Category Archives: Coaching

Developing Weapons on the Tennis Court

As my good friend and mentor Coach Chuck Kriese says tennis is a “High Beta Sport.”  I have blogged before that tennis is really an eye-hand combative sport.  It is like two gladiators walking into the arena and only one gets to leave victorious.  Tennis is a civilized form of eye-hand combat and there is no time clock, which means you must finish your opponent off.  We really are asking our players to be sophisticated gladiators or polite boxers.  It is not often people think of tennis this way but it is exactly what happens out there when two players take the court for a match.

Kitchen KnivesLet me provide an analogy for you.  Going into the gladiator arena would you rather have two 3-foot swords or one 5-foot sword and one 1-foot sword?  Even though both total up to 6 feet I know I would much rather have the 5-foot sword combination. Think of all the advantages and how much easier it would be to hurt your opponent with the longer sword.

Here is how the analogy relates to tennis players.  If your forehand and backhand are equally good that is wonderful.  However, imagine if your forehand or your serve are significantly better than all your other strokes.  In that case you have a big weapon that can be used to hurt your opponent with often.

I am not saying you should neglect developing the weaker parts of your game, because if your backhand is weak you need to make it stronger.  What I am saying is that if you have developed a weapon like a big serve or forehand use it and develop your game plan around using it often.  Many times players focus all their efforts on improving their weaknesses but never continuing to improve upon their strengths and that is a mistake.

And if you happen to come up against an opponent with a big weapon you had better make sure you do everything you can to avoiding getting hurt by it.

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.

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

How Deep is Your Desire?

I saw this video earlier today and to put what I saw into words does not do it justice, so just watch it…

I wrote about the 3 ingredients necessary for success (Ability, Desire, & Opportunity) before.  The man in this video Dustin Carter is amazing to say the least.  He reminds us all that desire, which is controlled by the individual, is the most critical piece of success.  When you have a burning desire to “Want To” accomplish something, figuring out “How To” accomplish it falls right into place.  Thank you Dustin for the reminder that it takes desire to maximize the abilities we are born with and the opportunities that are afforded to us.

Internal vs. External Motivation

AppleTVI bought AppleTV for my wife over the holidays but I it turned into more of a present for myself than her I think…

If you have AppleTV go to the “HBO to Go” app and watch the 1981 classic Chariots of Fire while it is available.  I have watched it a few times and I did so again this morning, which led to the inspiration of this post.

Chariots of Fire is a deep movie that tells the true story of two athletes, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, who both achieve a gold medal for their sprinting at the 1924 Olympic Games.  The interesting part of the movie is what drives each to compete.  Harold is driven externally by a need to win and Eric is driven internally by expressing his inner-self through running.

So how does this all relate to tennis?  When a player makes a decision to commitment to put their all into tennis they can do so by being motivated externally or internally.  Either means of motivation is necessarily better than the other.  Champions athletes have both been motivated either externally or internally as is the case with both gold medalists in the movie.  However, there are distinct differences that arise when an tennis player is motivated externally versus internally.

When a player makes a commitment through external motivation they are driven by a product such as winning or playing #1 on the team.  Often times what can happen when a player is driven by product is that they validate who they are based on their results.  They wrap their entire self-worth up in winning and losing.

In the movie Harold was so obsessed with winning the gold medal when it came time to compete the fear of either winning or losing was tremendous.  Preparing for the competition was filled with stress and anxiety.  The whole process was filled with the feeling of burden.  These feelings all make sense when you look at how Harold’s self-worth was wrapped up in the future results.  When he did win the gold medal it was not very fulfilling,  In fact, winning was more of a relief and feeling that a burden was lifted than a joy.  These same feelings can happen to tennis players as well who are driven by the product of winning.

On the other hand Eric Liddell was driven by internal motivation.  Sprinting was not a way to validate himself, instead it was the means of expressing his inner-self.  Training and competition were fun and joyous experiences.  Winning the gold was an incredible satisfaction and filled with happiness.  Losses were certainly disappointing but the joy came from the process of training and competing even when the product was not attained.  These same feelings can happen to tennis players who looks at tennis as the means with which to expression themselves.

