November 17, 2009

Five Important Lessons of Tennis and Life

1. Develop a strong work ethic.
“I’d give anything to be able to play golf like you,” the fan said to the professional golfer as he watched him hit balls on the practice tee. To which the golfer replied, “No you wouldn’t, or you would have spent over 10,000 hours practicing just like I have.”

Not everyone is meant to spend thousands of hours hitting tennis balls against the backboard. Regardless of your level of talent, a strong work ethic paired with tremendous love for the sport is the most vital ingredient to success.

2. Find a dream and go after it.
Dreams start with a vision and then take shape in the form of goals and objectives. These goals should be pursued with a structured and disciplined action. Instead of being too cynical about his or her dreams, the athlete should realize that there are few physical differences between most athletes. The primary difference is the unlimited power and focus that comes from having a dream.

3. Learn that Setbacks and Successes are Both Helpful.
“Breakdowns usually happen before breakthroughs,” the saying goes. Setbacks serve to teach us perseverance and humility. Adversity helps us to grow, but one should always believe that something better is coming around the corner.

4. Make perseverance a habit
Athletes must be willing to hang in there and keep trying long enough to see the fruits of their labor. When on a losing streak it is very hard to not to give up, but through perseverance the competitor gains courage.

5. Seize the opportunity.
The ability to take charge of a moment is something all athletes must eventually learn. The moment to take control of a match presents itself very quickly in competition, and the habit of doing so must be automatic for such opportunities may never come back again.

November 16, 2009

Transition Shot: The First Volley

The first volley is considered a transition shot because of its similarity to the approach shot. There are three rules to remember for the first volley:

Rule#1: After the server delivers the serve, his movement should allow him to get in as far as the service line. This will give him a good opportunity to make an effective first volley. Otherwise, a first volley can be popped up and will make it very easy for the return to pass the server unless the ball can be put away with a winner.

Rule#2: Unless the return is a floater, the first volley should either be hit back to where it came from or to the middle of the court, and the finishing volley should be placed into the open court. If a crosscourt volley is not put away, the whole court is left open for an easy passing shot by the opponent. In general, for any ball that can be put away, the player should go to the open court. If the ball cannot be put away, the court should be left closed. As a reminder to my team, when we do the classic serve-and-volley drills, I instead call them “serve-and-volley-volley drills.” This reinforces the notion that it should take two shots to volley.

Rule#3: The net should be closed off after the first volley. If the first volley is effective, then the server should be in control of the point. As the ball is in flight, the server should take three or four steps in to the net to close out the point. Not closing off the net is a mistake that gives the opponent an angle to hit a passing shot or a chance to get back into the point.

November 15, 2009

Grow Slowly

The Child Prodigy Syndrome

Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny. --Anonymous

During the past twenty years we have been bombarded with child prodigies in tennis. We see younger and younger stars who are promoted as the standard instead of the exception. Many boys and girls are now turning professional in their mid-teens, and many teachers support the belief that tennis is a game for the teen years. In truth, to reach tennis maturity as a teenager is rare. The tragedy is that this belief causes many youngsters to hang up their racquets – along with their dreams – long before the natural union of the body, mind, and emotions take place. Many tennis academies and teachers prosper by promising to make children “immediate champions.” Unfortunately, many buy into this sales pitch.

The media and manufactures love the younger champions because of the public interest aroused by their extraordinary success. Young stars are good for sales and excitement, by they are not the standard, and they should not be the model to follow when planning a career.

Female athletes do not mature mentally, physically, and emotionally until the early twenties. For males, it is a few years later. The optimal years are probably between the ages of twenty-four and thirty. Therefore, young players should slow down and enjoy learning all of the aspects of the game and solidify their base fundamentals.

Diamonds vs. Rhinestones

I believe that much of the disrespect young people show toward authority in our society stems from the fact they really do not see or understand the work ethic that is the prerequisite for real success. It is now possible to achieve some things so quickly that, on the surface, appear to be just as good as those things that take time and effort. We are often confused by what is truly a great work, a great system, and a great person.

A quickly manufactured rhinestone shines just as brightly as a diamond that was formed though time and tremendous pressure. We have the best fake art, fake music, fake anything that looks good and is easy to obtain.

