist Yuri Verkhoshansky, Super Training.  With that being said if you are just getting started lifting weights you will see improvements in both absolute strength and competitive maximums quickly.  Beginners just have more room to make adaptations and improve.  However, if you are hitting plateaus, it is a good idea to look at your strength deficit and see if you should focus your efforts on gaining more muscle size and absolute strength potential or finding ways to stimulate the CNS and its ability to maximize muscle fiber contractibility.

Now think about a competitive tennis player’s needs…

First, tennis players need explosive and powerful muscle contractions.  They need to swing the racket with amazing accelerations and speed.  Players need to be able to sprint, change directions, and reaccelerate again.  These skills require a great deal of power without having an enormous body building style muscular frame that can slow an athlete down.  By now you should be able to guess that tennis players should have a small strength deficit.  Tennis players want to be able to maximally contract the muscle fibers they have.  That is not to say that there is never a time to build bulk and absolute strength because there is.  However, once muscle hypertrophy or mass is gained it should be followed up with a block of training to stimulate the CNS to utilize that new found strength potential fully.  Players like Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer are incredibly strong and I would bet they also have a small strength deficit.

Questions or comments leave them below and I will be happy to answer them.

720 Degree Coaching – Radio Interview

I was the featured guest on Bill Patton’s 720 Degree Internet Tennis Radio Show.  Bill Patton is a coaching friend from the West Coast and it was an honor to talk about how I got involved with the game, coaching philosophies, and share information about my tennis training camps.

Popular Goals Internet Radio with 720 Degree Coaching on BlogTalkRadio