Assessment Could Save Your Child’s Tennis

assessment

The following was written by Todd Widom and reprinted with his permission.

This article was prompted by an increasing number of parents over the years contacting me for a truthful assessment of their child’s tennis. It is not so easy to receive the truth for some so I am here to give you the truth. Many parents get very excited when their 12 or 14 year old is obtaining excellent results. Does it mean that the child will go on to do great things in tennis? Maybe, but in many cases the real answer is no. The strategy of spending money is easy, because as long as your child is winning everyone is happy. However, you may not be so happy in the later stages of your child’s junior career when they need to peak to get into a great school.

The essence of what I am getting at is if you think your child is having great results, be prepared that you are going to keep investing in his or her playing career. The issue is that you want your child to peak when he or she is 16 to 18 years old and what you must face is the reality that your child is going to require the necessary tools to attend a great university or maybe play professional tennis. Just because your child is winning, does not mean that they have the necessary foundation and tools to play great tennis in their last couple of years of junior tennis, which is when it matters most.

The younger divisions of junior tennis are for learning and developing your game for when you are older. What parents must understand, is that your child should be learning how to train, compete, construct points, have a great attitude, and be mentally prepared. There is no time to be trying various strategies, or going from academy to academy. You will lose precious time and no child has that luxury. Certainly, if an academy or coach is not working out then a change is required, but due diligence and research is required to find the right coach.

When a person gets an opinion from a doctor that they need surgery, they should get a second opinion. The same holds true in tennis. When a student is looking for a new coach or to improve on something in their game, they should interview coaches, obtain a second opinion, and select the one they feel like will get them to the best place in their game.

In addition, when your child is figuring out what college they would like to attend, they should have a list of schools, research them and visit them. I counsel many kids and their parents on these issues. You are making a financial investment in your child’s tennis, and your child is making a commitment to tennis. In addition, the coach is making an investment in your child and their tennis career. What I keep seeing over and over again are junior tennis players not peaking from sixteen to eighteen years old and this is not only a very significant problem, but this is also a costly mistake the parents absorb financially and the player absorbs physically, mentally and educationally. Even though each case is different, what I can tell you is that the majority of kids do not have the solid foundation required to play at higher levels of tennis. As a coach, mentor, friend, and teacher to my students, I make sure that all aspects of what creates a strong and solid foundation are set into motion from day one. This is the only way I know how to do it, and I am not merely a coach. My business actually started this way as parents were panicking that they have spent all this time, effort and money, and at the most important juncture of their child’s junior tennis career, their child is faltering, their foundation is cracking and their dreams are quickly dissolving into thin air. Do yourself a favor and get your child assessed by someone experienced so that you will save yourself major headaches in the upcoming years.

Data Tells the Story

The following article was written by Javier Palenque and is reprinted here, unedited, with his permission.

In the past thirty years American tennis has seen a 73% decline in the amount of top 100 players in the ATP tour. This alarming number basically tells us that we lose every decade 25% of our players in the higher echelon of worlds’ tennis. What then will happen in the next ten years with the new massive investment by the USTA in Lake Nona and the new crop of American stars who seem to be on the rise? Will this change the clear trend line that the sport is basically slowly dying for America at the professional level? When you talk to the people at the USTA, they will tell you that things could not be better and that the new crop of players will reverse the disappearing number of Americans. Of the current top 100 stars, we will lose the older players and replace them with the younger players. Essentially this will mean that over a 40 year period we managed to keep our declining rate at 73%.

In my opinion here is how the top 100 will look like for the next decade.

We will lose the players in Yellow and replace them with the players in green. These new kids are truly remarkable as breaking the top 200 at such a young age, truly means that they are very, very talented. However the number of players in the top 100 still remains low, for the largest and richest country on earth. This makes me want to learn further more about the way these new group of young stars came up through the system here in the US?

So, I wanted to see if there is some sort of pattern to figure out of a career path that these guys have taken, so we can try to replicate it and have instead of 8 new stars 80.

