Numbers Don’t Lie with Craig O’Shannessy of Brain Game Tennis

Craig O'ShannessyThis week’s podcast:

Coach Craig O’Shannessy knew there had to be more to developing players and analyzing matches than simply relying on the opinion of others. He looked to other sports like baseball, basketball, and soccer and found that those sports relied on a unified method of collecting data, analyzing it, then using it to improve performance. The eyes, afterall, don’t always tell the whole story!

In early 2010, Craig started Brain Game Tennis (click http://www.braingametennis.com to go to his website) so he could share his data with others in the tennis world. As Craig writes on his site, “Tennis looks like a game of pinball, with the ball careening here, there, and everywhere. But it’s not. It’s actually the exact opposite. Tennis is a game of repeatable patterns in four specific areas – serving, returning, rallying and approaching. Study the patterns, learn the winning percentages, and make the game simple. That’s what Brain Game Tennis stands for. No more guessing. No more opinions. Just the facts please…”

And now Craig has introduced Gameplan, his newest product for use in junior development, college tennis, and beyond. Listen to this week’s podcast for more information on Gameplan and how you can purchase it. Then go to this link (https://www.braingametennis.com/stop-guessing-start-knowing/) to read more.

NOTE: If you purchase Gameplan – or any of Craig’s other Brain Game Tennis products – during the two weeks of the 2017 US Open, you will receive a 20% discount.

To contact Craig directly, go to his homepage here (http://www.braingametennis.com) then scroll to the bottom for the Contact Craig O’Shannessy link.

If you are interested in becoming a sponsor of the ParentingAces Podcast, please contact us. You can email me at lisa@parentingaces.com.

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Random Thoughts from Coach Darrick Yun

From time to time, a junior coach will contact me about writing for ParentingAces. A few days ago, Darrick Yun (dyun@thepgcc.org), Head Tennis Pro at the Peninsula Golf & Country Club in San Mateo, California, 417004_101365400029905_869682234_nsent me the article below. It’s a random assortment of his thoughts and experiences during this summer’s tennis camp sessions. Enjoy!

Reboot the Mission – Summer 2016

Eyes on the prize, reboot the mission
I’ve lost the sight, but not the vision

-The Wallflowers

Introduction

Greetings from Northern California. It’s summer, the time when so many tennis coaches and USTA junior players work together for a big push forward in the junior’s game. But there’s another side of coaching. Because at our country club, even though we do have juniors both ranked in Northern California and preparing for college tennis, on any given summer day, we may not coach a USTA playing junior all day! Our mission, my mission, is a little different. Read on!

Part 1. More Than Fun and Games

Child Obesity, Popular Psychology, and Junior Tennis. Tennis coaches are well aware of the implications of child obesity combined with the overload of indoor stagnant activity. We, like various other sports coaches, get all the statistics. In TennisPro magazine (November/December 2015), a coaches’ magazine where most of the contributors are working tennis and fitness experts, Jack Thompson and Mark Allen of Performance Tennis Academy (North Carolina) state that child obesity affects 33% of America’s 10-18 year olds. But they go further with what the implications are for junior tennis development in general and professional tennis development specifically, especially how we currently compare to other elite world-class players; i.e., they chart that we’re more obese than other countries that produce elite players and that is partially to blame for how difficult it is for us competing with the world’s best players. They correlate this information with a timetable showing our pro level decline. They are stating that our obesity is affecting the size of our talent pool! Then, referring to informal conversations with college coaches, Thompson and Allen feel that “pop psychology” (what they feel is mass media, celebrity psychologists influencing family and teaching dynamics mainly through theory only) is an additional aspect of the overall health and sports developmental problem, that basically our youngsters are needing to be coddled to the point where these coaches felt their “coaching hands” were being tied behind their back.

Part 2. Trying to Make a Difference

So my first mission here, especially during summer, when we get new kids trying tennis out, is to try my darndest to get your kid addicted to tennis, just for the fitness of it! The above health issues are serious stuff! But all current tennis coaches worth anything have to think about these issues. After all, though it’s a small amount of time during the day, during the week, whatever the case, your kids are in a coach’s hands. Many times I’ll work with parents and find out what the family’s, and the child’s tennis goals are and what my tennis visions for the child might be. Because what’s fun for some kids is not fun for others. Like simply getting exercise, learning the game, being able to play with their families, or…the other fun. This one: some want the push because they want to learn how to compete and find it fun to be able to do things to the ball that they weren’t able to do before.

Part 3. Facing the Music

So I’m on a mission. But what about the tennis experience? What’s reality here? From our kids’ eyes. How do they know I’m thinking of them? They’re just going to find me bossy. Well one day, way before summer, I got the lowdown. In the first afterschool session this fall, the kids were still “California Dreamin'” as they were picking up balls after a set of drills, still reminiscing about the summer camps that had just ended, talking about everything and then everyone, and then… every coach, even past summer coaches that have long gone. There were clusters of kids (we were full, with about 57 kids throughout the week) everywhere picking up balls. And about three or four of them kneeling down picking up balls together, putting them on their racquets, just riffing out loud on the coaches, who’s mean, who’s nice, the whole rundown. Yep, they didn’t know, but I heard my name. The debate was furious because it’s not easy to earn your own category…and I quote, one of the kids ended the topic of me like this: “Coach Darrick is Coach Darrick.”

