Category Archives: Competition

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.


Hate to Lose

Chris Everet Quote

I was reading a book and the quote above was in it.  I read it over and over again…  What a powerful quote by 18-time grand slam champion and world #1 Chris Evert!

You see champions love to win.  Champions relish in the pressure, rising to the occasions in the big moments, and arising victorious.  However, as much as champions love to win they hate to lose even more.  The pain of losing is the greatest motivator of a champion.  When a champion trains or prepares for competition they are not motivated by the pleasure of winning, instead they are motivated by avoiding the pain of losing.

I have seen some real tantrums after tough losses in my time.  I understand the pain of the loss and the pain is important because it is a great teacher.  However, it is important for players to understand that all great champions hate to lose, but those who are truly great do not make a poor public display after a defeat.  Champions like Federer and Nadal certainly hate to lose and I am sure it burns them up inside but you never see them throwing a fit after tough losses.

Read and reread the quote above and let the power of it really sink in…


#SaveCollegeTennis Campaign

ITA Logo

http://www.itatennis.com/

The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) has mandated experimental rule changes for NCAA Division I College Tennis beginning January 1, 2014 though the Team Indoor Championships in February.

The current system in use was championed back in 1993 by Coach Paul Scarpa of Furman.  The “Scarpa Scoring System” is playing 3 doubles matches in an 8-game pro set format followed by 6 singles matches in a best of 3 set format.  All singles and doubles matches consist of regular scoring.  Make an important mental note right here that all games are played with regular scoring because it will be a pivotal point by the time you finish reading this.

The ITA is mandating the following format changes to Men’s Division I Tennis:

  • 3 doubles matches in 6-game pro set format with no-ad scoring* and tiebreak at 5-5.
  • 6 singles matches in a best of 3 set format with no-ad scoring* and tiebreak at 5-5.
  • No warm-up permitted prior to matches.

*No-Ad scoring means that at the “deuce” point of a game one sudden-death point is played to determine the outcome, eliminating the need to “win by two.”

The ITA is mandating the following format changes for Women’s Division I Tennis:

  • 3 doubles matches in a 6-game pro set format with regular scoring and tiebreak at 6-6.
  • 6 singles matches in a best of 3 set match format with regular scoring and tiebreak at 6-6.  However, if competitors split sets they will play a tiebreak in lieu of a 3rd set.
  • No warm-up permitted prior to matches.

Now that we go through the logistics I can really get to what this post is about, just stick with me here because this is going to get good…

Official College Players Against ITA Rule Changes

Official College Players Against ITA Rule Change Facebook Group

College tennis programs across the country have been cut and continue to be.  The ITA’s rational for the rule change is pretty simple, they want to increase the fan-based, generate excitement, garner support for programs, and they believe shortening the format is they key to doing so.  I love their vision and I believe the people at the ITA have the best of intentions.  However, I believe the ITA is going about accomplishing their mission all wrong and I am going to lay out some very strong supporting points and logical solutions momentarily.  Before I do everyone should know that I am not alone in my opinion.  In fact, players and coaches are outraged at these changes because the changes destroy the integrity of tennis itself.  These rule changes literally change the way the game is played (more on that in a moment).  If you want to find out more information and join the movement to stop these changes please do so by joining a Facebook Group entitled Official College Players Against the ITA Rule Change or simply use the #SaveCollegeTennis hash-tag in social media.

So now let me explain why these rule changes and thought process behind the rule changes is destroying the integrity of the greatest game on earth.

First let me be honest, tennis does not exactly have the reputation of being a popular, mainstream, tough-guy sport.  In my opinion it has been marketed poorly because the true essence of the game is lost in the tennis whites and country clubs of yesteryear.  Tennis is like walking into a gladiator arena where two people are going to fight, one remains victorious and the other perishes.  In that arena there is no time clock or judges, just two people fighting until one remains victorious.  Do I have your attention?  Good, because tennis is literally the same exact thing!  Two people (singles) or two teams of two people (doubles) take the court and fight it out until one is victorious.  It is eye-hand combat just like two men fighting it out in the Roman Colosseum.  The only difference is you do not destroy the other person with a sword or battle ax, instead you destroy them with a racket and a fuzzy yellow ball and thankfully no one dies at the end.