The first thing that comes to mind as I read these names is how close to tennis (having a tennisfamily or coaches as parents, or ex. playersis so significant) Escobedo, Fritz, Koslov, Tiafoe, Mmoh, Rubin (father had tennis knowledge). This in essence means that of the eight future American stars 75% have a solid tennis family tradition. The reason this number is important is because then it stands to reason that if you as a current 18U player do not have this tradition, if you thought the odds of becoming a pro were low, I can tell you with a 75% chance of being right that in three out of four kids if your parents don’t have years of knowledge of the sport the chance for you to make it as a pro is even worse than you think. What about the other 25% the other two players? Reilly Opelka has the physical advantage of size (like Isner) and the last kid Jared Donaldson, took 2 years of training on clay in Argentina, a surface that here in America we don’t play in. Ok, got it so what does that mean to me as a parent? Why should I invest in this sport? The hours, the trips, the never ending tournaments, the rankings, the way the tournaments are governed and award points, the way the sport is targeted for who can afford it and not who is most likely to be a pro. While on the surface this looks like a great reversal of fortune of American tennis. In essence I think it reveals the exact opposite, I know, I will get a lot of mail, telling me how incorrect I am. But, follow me, I may be able to present my case to you. Who knows you may end up agreeing with me.

The data reveals three important things that are at the core of tennis in America that remain flawed and only enable the further destruction of American tennis supported by system in place and the governing body structure.

1) Tennis is simply not reaching the very people who will make it grow.

2) Coaches and academies in general must not be that good if for 75% of the future top players the coaches are the parents coaches of the stars who have years of knowledge of the sport by being regular coaches. The other 12.5% Opelka is a big guy who was coached very well, but his size is his differentiator (though he was lucky to train with a well-known coach) and Donaldson the other 12.5% trained for two years on clay. In summary, if you have a coach-parent you are most likely to be in the highway to become a pro, if you are not (which means 99.99 of the population, you are out of luck). Then your only option is to have good coaches around where you live, but who can tell if they are good or not if you don’t know tennis?

3) The tournament and competition structure does not bring up tennis stars. Let me show you my arguments for these three key issues:

TENNIS IS NOT REACHING THE MASS OF PEOPLE WHO CAN GROW THE GAME

There are roughly 9.9 Million (*) core tennis participants (that play more than 10 times a year in the US that is only 3.1% of the 318.9 million population. This number is extremely low if you consider that of 75% of our next stars come from people who played, coach or had been for a lifetime in tennis in this small group. Please realize that maybe there are 100,000 tennis coaches in the US (this number is very high only for calculation purposes). This number represents 1% of the tennis population. This effectively means that about 99.9% of the population remain separated from tennis and with no way of connecting, much less to aspire to be a professional athlete? As the pool of players is so small, the vast majority of possible tennis people is simply not reached. What is the USTA’s plan to reach 99.9% of the population if week in and week out, it plays under a competition system and ranking system that feeds the impossible numbers?

Within the US population there are ethnic groups that are growing at a faster rate than the rest; Hispanic and Asians. Yet these ethnic groups are not known for being physically big and the same USTA states that the future of tennis is for the bigger sized players given the new equipment and speed of courts. What to do?

Another aspect is the cost of playing as a junior. We all know that tennis is an elite sport, given its costs and years of training it requires. So, from a financial point of view tennis is not only played by only 3.1% of the population, it is so expensive that it excludes the masses of people who cannot afford it. Yet, the number of the future pros and their own financial backgrounds tell us that it not need be so expensive as for 6 of the 8 new players for the next decade come from modest background and modest income. Being a coach is not a high income profession.

A big part of being a pro prospect is about the proximity to good tennis knowledge, and passion for tennis.

What is the USTA doing to address this? What is the governing body doing to supply the market with exactly that: the proper tennis knowledge? This void and market reality clearly reveals that who tennis currently attracts and gets to travel and compete every week are the same very people that have the lowest chance of being a pro, even though they may be highly ranked, or under the current system attended a high number of tournaments and therefore acquired the rankings with cash. This makes no sense, yet the sense that the USTA conveys is as if these kids were under a pro path and nothing can back that up in the last twenty years. Nothing.

