By Matt Cuccaro Ed. M., Director of Mental Training at Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy (IJTA).
The lines of a tennis court are clearly defined. The athletes within
them, however, must have mental flexibility to maximize training time as well
as match day execution. Two prevailing methodologies to explore include “or”
and “and” mindsets. There are advantages to both; the time and place in which
they are used is the key to high performance.
The “or” technique is a simple one. This mindset is based upon making
quick judgments when little or no time is available. This reactive approach
allows the athlete to make decisions efficiently on the court without expending
too much mental effort.
Examples include “attack the net or hang behind the baseline,” “go cross-court or down-the-line,” and “hit with slice or topspin.” This method is highly effective for match-time when
the stress of the situation naturally places a limit on thought, attention, and
introspection. Competition is the time to simply embrace the challenge of the
match and react with an “or” approach on the court. Commitment to executing a
game plan with as little deviation as possible benefits even the best players
during the heat of match play.
The second approach -- the “and” mentality – takes into account the
countless options and “shades of gray” offered when developing skills and making
decisions. This mindset opens the door to tremendous improvements over the
course of a career. Increased awareness of both the advantages and
disadvantages of various grips, strokes, and tactics allows a player to see the
game from multiple perspectives. In addition, it encourages players to create
their own style, which enhances confidence and ownership of their game.
“and” approach requires time, energy, and abundant resources of attention as
it’s filled with creativity, exploration, and experimentation. A high
percentage of practice time can be spent effectively exploring this “and” methodology
as the non-judgmental flow of thought allows for the true learning and player
development to unfold away from the stress of competition.
The “or” mindset and “and” methodology are both required
to create an elite tennis player. Where and when they are applied tends to be
the key for an individual to truly reach their potential.
As noted, long-term, high
priority areas of development will greatly benefit from an “and” methodology
when competitive emotion is low and introspection naturally runs a little deeper.
Lower priority, short-term, match-time decisions are best approached in an “or”
context, as stress leads to dwindling resources of attention and little
effectiveness of deep thought.
Those who perform at a high level consistently train
in cycles and remain aware of decision-making tendencies as they flow through
cycles of both training and competition. Be thoughtful about your approach to
the game and enjoy the challenge of finding balance in your decisions on and
around the court.
Ivan Lendl IJTA exemplifies Lendl’s desire
to give back to tennis and develop future champions through a new-era
curriculum and holistic training approach. The Academy focuses on classic
fundamentals, leading-edge biomechanics, strength training / fitness and mental
preparation. Lendl, a former world No.1 and winner of eight Grand Slams,
subscribes to a hands-on approach with students instilling dedication, focus,
hard work, motivation and overall preparation.
Martin Blackman opens Blackman Tennis Academy in Delray Beach, Florida today. "After three very rewarding years wth USTA Player Development, I want to get back to my passion of coaching committed junior players," said Blackman.
Blackman is the former USTA Senior Director of Talent Identification and Development, past head of the Junior Champions Center in College Park, Maryland and Men's Tennis Coach at American University. His new academy will operate as a boutique training facility that will focus on developing high performance players.
I asked Blackman the 5 most common things players at all levels do wrong when looking to grow their game. Here is his list:
1. Most players who do not consider themselves high performance do not set long-terms goals for themselves. Learn from recreational runners; most of the runners I know have goals and benchmarks for their ‘times’ and training. They stay motivated and focused by going after their goals and hitting their benchmarks. Tennis players of all levels should meet with their instructor or ‘team captain’ or doubles partner to set short, mid and long-term goals for their game.
2. Most players forget that tennis is characterized by three major elements:
Tennis is a running game.
Tennis technique is dictated by parameters (a range of acceptability for grips and stroke production).
Tennis is a game of errors not winners.
Those three elements define tennis at every level; athleticism, technical competency and tenacity are the trifecta of tennis. Players should seek an honest appraisal of those three aspects of their game, and ask their coach to formulate a plan to improve one area at a time. The goals should be realistic, based on the limitations of the player’s abilities and the amount of time that they are able to devote to training.