If you are a player go watch Chariots of Fire and I bet after reading this you will see the depth and brilliance of a movie made 32 years ago.  If you are a parent sit down with your children and use this movie as a great teaching experience.

Developing Leadership in 2014

Some of my reading list.

Some of my reading list from 2013.

If you know me personally you get how deeply I reflect on my coaching, the impact I have on the lives of those I teach, and am downright obsessive (my wife’s words, not mine) about learning and personal growth.  In this post I want to share with you one of my coaching goals for 2014, developing leadership.

For me sports have always been a metaphor for life.  All those little cliches and motivational phrases ring so true to me.  Wining is certainly nice but victories are short-lived and many times unfulfilling.  In fact, I think winning is really just a by-product of a deeper process of a growth mindset.

Let’s be real for a minute and face the facts that it is difficult to make a living playing professional tennis and college scholarships are not even a sure thing as competition with international students is fierce.  I believe most parents know this and do not get their children involved in tennis, at least initially, for the fame, glory, and scholarships.  I believe parents get their children involved in tennis because it teaches them so many valuable life lessons.  I wrote about this many times before and most of the parents I talk to think it is true as well.  What I find interesting is that my reasons for getting into coaching was to teach the very same lessons parent’s initially were seeking.

Do not get confused, I certainly have the knowledge and skills to help players develop on the court, turn into better athletes, and achieve performance goals.  However, in the process of developing those attributes I find deeper lessons are taught that are invaluable in the lives and performance of young people.  I truly believe that if the work I was doing had no effect on a young person’s life besides just improving forehands and conditioning my passion would fade very quickly.

I saw and still do see a tremendous opportunity to use sports and tennis in particular to develop leadership qualities in young athletes.  In my relentless quest I have spent the better part of this past year studying leadership, in particular the works of Dr. Tim Elmore and a non-profit called Growing Leaders.  Dr. Elmore has an elegantly simple manner in which he uses word-pictures to get complex and profound messages about leadership across.  And if you know me I am all for analogies!

An example of one of Dr. Elmore’s images is that of an iceberg.  10% of the iceberg is above the surface of the water and is what everyone sees.  90% of the iceberg is below the surface of the water and is the part that no one sees.  Take that image an explain to a young athlete that they are the iceberg and the 10% that people see represents their skills.  The 90% people do not see is their character.  It is character that makes up the biggest part of who they are as an athlete and a person.  There are many athletes who have the skill that everyone sees but are missing the character that keeps them grounded.  It is pretty easy to turn to any professional sport and find examples of athletes with tremendous talent and little character and integrity.  In fact, an iceberg with little under the surface is known as a “growler” and is very easy to push in any direction because it lacks mass.

This is just an example of one of many lessons and images I plan to incorporate into my coaching in 2014.  I have found that a combination of great coaching of the technical skills and fitness brings a player along very quickly.  But when a coach begins developing a player as a person real magic happens.  First, players realize very quickly that a coach cares about them as a person and as the old saying goes, “no once cares what you know, until they know you care.”  Second, players begin to look at their whole life differently, including why they play the sport to begin with.  When a young athlete finds a deep personal meaning in why they play a sport  good things are going to happen, regardless of the win/loss record.

I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.  And if you are an athlete, parent or coach interested in learning more about developing leadership I strongly recommend the Habitudes Series by Dr. Tim Elmore.  The books are very easy to read yet profoundly meaningful.

Tour Guide or Travel Agent?

When you schedule a vacation you call up the travel agent and tell them where you want to go.  The agent takes care of the travel plans, the resort accommodations and then leaves the rest up to you.  They do not accompany you on the trip, that would be weird.  I would say that if your travel agent does that they have done their job well.