Finally, if we know that there is a direct correlation for 75% of the new stars of having a tennis coach and family, the key group to target then are adults ages 25 -40 who are the vehicle for growth of tennis in America. This means these are the parents to be that need the fun and excitement to enroll their kids in tennis. What is the USTA doing about them? Nothing.

THE KNOWLEDGE LEVEL OF THE AVERAGE COACH IN THE US IS UNABLE TO PRODUCE PRO- PROSPECTS

If you then consider that of the next stars: Fritz, Escobedo, Koslov, (all parent coaches), Mmoh (dad a pro), Tiafoe (he lived at the facility in Maryland- 24 hr. tennis exposure) and Rubin (McEnroe Academy and dad high school player). Where does that leave the vast amount of kids that are left along the way who with the best intentions and support but who are never with the proper professionals. Here the weakness of tennis in America is the poor level of coaching and the lack of a standard basic USTA driven certification system to validate coaches and facilities. For the 99.9% of parents who want the services, yet do not have the knowledge of who they are hiring. So, in a marketplace where it is driven by no standards, we have the suppliers of the service with no real knowledge of what is a world class forehand is and the country’s governing body certifies no facilities or coaches, So, ignorant parents (the core of the future for tennis ) waste time, money and dreams. The result, nothing is achieved. Nothing is tied together, the coaching, the kids, the USTA, the parents, each work on their own and everyone loses. Why would anyone in a leadership position at the USTA allow this? This weakness revealed and the initiatives the USTA takes show how it does not understand what are the root problems of tennis in America are and how it has no plan to address the problem. I live in Miami, sun 90% of the time, warm weather 95% of the time. Yet the providers of tennis services is extremely weak. Imagine how it is in other parts of the country where there is not a tennis court in every neighborhood or park or condo, or where the weather does not cooperate?. Unless something is done to address this, the next decade will produce the same poor results we have been for the last two decades even with all the investments, and hoopla. This is a tragedy and mismanagement of tennis.

TOURNAMENT STRUCTURE DOES NOT ENCOURAGE PARTICIPATION

The current structure and system of competition makes the pool of participants smaller and smaller as the kids get older. All one has to do is see the pool of players from ages 8-12, 12-16, and 16+. Tennis needs to have a complete change of shape.

Do any of you reading this disagree with the suggestion?

The way to do this is to grow the game, to create competitive environments and competitions that are “out of the box”. Not the century old tournament structure and point allocation that is giving us results that are low under any parameter and only shrink the pool of players:

Suggestions:

  •  One day Tournaments Round Robin by level
  • USTA camps for the masses in each age group, not the top players. Good education.
  • Training for local coaches who may have great prospects but not a competitive program
  • Some form of match play for all
  • Promote competitive team tennis locally
  • Allow tournaments where coaching is allowed
  • Create a structure to increase the appeal of tennis as opposed to the current structure that only encourages individual participation. (remember this individual participation is boring, has produced the best results 30 years ago, it is dead, yet the structure and results we get continue to be the same)
  • Other ideas and input from players and parents
  • Pricing structure revisit, ex, two tournaments a month cost $100 for 4 matches. In other words to play a match in the US we need to pay $25.00. This is absurd. We need thousands of match play hours that need to be FREE, In South America and Europe kids play match play every day at no cost. Here in the richest country on earth that produces the least amount of tennis players and pays the most amount of money we have the fewest hours of match play? How does this make sense?
  • Working together is the key, we don’t as a common group work together as parents, kids and coaches.
It is the failure of vision and leadership at the USTA that creates this void and poor results.

Conclusions:

The next decade of men’s pro tennis has clear data as to where the kids will come from. They will come from tennis parents and coaches with kids. So, if you are a parent whose kids love tennis and you know little about it, you are out of luck. Why do we make this so hard, so exclusive of the very people who will grow the game and so expensive that it allows the people with hunger and attitude to be excluded and the people with resources and not attitude to endure the journey and both with poor results.