People love this kind of stuff and have for thousands of years!  Could you imagine the different response if we approached marketing tennis this way?  How about we get Russell Crowe to do some commercials to promote tennis?  Youth sure do play enough violent video games that work on the same premise…

Instead of changing the scoring system or format I think a different marketing strategy is where the ITA should focus their efforts.  Shortening the length of a match will do nothing because people are missing the simple message as to what tennis really is.  Good marketing is nothing more than placing a clear, consistent, and simple message with a product.  Someone says, “Starbucks” and you think “coffee.”  That is all good marketing is.  When someone says, “tennis” we need people to think “eye-hand combat where nobody dies, awesome!”

Second, the scoring system in tennis is strange.  What is with the Love-15-30-40-Deuce-Ad all about?  Well the truth is it is the scoring system that might be the most genius part of the game.  It really does present a paradox because the scoring system is so complex yet built around the simple idea of grouping points.

Watch FaceLet me continue by explaining a little about the history of the scoring system because it really simplifies everything.  I read this in Oscar Wegner’s book Play Better Tennis in 2 Hours.  The scoring system of tennis was born on a court with a broken clock.  The broken clock became the scoreboard.  One player was the hour hand and the other the minute hand.  When a player won a point their respective clock hand was moved to the 15-minute mark, win another to the 30-minute mark, and a third to the 40-minute mark.  If the score was tied with both players at the 40-minute mark it was called “deuce.”  Deuce is an old French word meaning “two” which signified that 2 more points were needed to win the game.  Win the deuce point and your clock hand was moved to the 45-minute mark signifying it was your advantage or “ad” to winning the game.  Lose the advantage point and back to the 40-minute deuce mark.  Win the advantage point and win the game.  Then both clock hands go back to the 0-minute or “love” mark and signifies the start of the next game.  Thinking of scoring tennis with the face of a clock sure does make it easier to explain to people doesn’t it?

What is even more fascinating is the idea of winning by two.  This is unique to tennis and is one of the sacred heirlooms to the sport.  You see tennis is unlike most other sports because you must win by 2.  The entire game is built around grouping points together.  Think about it, if you lose the first point of a game you must win 3 points in a row or 4 out of 5 to win the game.  Knowing all this look at the rule change to no-ad scoring and now you understand how it is fundamentally changing the way in which tennis is played!  These drastic changes to the scoring system is what has the players so upset.

On a side note, the whole tie-break system was only invented and added with the birth of televising tennis matches to prevent marathons.  Which is kind of amusing because I think the most famous and most televised tennis match in recent years was Isner and Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010 where the score was 70-68 in the 5th set.  Interesting how the match without the tiebreak at the end of the set was televised the most?

Again, marketing is all about being unique and become easily recognized.  Instead of trying to make tennis like every other sport where you can win by just one point we should be championing how tennis is unique and different from every other sport because of the sacred scoring system based on grouping points and winning by two.  Again it comes down to the idea of going into eye-hand combative battle with your opponent.  The founders of the game wanted tennis to be a game where you had to finish off your opponent just as a gladiator would have to do.

Finally, I do not understand why tennis is not more popular in America because it fits our society so well.  American’s pride themselves on individuality however the most popular sports in America are team sports.  Before I continue I do not want anyone to think I am against team sports because that is not my opinion at all.  Young athletes should be able to choose whatever sport they enjoy competing in and strive for excellence in it.  Team sports are absolutely wonderful and very American.  However, I think college tennis and tennis in general could do a better job of leveraging how the game of tennis itself aligns so well with American value of individuality.  In fact, college tennis could be the only sport that has individuality and team competition rolled into one event.

To wrap up this post I hope it sheds some light on this hot topic of the rule changes to Division I College Tennis.  I hope you now see how drastic the ITA mandated rule changes really are and how they do in fact fundamentally change the way the game is played.  I think a better solution would be to look at marketing tennis for it’s truly unique traits as opposed to trying to make it like every other sport.  “if you do what everyone else is doing, you will get the same results.  However, if you do the opposite of what everyone else is doing you will get unique results.”  I think we need to take the approach of championing the game for it’s roots because it is exactly what makes tennis different and the greatest game ever.