3. Most players don’t understand the role of practice. The terms ‘deep practice’ and ‘deliberate practice’ describe the neural processes involved with learning skills. Repetitions of any sort create neural pathways in the brain, therefore, if I have been hitting my forehand the wrong way for 10 years, I won’t be able to fix it in ten days!
The rule of thumb is, the more ingrained the habit, the more deliberate the practice necessary to correct it. Supervised drills and repetition will replace "bad habits" with the correct technique. Supervision is a necessity for correcting a bad habit, because the player will invariably return to the old habit when fatigued or unfocused.
The flip side is, when the player – typically a young child - is taught the right way the first time, he or she can engage in deep or deliberate practice on their own, without supervision. In tennis, this could mean practice sets, or hitting against a backboard or shadowing.
4. Many players need to spend more time practicing patterns off the serve and return. At every level of instruction and play we don’t spend enough time on the serve and return. The serve especially, is the beginning of holding serve, which should be a tactical goal for players of all levels.
As a coach, I love to work on ground stroke and transition patterns, getting high reps and getting my player to move and execute correctly, to high percentage targets. But now, in order to help my players improve their serves and returns, I often start the drill with them serving or returning, to give the drill a more realistic context. I will not feed the ball unless the player makes the serve or return, and my feed will be based on the strength and placement of their serve.
Having said that, the serve is the most complex stroke in the game, and must be worked on in isolation as well, to ensure good reproducible techniques.
5. ‘Playing up’ too much. Everyone wants to play up! Tennis players love to play players that are better or ranked higher than they are. There is a simple reason for this, when we play up; there is no pressure! We typically hit out, and play better than we would in a high pressure situation. There is one big problem with this desire to always play up:
Playing up means losing. Playing up all the time, means losing all the time.
I can’t think of any reminder more important to coaches, players and parents alike, than WINNING IS A HABIT!
The first day of a new year always brings with it a host of resolutions related to health and fitness. Mental toughness is on my 2011 list and these shirts for men and women are motivating.
Whatever YOU call it, being in the zone, playing out-of-your-mind, being dialed-in...it's all mental toughness that helps a win when the going gets tough. Never too old.
Made of Cool-n-Dry performance fabric, these shirts, dreamed up by a marathon runner, offer a comfy athletic fit that you can work out and play in. Men's long sleeve, $40. Womens, $28. The short sleeve is $22. Find them only at NO EXPIRATION.
"Other sports don't make kids play like adults," says the USTA, why should tennis? Picture a little-leaguer in Fenway Park. Just doesn't happen. Why should it for the littlest in tennis?
Junior sized tennis equipment has been around for a while but the USTA and ITF are beginning to incorporate it into official tournaments. Going forward, 10 and under level 7 tournaments will be officially listed as playing on full (78'), 60' or 36' courts. Each size court will have a different ball; none will use the yellow ball adults play with.
If playing on a full 78' court kids in this age group will use special low-bounce (regular size) "green-dot" balls; On a 60' court they will use an "orange" ball; On a 36' court they will use a larger "red" felt ball. The court size used depends on the facility holding the tournament. Some clubs are building in the smaller courts, others will adjust with blended lines.
The new balls are designed to have a different bounce, each is slower and lower than the yellow ball adults and teens use, helping smaller players learn the techniques and movement at their speed. "Instead of simply being a teaching methodology, as it has been, using age appropriate equipment and court size allows children under 10 to compete in an age appropriate setting just like any other sport," says Anne Davis, the USTA's National Manager of Recreational Coaches and Programs .
This official change indicates that junior equipment and low bounce balls are making a difference. Kids are finding success on court faster. Davis says that the USTA is starting to see kids who began tennis on shorter courts with low bounce balls moving up into the 12s with great success.