Why are we continually doing this? Who can answer that?

We need critical analytical thinking of business people for the benefit of tennis in America. The way it is, it is announcing its death. The worst part is that it will be our fault. We will have watched it die and changed nothing. We need fresh thinking from outside the walls of what now is the USTA. Count me in for help.

I wish the USTA leadership would open its mind and hear other perspectives because from where I stand I only see what will never happen, change. Expecting different results from doing the same things is the definition of insanity. Can anyone tell me why we put up with this?

I can be reached at @palenquej or jpalenque@yahoo.com

Building Tennis IQ

Coach Jorge Capestany does these amazing videos on his YouTube channel, many of which I’ve shared on the ParentingAces Facebook page over the years.

His latest video is actually a livestream presentation that Jorge gave at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, Florida. Thankfully, the USTA recorded the stream and has posted it online for all of us to watch.

In this presentation, Jorge explains why simply having the best strokes doesn’t necessarily produce wins in tennis. It’s more important to understand where and how you’re hitting the ball and what your opponent is likely to do in return, much like playing a game of chess. Awareness is the key word here. Jorge illustrates how to teach these concepts by having 2 junior players demonstrate them throughout the presentation.

If you want to watch the Tennis IQ presentation please click here. Jorge says, ‘You should move forward in the video to the 11:30 mark because that is when we started!”

This is a great presentation for players and coaches, as well as Tennis Parents, to watch. Some coaches are actually carving out time during training to show it to their players as a group. You know how much I love that idea!

I hope you enjoy it. It’s almost 2 hours long (!), so find some time in your busy schedule and get started.

Again, thanks to the USTA for sharing the footage. Watch it HERE!

Privates vs. Squads

The following article was written by Graeme Brimblecombe and is reprinted with permission from LifeTime Tennis of Australia’s website (you can find the original article here). I found it incredibly detailed and enlightening in regards to how junior players should be spending their on-court time and how we parents should be spending our training dollars. I hope you feel the same way. Enjoy!

Dear Parents and Players,

Over the past year there has been a significant spike in parents and players wanting more and more private lessons and after talking to parents and players about their reason I want to dispel a lot of the myths that surround an increased dependence that seems attached to having a “Private Coach”.

The first part of all this is that a private coach is necessary in terms of setting the scene for what players should be doing over the rest of the week or short term. There should be a discussion and work done on the areas of a player’s game that they should be working on over the next few days/ weeks. This “Private Lesson” should be as much a goal setting session as it is an on court session and in fact if the coach didn’t hit a ball or stood on the court the value should be no less.

In that lies the problem. Some players and parents are not willing to take responsibility in their own development and work on areas of their games in the other times they are on court. This means that the only time a player is likely to improve is when a coach is on court with them. If a player is unable to work and improve independently it is unlikely they will ascend to a very high level of the game and at times when things get a little harder to improve ( which happens to every player) they are likely to take the easy option and give up. They have not invested in their own development. Here’s a phrase I used to use a lot when I was working with TA and its various subsidiaries.

AS A PLAYER YOU MUST BE AN ACTIVE PARTICIPATANT IN YOUR OWN DEVELOPMENT.

Meaning that Players who want to be successful and play at a high standard have to be significantly more invested in their development than what a coach or parent is.

Here’s some simple tests. Ask yourself the following.

When was the last time my child asked me to:

  1. Get to training early so he / she could warm up and prepare before going on court.
  2. Asked if they could go to the courts and hit some serves.
  3. Rang another player and asked for a hit.
  4. Organised some practice sets.
  5. Did extra physical work at home. Stretching / running / movement / strength
  6. Watched tennis matches on TV
  7. Stayed behind after losing in a tournament to “Watch” more matches.
  8. Wrote down or did an evaluation of their tennis goals

Now ask yourself where the motivation is?

If it is not with the player there is only 2 other possible motivations. Either the parent or the coach. It should be neither.

THIS NEEDS TO BE PLAYER DRIVEN.

Here’s a few other attitudes to be aware of.