The true champions, like diamonds, stand the test because they have been formed slowly and carefully and have withstood all of the pressures that have faced them.

Train the Root System First

I learned a wise approach to player development at the Tennis Training Center while lecturing in Japan.

On the wall of the Japanese Youth Training Center, I saw a picture of a flower, including its stem and root system. I asked the director for the center about it and he said, “The first priority for the athlete is to train his root system; this part, which is underground and not seen, is the base for the plant and for the athlete. It represents his attitude, his heart, his work habits, his integrity, and all of the qualities that do not receive immediate attention from others, but are critical for success that endures the test of time.

“The stem, which represents the physical condition and athleticism of the athlete, is the second priority. We see athletic ability as we see the stem of the flower, even if it does not attract as much attention as the bloom, it is the critical link between the roots and the flower.

“The flower, the third priority, represents the players’ strokes. We are initially attracted by the appearance of the strokes, but they can only succeed over a period of time with a strong root system and a well-working stem.”

I tell my players that confidence is equal to self-concept and self-respect. You see your opponent as you compete, but you feel yourself. Therefore, a player’s self-concept, which is only developed by the root systems, is always the first priority in a long-term training program.

Think of the quick-growing corn stalk that is impressive for one season and then dies. Its roots are very shallow and easily ripped to the ground. The Dutch tulip bulb is completely opposite. Its blossoms are pruned early and often, each time sending nourishment back to the root system, until that bulb is large enough and strong enough to produce year after year. The strong oak tree – with as many roots underground as it has limbs above ground – is another example, taking years to develop.

Society often teaches youngsters that the bottom line and end results are what matters, and that if they can get something more quickly, then all the better.

In training, players and coaches should remember that although growth may be underground and out of direct sight, the root system requires the greatest emphasis and care to produce beautiful blossoms and success season after season.

A good teacher does not promise quick successes, but rather understands the great importance of long-term growth and character development early in a youngster’s career.

November 11, 2009

2010 Tennis Camp Dates Announced

I’ve posted on my website the dates for three of my 2010 Junior Summer Camps. Like last year, they are scheduled in July - between Wimbledon and the US Open.

Weekend Summer Camp at:

Lexington, SC (The Country Club of Lexington) July 16 -18 (Day Camp)

Week-Long Summer Camps at:

Sumter, SC (The Palmetto Tennis Center) July 18 - 23 (Day Camp)

Brevard, NC (Brevard College) July 25 - 30 (Day and Overnight Camp)

Also, I’m working on holding a week-long camp in the
Atlanta area. The exact date and location,
however, will be tentative until after the Chistmas holiday. So, if you’re interested, check back in early January.

For more info, go to

Eliminate Excuses

A man may fall several times, but he is not a failure until he starts saying that someone pushed him.

Tennis is a difficult game to play. It is even more difficult to play well, and it is one of the hardest games to learn to win. But the biggest frustration that I have as a coach is not that the physical and mental aspects of the game are so difficult to learn, but that it is so difficult for the players to take responsibility for their own play. It seems that usually the better the player; the more sophisticated is his excuse for coming up short in a match.

Name it, tame it, but don't blame it.

If something is bothering you, don't take the court.

Sigmund Freud stated that sometimes a failure situation is so painful for a person that he may need a defense mechanism in order to preserve self-esteem. Unfortunately, though, a defense mechanism can seriously hinder an athlete's growth because it keeps him from working to improve his skill level. I tell my players that once they take the court, there is no reason for a loss other than, "He played better than I did." That's all there is to say.

A player should be humble in victory and give full credit to his opponent in defeat, no matter how tough it may be.

When the athlete decides what he really desires with all his heart and the price that he is willing to pay for it, he stops worrying about the small pains, those things that the opponent does, and any other stumbling blocks, and he focuses on the job at hand. -Vince Lombardi

For the Tennis Player Who Runs Out of Excuses:
1. Ate too much lunch.
2. Did not eat enough.
3. Favorite racquet broke.
4. Balls too heavy.
5. Net was too high.
6. These strings just don't give me the power I need.
7. How can I be expected to play my best on these courts?
8. This injury keeps me from playing well.
9. I just couldn't get into it today.
10. Tournament director didn't seed me.
11. The racquet slipped in my hand.
12. I didn't realize opponent was left-handed until the next-to-the-last game.
13. Opponent didn't play tennis, just hit the ball back.
14. Opponent was so bad I couldn't play my game.