If you enjoyed this please help by using the share buttons and use the tag #SaveCollegeTennis.


Learn How to Win

“Players learn to win only up to the level they cannot stand to lose down to.” – Chuck Kriese

That quote up above is something my good friend, mentor, and hall of fame coach, Chuck Kriese taught me and it has profound meaning that requires a whole entire blog post.

Players on my team after winning the WPIAL Doubles Gold

Players on my team after winning the WPIAL Doubles Gold Medal – 2013

Winning and losing is a part of the game of tennis.  When you walk out on the court it really is like stepping into the gladiators arena where you are going to do battle and one person will come out a winner and the other a loser.  The scoring system of tennis is amazingly complex because points must be grouped together and their is no clock to run out and do the dirty work in finishing off an opponent.

 

The feeling of winning a match and the pain of losing a match are tremendously important to the development of a player.  Winning should feel really good and losing should hurt.  These feelings are certainly there when a player truly makes a commitment, investing significant time and energy into their game.

So back to Coach Kriese’s quote…  You see when players cannot stand to lose they figure out a way to eventually win and it fuels their growth.  Players who cannot stand to lose will hit extra balls, study professional matches, get in better physical shape, and basically do whatever it takes to figure out a way to win.  At the same time players who can stand to lose will hit a glass ceiling in their development.  When a player loses and they are ok with losing they will stop getting better.  Let me explain why.  When a player is ok with losing they basically become satisfied with their level of play and quickly lose motivation to put in the extra work necessary to raise their level of play.  In essence, players only learn to win up to the level in which they are satisfied with their game.

The performance expectations players set for themselves play an enormous role in how good they become.  I am not saying everyone who plays tennis wants to be a USTA Gold Ball National Champion.  Some may just want to make the starting line-up of their high school team.  What I am saying is that players will only learn to win up to the level they cannot stand to lose down to.


Play More Practice Sets!

It is absolutely true that players need to focus early on in their development getting down the base fundamentals of stroke production.  That simply means players have to get to the point where they can serve, hit groundstrokes, and volley automatically.  The skill has to be so ingrained that even when they are choking and under tremendous stress they still can perform the skills.  That takes lots of repetition and repetition is the “mother of skill.”

Lessons and group clinics are a great way, especially under the guidance of a coach, to achieve those repetitions.  Tennis should be fun ,especially for youth, and a group environment with the right culture certainly can provide that.  However, lessons should not be the only means of practice.

Let me explain why…

IMG_0322I am going to assume that ultimately players are doing all this work so they can compete in matches, not just get exercise.  If competitive goals are in the picture then players must also practice in the manner in which they are expected to perform.  That means they have to get into the heat of the battle and play practice sets and compete so they are prepared for the big moments.  This is often part of the reason why players choke in tournament competition, they either don’t know what to do in the big moments of the match or they know what to do but have never practiced it before and are not truly prepared.

So think about the benefits of playing practice sets, players get to hit a ton of balls, but in the manner as close to a real competition as possible.  In other words they are practicing in the manner in which they are expected to perform.  They get to practice shot-selection, game plans, problem solving skills, and so much more.  This is where they apply what they learned in the lessons.  It is just like doing the word problem at the end of the math lesson in school…remember those?!

The more practice sets a player competes in the better prepared they will be for their next high school season or tournament.  Now don’t get me wrong the technical work and repetitions in lessons under the watchful eye of a coach are still very important but usually players spend an abundance of time focusing on technique and far too little if any time playing practice sets.

Practice sets prepare players for the heat of the battle and the more competitive the better.  Some of my best practices as a teenager came in the form of playing sets against my best friend or adults I hated losing to because my pride was on the line.  Which brings me to my final point about practice sets, the kids should care if they win or lose them.  Playing a practice set and not caring if you win or lose is like doing the word problem at the end of a math lesson and not caring if you get the answer correct.

The bottom line is continue drilling and doing technical work but incorporate playing more practice sets.