Does your child ever come off from training:

  1. Down in the dumps, whinging, sooking, looking for attention because they have lost or not played well.
  2. Do you or your child put more importance on performance or on results?
  3. Do you or your child place the blame for a loss on opponent, coach, parent or other outside factors for that outcome?
  4. Are you or your child more focused on who they are playing or training against than performance?
  5. Does your child train / play unconditionally no matter what else may be going on outside of tennis or do you / they make excuses for their performance?
  6. Does your child ask you not to watch their matches?
  7. How often do you or your child cancel a tennis session for an extra – curricular school activity?
  8. As a parent do I send my child off to a coach or squad because the person or players in the squad motivate him or her?
  9. Does my child motivate the other players he or she is training with?

Ask your child 1 simple question. WHO DO YOU REALLY PLAY FOR? Be careful parents the answer may be a bit of a surprise. If the answer is themselves, does their actions meet their answer.

I’ve been coaching for 30 years and have working with a world number 1 and various other top 10, grand slam, Davis and Fed cup players and managed / coached a Junior Davis Cup Championship Team. As time goes by more and more tennis parents and players are turning to the coaches to perform some kind of magic on their tennis careers.

From my experience you are all looking in the wrong place. Players need to take a look in the mirror. As that is where the magic is. It lies within and what you as a player is prepared to do.

If you think private lessons are the most important part of your players program you are facilitating the very attitude that that gives your child less chance and not more of being successful in this game.

The squad lessons need to be the single most important sessions each player participates in throughout a week. They offer an opportunity to work on so much of what tennis is really all about. However, often parents and players prefer to miss squads in preference of privates. This attitude feeds the beast that will prevent the most important learning opportunities being, accountability and ownership of their own development.

If players would like to be success at this game from the age of 12 they will need to be on court for the majority 5 – 6 days a week.

A balanced on court program will include all of the below.

  1. 1 Private lesson per week (preferable bi weekly) and doesn’t have to be hitting.
  2. 3 Squad sessions per week.
  3. 1 – 2 hitting session per week. – with a player of a similar standard
  4. 1 – 2 set play match play session per week – with a player of a similar standard

These sessions that are self – directed and offer self – ownership are the sessions that players need the most. Develop independence and ownership in your players.

Parents stay out of it, do not get involved in those sessions. They are not your training sessions.

The first part of this is to understand where the feeling or need for private lessons are driven from. After speaking to a number of parents and coaches these seem to be the main points.

From a parents perspective the following were common messages:

  1. There seems to be the desire to receive personal tuition and more focused lesson with the players
  2. The players received more technical attention.

From a coaches point of view:

  1. Coaches generally love private lessons because it fills up more on court time.
  2. To get over a technical hurdle that a player is struggling with
  3. Set the scene with players for the rest of the week

Think about this, if private lessons are so important why is it that the Tennis Australia National Academy programs consist almost entirely of squad lessons and they generally farm the private lessons back to the private enterprise coaches. If private lessons were so important why would they not want to do them themselves.

Over the past 30 years in the industry I can’t think back of a single successful player that I have worked with or seen working that has had a big focus on private lessons.

  • 5 years at Tennis QLD and barely conducted a one on one lesson, all squads.
  • 3 Years as AIS men’s coach and barely conducted a private lesson.
  • 2 Years as NSWIS and TNSW Head coach and didn’t do a private lesson.

These programs have all produced world class tennis players and yet private lessons were an absolute rarity.

Our best players for as long back as I can think did very little one on one lessons with a coach. However the players who have been successful have been those who have been able to put the time in on court throughout their developing years.

Parents I urge you to change your mind set in this space and look to balance out your child’s on court program.

Now the challenge is to get the children to be accountable by focussing on the things they are being asking to work on by the coach while they are not with a coach. When they start to do this then you may start to see where the magic really is.

From my point of view there are a range of benefits that squad session can give that private lessons do not.