But what if your kid doesn't play tournaments? Take a page and look for one of these programs at your local club or buy a right-sized racquet and balls and head down to your public park. That hit with your impatient-to-be-good 6 year old will be a whole lot more fun.
Ages 7-8: Try a 23 inch racquet. HEAD makes the Radical Junior 23" Tennis Racquet ($20), same balls as above or below depending on ability and height.
Ages 9-10: Start with a 25 inch racquet. Babolat makes the Pure Drive Junior 25" ($70) and Head makes the Junior speed for under $20 if you want to keep costs down while you check to see if junior's interest kicks in. Penn Quick Start 60' balls, $4.95 are what you want for this age group.
Height can make a difference, so if you have a tall 8 year old you might want to bump them up a length and into the 60' balls. Don't worry about grip size. They are all the same at the starter levels.
ATP players John Isner, of the USA, and Nicolas Mahut of France, achieved twelve new records during their epic, 3 day match that started on Tuesday June 22 and finished on Thursday, June 24.
“...To set a record such as this is a rare thing, but to do so under the pressure of a major tournament and millions of viewers is awe-inspiring” said Craig Glenday, Guinness World Records’ Editor-in-Chief. Here are the officially confirmed records:
1. Longest match in professional tennis. (11 hrs. 5 mins. over three days) 2. Longest match in a Grand Slam competition 3. Longest match at Wimbledon 4. Most games played in a professional tennis match (183) 5. Most games in a Grand Slam match 6. Most games played during a Wimbledon match 7. Most aces served by an individual player in a professional tennis match (112 Isner) 8. Most aces served by an individual player in a Grand Slam match 9. Most aces by an individual player served at a Wimbledon match 10. Most games in a set in professional tennis (138 in 5th set)) 11. Most games in a set in a Grand Slam competition 12. Most games in a set at Wimbledon
That'll make you think differently next time you're in one of those long ones.
So you want your kids to love the game as much as you do? Here are a few products that will get your kid cruising on court:
Just released, Bring Your Racquet: Tennis Basics for Kids, by Steven White, is an easy to understand read that illustrates the game's basics in terms the average young player can completely understand. White is a professional tennis instructor and former satellite tour player who has a knack for explaining the game without being overly technical. The illustrations are contemporary, not unlike the "Prince of Tennis" series and add a fun, modern flair to the book.
Certainly there is no substitute for getting on court and hitting balls but as we adults know you really can't study the game too much and having a categorized book to reference/remind is a good thing. You might even want to breeze through it yourself from time to time. Recommended for age 8 and up. Bring Your Racquet retails for $14.00.
I've talked about QuickStart tennis before, but want to mention it again as this game is growing like mad nationwide and you can get a kit to play at home, on your driveway or local town court -- really anywhere you have a hard surface. QuickStart has recently been incorporated into Tennis Skillastics, a new program offered by Skillastics that helps schools to introduce tennis in schools without the need of official sized courts.
If your kid gets frustrated hitting regular balls on a court, watch them smile after trying Quickstart or as mine call it, "mini tennis." It will grow their confidence and big court game as well. Here are a couple of links to get the mini Net and balls you need. The racquets they are using already are fine.
For the little girl in your life, encourage tennis with Go! Go! Sports Girl Gracie who loves the game of tennis. Gracie is a soft 16" tall, quality doll with tennis accessories and a surprise tummy "tattoo" that says Dream Big Ace It. $19.99. Get Gracie for your little tennis girl.
Keep small hands busy and thinking about the game with the US Open Tennis Coloring & Activity Book by Kristin Vaughn and Peg Connery-Boyd, $10.16. This came out last year but still features some of the best - most recognizable - tennis players in the world. Find it HERE.
First in a new Tennisidentity.com category MOTIVATION. We all need it on court and some people are truly inspirational. Check out this ATP World Tour Insider video on one of my personal favorites, fellow New Englander, James Blake. Check it out here.