Compare that to what a tour guide does.  A tour guide meets you at the beginning of your journey into uncharted territory, accompanies you on your trip and is with you every step of the way until the very end.  Think about going on a safari vacation or even just a bus tour, you need a tour guide because they have been to the destination before and keep you from getting lost.  You hire them for their expertise.  This is a profound distinction between what a travel agent does and what a tour guide does.  Once just sets it up for you and lets you go on your way and the other is with you every step of the way guiding you with their expertise.

I think this distinction is what separates a tennis “pro” from a tennis “coach.”  A tennis pro will set things up for you, meet with you occasionally for a lesson or two, and then sends you on your way. Contrast that with a tennis coach who is with you every step of the way.  This is why I prefer the term “coach” over “pro.”  I am a coach in every sense of the word.  I look at taking my students on a journey I have made many times before, sharing my expertise, and staying with them from beginning to end whether things are going smoothly or not.

There was a study done years ago of the most successful people in the world.  The researchers were looking for common denominators in success at the highest levels in a variety of fields.  They looked at a variety of factors and only found one thing in common.  That one common denominator was that successful people, regardless of their discipline, had a mentor early in their career.  They had a tour guide or a coach early in life to help them along!

If you are interested in learning more I borrowed the travel agent vs. tour guide analogy from a great book Habitudes for the Journey by Dr. Tim Elmore.  I strongly recommend parents and teens check it out.  The information will be invaluable to your life and its only $12!

“How To” vs “Want To”

I have been following the work of Steve Chandler for some time now.  He has an amazing way of making profound distinctions between one thing and another.  I recently listened to an audio he made entitled The How To vs. The Want To.  I could not help but relate this distinction to the development of a tennis player because it is so true.

Junior tennis players spend so much time taking lessons, doing group clinics, and hopefully playing practice sets.  They spend their whole entire career searching for the perfect way how to hit the ball, to serve, and to play the game.  In other words they spend all their time focusing on how to play tennis.  However, they are missing something more basic that is even more important than the how to, they are missing the want to.

Think about this for a second if a teenager does not clean their room is it because they do not know how to or is it because they really do not want to?  The answer is simple, they do not want to.  As a parent it would be highly unlikely that to remedy this problem you would give your child a manual or directions for how to clean their room.  That would be silly because the real problem is they do not want to, instead you just tell them they have to or they are grounded.

Nationals Wall at JTCC

Nationals Wall at JTCC

So think about this deeply for a minute, if a player truly wanted to become excellent at tennis, finding out how to do so would actually become quite easy.  The real key to success is the burning desire to want to become excellent.  It would be easy to find how to instruction on the internet, take a lesson, or even just follow this free blog.  Players and parents search all over for the best instruction in the world of tennis but are failing to see the most important part of the puzzle which is the want to.  Think about the greatest players of all time like Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Novak Djkovic, and Rafael Nadal, certainly they know how to play tennis but more importantly they wanted to be #1 in the world much much more than most others.

So as a coach I approach getting my players to discover how critical the want to is in two different ways.  First, I ask my players if they absolutely had to become excellent at tennis or win a tournament or else something terrible would happen to them what would they do?  When they really think about if they absolutely had to get really good at tennis all kinds of ideas come to mind like they would do extra practice, get strength workouts done in the morning before school, study professional matches, read books, and stop wasting time on their phone and use that time to get better.  It is amazing what they come up with when they absolutely would have to get better at tennis.  Second, I ask them what they would do if I guaranteed them a $1,000,000 if they would win a big tournament 6 months from now?  Again all kinds of unique answers come up on how they would prepare to ensure they won and received the million dollars.  Those two scenarios put the emphasis on the want to and the how to easily comes into focus.

Then I ask them if it is really that they do not know how to become excellent at tennis or win their next tournament?  Or is it that they really do not want to become that good at tennis badly enough?  If you think back to a time in your life that you really wanted something badly enough you probably figured out how to make it a reality.  I can think of many instances in my life where this was the case.  I am not saying it was easy but if you really have the want to it became easy to find the how to.

Finally, Steve Chandler was nice enough to give me permission to give you FREE access to his audio recording How To vs. Want To.  Just click the link, download, and enjoy.