  1. The simple volume of work players can get in squad.
  2. Players can and should be working on their technic at all times which should be reinforced by the coaches in squads.
  3. Players get the opportunity to work on more tactical outcomes which drive the technic they use.
  4. Players generally have to be more aware (and are aligned to the match play) of the decision making process and the way in which they cope with different situations.
  5. There are much more live ball activities teaching a greater variety of options and choices available.
  6. There is in most cases more movement and physical activities involved in squad sessions.
  7. There is much more Serve and ROS activities involved in squads again creating a more realistic outcome.

When you ask your coach to do more sessions and he says you are better off doing more squads and more hitting, set play or serves and ROS he is really someone who cares about you. The coach that says let’s do a private lesson or another private lesson is probably someone who cares more about himself.

We get a heck of a lot of people coming along talking about wanting their kids to become better tennis players. I can understand them pulling out if they are sick or injured however the majority of our squad cancellations are now other extra – curricular activities that have nothing to do with tennis.

The frustration for us is that the attitude is that we want you to make our kids better but they don’t want to make a commitment to that. They want to pick and choose and do a portion of the work required and still get a great outcome. I’m here to say parents that is not going to happen.

Have a think about it from this perspective. Why do kids go to school 5 days a week 38 – 40 weeks of the year and 12 years to develop the skills required for university or to go into the workforce?  Why do you think it is ok to look at tennis any different?

The MAGIC is in the dedication and discipline. They are the 2 most important personal qualities required to be successful. By the time your child is playing at a top 20 level in his or her age group in the state everyone playing at this level has talent. Talent WILL NOT be enough. What is going to give your child a COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE from this point forward. I don’t think it exists in more private lessons. What do you think?

Why Your Junior Should Be Watching the Aussie Open

The 2017 Australian Open is underway. For fans in the US, it’s one of the tougher Majors to follow due to the massive time difference between Melbourne and pretty much anywhere in the States. Thankfully, both the Tennis Channel and ESPN will provide coverage of the matches (click here for the 10sballs.com article on when and where you can watch), so there are plenty of opportunities to see your favorite players in action. The Australian Open app (click here for Apple and here for Android) is also a great way to stay up to date on matches and results Down Under.

Why should your junior players be watching these matches? What can they learn by seeing the world’s top players compete? I wrote an article on this topic a while back (click here) but figured it was time for an updated view on what juniors can take away from watching the pros.

Says Johan Kriek, 2-time Australian Open Champion and current junior coach, “I always tell kids to look at the footwork: when do they hit open stance and when do they hit closed stance? Watch their body language. Court management – meaning when do they hit hard, when do they hit softer, when do they lob – is also important to note. The stats on winners hit vs unforced errors can help juniors understand that even the world’s best make mistakes which can help young players manage expectations regarding their own play.”

Australia native and current WTA coach Sarah Jane Stone (no relation!) shares, “Most kids don’t watch enough tennis. It’s really important for them to become students of the game. By watching professional matches they can learn so much about tennis. The way players act between points, the routines that they keep, and how they construct points – these are all important lessons that juniors can learn by simply watching the pros compete.”

According to Steve Johnson, father of US player Stevie Johnson and highly-respected developmental coach, “I usually like to tell people to watch one person, especially their footwork, and figure out what they are trying to do to win points. What patterns are successful/not successful. We all tend to just watch the ball. The other advice is to be level headed on court. Easier said than done but what a difference it makes. So far this year, Stevie has been really good about moving on when he has break points and doesn’t win them. That’s a very big step toward reaching his potential.”

So, the takeaway here is that watching the pros on tv is a great way for junior players to improve not only the technical side of their game but also the tactical and mental sides. Encourage your kids to take some time over the next couple of weeks to study the game and to really learn something from their favorite players. It will pay off in future success, both on and off the court.

Anticipate Your Opponent’s Shots

Here is another article from contributor David Berens

Club players often marvel at the speed of the top pros on tour and, admittedly, they are super-humans capable of very quick sprints. However, if you watch closely, you will see the fastest players begin to move toward their opponent’s shots before it crosses to their side of the net. How is this possible? Anticipation.