November 5, 2009

Five Rules of Sportsmanship

  1. Always give 100% when competing. To do so shows a respect for your opponent and an honor for your sport.
  2. Confidence (belief in self; respect for your opponent) is admirable. Cockiness (belief in self; lack of your respect for your opponent) and self-centeredness is not. Strive for outward and inward confidence.
  3. If you win, let it be by the code with your honor held high and have compassion for the opponent you have beaten. If you should lose, let it also be by the code (giving completely of yourself in that losing cause), and then honor the opponent who has beaten you.
  4. Take what you do very seriously, but never take yourself very seriously. Those who validate themselves merely by what they do on the court will always be dissatisfied.
  5. Love winning, and hate losing; but never fear the losing. If you are a true competitor, losing will always hurt, but remember that pain is not the enemy. It is a chance for growth. No matter how hard it is, go back on that court and continue the process of learning.

Sportsmanship is not a job for the week, but rather a job for the meek – for those who possess strength under control.

External and Internal Motivation (Obsession vs. Inspiration)

Indirect or external influences – such as coaches, parents, and peers – are usually prime motivating factors early in a player’s development. Tennis is a difficult game to play, let alone to become proficient at. Many failures and setbacks occur, and every level of completion presents new and more frustrating obstacles. External motivation from parents, coaches and friends is necessary, therefore, to help a player worth through the difficult time.

When an athlete decides to make a commitment, he or she can make it either by obsession or inspiration (externally or internally).

The award-winning movie, Chariots of Fire, told the story of two quite different athletes as the prepared for the 1924 Olympics. One of the athletes’ actions were well planned and goal directed, and he drove himself with one thought in mind – winning the gold. He was so obsessive about winning that when the time came to compete, after all of his planning and training, fear of failure engulfed him. He validated who he was by what he accomplished as an athlete.

The other athlete’s drive came from within. For him, running was not a mechanism for success, but rather, a way of expressing his inner self. Training and competing were joys rather than burdens, and winning and medals were outcomes of his pursuits rather than ends in themselves.

The externally motivated athlete’s victories will bring relief, but may bring about disappointment, as the wins prove to be not as fulfilling as he had hoped. Competition presents anxiety and nervousness – fear of a negative outcome is a constant threat. Defeats and setbacks produce discouragement.

The athlete who is inspired from within, in contrast, is more likely to find satisfaction and happiness in his or her successes. A loss may bring disappointment, but also an eagerness to compete once again.

Process and Product

The only two reward though competition are the Process (the learning and internal rewards of the experience) and the Product (the material or outer rewards from the completion).

The four scenarios are:
1. To give your whole heart and win.
2. To give your whole heart and lose.
3. To not give your whole heart and win.
4. To not give your whole heart and lose.

The rewards from each of these scenarios are listed in the following box.

Of course, all athletes would like to get both the process and the product for their efforts and avoid the “No Product, No Process” scenario. The telling tale of the athlete who will improve and grow though competition is the one who makes the decision to pursue the “Process, No Product” scenario (I will give my best even in a losing cause) over the “Product, No Process” scenario (I want to win, regardless of doing the right long-term things or not.)

The order of the four scenarios (best to worst) should be:
1. Achieve the Process and the Product.
2. Achieve the Process and not cash in on the Product this time.
3. Get the Product but sacrifice the Process in getting it.
4. Get no Product and get no Process.

The athlete can achieve either #1 or #2 every time he or she competes with the correct outlook.

November 2, 2009

Go Back To the Court No Matter How Hard It Is

After a loss, many players and coaches would rather do anything else but hit more tennis balls. One of the best things to do after tough loss, however, is to do just that – go right back on the court and work out for a period of 20 to 30 minutes. Some of my player's best practice sessions have taken place immediately following a painful defeat. This practice accomplishes two things. Primarily, it is a great way to release negative emotions, such as the anger and aggressiveness that may follow a loss. Secondly, it allows the player to leave the tennis court that day in a more positive frame of mind.