Improve your Anticipation with these 3 easy tennis instruction steps:

1) Watch their RACKET: Though we often see our opponent’s racket, we are very slow to use that information to deduce where and how they are going to hit the ball. If the backswing is high with an open racket face, the next shot will likely be a slice. And if the backswing is low, short and the racket face is open, there might be a lob coming your way.

2) Watch their BODY POSITION: There are a few different ways the body can give away an opponent’s shot. If they are in trouble – lunging, leaping, or diving – we can often expect a short reply. If they are leaning back and looking up, we know it’s going to be a lob. Or if they turn their shoulder to take huge backswing and really load with their legs, we may have to brace for a groundstroke blast!

3) Watch the SITUATION: I often call this situational awareness. If my partner and I are charging the net in doubles, our opponents are pushed back on defense and the shot we hit has some loop to it, I’m guessing a lob is coming. Or during a rally, I hit a great angle that my opponent gets to easily; I expect an angle is coming back.

Are your educated guesses always right? No, but with a little more attention to these 3 details, you may find that you know where your opponent’s shots are going just a little quicker. And if you know where it’s going, you can probably be two to three steps faster getting to the shot! So be faster in your next match with Anticipation by watching your opponent more closely!

How To Train Your Strengths

Image courtesy of michaelhyatt.com

Today’s post is the first from a new contributor to ParentingAces, David Berens. David has been a certified USPTA Elite Tennis Professional since 2001. His experience in tennis has taken him from city parks to exclusive resorts and island getaways. Today he calls Knoxville, Tennessee home. He has also been a writer most of his life and went to Carson-Newman College and East Tennessee State University to obtain his English Literature degree. He has been published in the USPTA trade publication Addvantage Magazine and has appeared on several local news programs promoting 10 and Under Tennis. David is also a frequent contributor to CoachTube and PlaySportsTV. With his new novel, Break Point – 9 Life Lessons from the Tennis Court – Taking You from your own Break Point to a New Beginning with Specific Life Hacks from a Tennis Coach’s Perspective, David examines the mental aspect of tennis.

Just a few months ago, I had a student – we’ll call him Malcolm – walk into a tennis lesson and tell me that he needed to work on his backhand. So, like any good tennis instructor, I say, ok, let’s hit a few backhands. But as my work continued with this student, I began to shift my emphasis with him. I came to believe that what he needed was not an improved backhand; he needed to understand his game better.

It is widely accepted that to be truly successful in tennis, you need at least 2 shots you can call weapons. That means that when you get the chance to use this shot, you can usually do enough damage with it to win the point – or at least get in control of the point. Many top players consider their serve to be a weapon and usually a groundstroke. In Malcolm’s case, the serve is a pretty good weapon, but it was unclear to him what his second weapon should be. He wanted to raise the level of his backhand up to that of his forehand and his volleys. (His volleys are probably his second weapon.) I said… why? We began to reshape his game and strategy so that his obvious goal was to get to the net and use his weapon. Instead of spending hours creating a slightly better backhand, we took a different path. We changed the nature of his point play to emphasize his strengths – his net play is better now than it has ever been.

He has been very successful using his serve and moving around the backhand to attack with his forehand, both of which give him a chance to get to the net where his second weapon takes control of the point. There is something to be said of making sure the other strokes can hold up under pressure, but that’s really all they need to do… keep Malcolm in the point to give him a chance to use his weapons. Instead of grinding uselessly over a weakness, we took charge of and accentuated his strengths.

This strategy works in real life as well. So many times I hear about people trying to build themselves up by becoming what it is they think they should be to succeed. At my height of 5’9″, there is just no amount of practice that will make me a great basketball player like Michael Jordan. Similarly, I can sing, but there is nothing I could do to become the next Freddie Mercury. A good way to look at this is summed up in this quote by Tom Rath in Strengths Finder 2.0:

“When we’re able to put most of our energy into developing our natural talents, extraordinary room for growth exists. So, a revision to the you-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be maxim might be more accurate: You cannot be anything you want to be, but you can be a lot more of what you already are.”

Do you know what your strengths are? Are you focused on them? Do you practice and learn everything you can to make that talent the most it can be?