Part 4. Endless Summer

So we’re in that season that fills me with fond memories of teaching kids, even if some of those memories didn’t even take place during summer. It’s just that everywhere I’ve taught, I’ve been lucky enough to be in a thriving summer program where there are a ton of kids flying around during summer. So when I think of summer, I think of teaching kids. I also learned this: When teaching kids, things will happen that you cannot even begin to make up. And it’s not always super serious. For example…

Part 5. Maybe, Somewhere, Way Back in his Mind, but Doubtful, was Tennis

One of my first tennis teaching jobs, about 20 years ago, was on the Stanford Campus. There’s a small swim and tennis club there for university staff, alumni, and the nearby community. Now picture this, an impressionable coach, me, starting out and hearing this, because I did, and I seriously started to wonder what kind of career I got myself into. One sunny quiet afternoon when school had just let out, Tennis Director Andrea, along with coaches Ann, Jeff and myself were preparing for our Pee Wee class, 6 year olds. We were already on the court when…

“F1 is always Butterfinger! F1 is always Butterfinger!” The little guy was screaming his lungs out running from the tennis clubhouse to the courts. Andrea who has a kid herself by the way, so no stranger to daily trauma, said “Okay lets slow down here and you can tell me the problem…” But all she got was, face turning red with anger, the beginning of tears, and “F1 is always Butterfinger!”

I’ll  keep you from further suspense. The poor little guy came in on the same day every week and automatically went to our vending machine, ate a candy bar, and then came on the court. And as you by now surmised, always ate a Butterfinger and Butterfinger was always selection F1. The thing he didn’t know was, Andrea filled that vending machine herself. So she was automatically putting Butterfingers in the F1 slot. But it wasn’t conscious. Everyone knew you had to look at the selection you wanted and then push the corresponding button. But the little guy went on auto pilot and since Andrea had been putting it with that button, he’d run in and just push F1 without looking at the candy. Well today, F1…was…wait for it…Snickers!!! That equals total chaos!

But what about me? I was kind of just starting out and taking it all in, thinking I was in for the worst afternoon possible, after all that tension, until fellow coach Jeff Burt, a surfer guy if you know what I mean, and part of the infamous tennis playing Burt clan of Palo Alto, saunters up to my side and mumbles, “Best commercial for Butterfinger I’ve ever seen.”

Part 6. A Very Short Story entitled either “There’s that Certain Age Group that of Course, Knows Everything” or “There’s Always One”

Many of our junior tennis players have grown up with me here at the club. I’ve taught them, and driven them around to interclub matches, so they know me and feel free talking to me, which is usually a good thing. But sometimes…well, picture this…so during our year round after school clinic, on this particular day, the 4:30 class was pretty good and pretty competitive, i.e., if you were an adult and couldn’t move, then some of these little guys, ages 10-14, could give you a run for the money. So we decided to end the class with competitive team games. We’re going to break the class up into 2 teams, so we start picking teams and then we decided that coaches should play also, not for fun, but for more competition, so I’m in, and the first coach picked. Everyone on my team is happy to have me, and I would hope so too, right? But wait, no, actually, not everyone. One guy starts to cry out, “What!? You’re gonna pick Coach Darrick!? Are you kidding me!? Do you know how OLD he is!? They drop shot him and he’s TOAST!”

Wow…just wow…right then I had a revelation, a huge revelation, right then. Like the kind where you hear symphony music between your ears and the clouds separate and a ray of golden sun shines directly on just you and angels sing, and the revelation is this: Disney is real. Disney movies and animation are 100% real. Because you know how in Snow White the queen transformed to an old lady who walked really slow, and then transformed back? That happened to me. For an instant, I got so very old and decrepit, and then came back. Fortunately for everyone concerned I handled the whole situation super responsibly and super maturely, like I always do, because that’s the kind of coach I am. So I think I replied with something like, and don’t quote me on this, but it was definitely with amazingly thick skin and no trace of being defensive, because again, that’s the kind of coach I am, “Oh ya, well I am on your team, and by the way, who died and made you boss?”

A Tennis Tale From Mutua Madrid Open

mutua-madrid-open-2016The following was written by Craig Cignarelli for 10sballs.com (Craig is covering the Mutua Madrid Open for the website) and reprinted with their permission. Any of you who have watched Craig coaching on the court will appreciate just how much he learned from Pancho Segura that day at Indian Wells. His ability to notice and teach the nuances of the game is a true gift. Enjoy!

Before he sold the tournament to Larry Ellison, I had the opportunity to sit with owner Charlie Pasarell at Indian Wells. While we watched the matches, a little old man rolled up in his wheelchair, grabbed Charlie’s leg and said, “I here, Charlito.” Charlie reached down and hugged his old coach, Pancho Segura, and then headed off to ensure all attendees had a perfect desert experience. For the rest of the afternoon, Pancho and I sat together watching Rafa and Federer battle lesser opponents. In those six hours, I learned more about tennis than I had in twenty years of coaching.

Pancho explained where the serve was going and why, where the return would be hit and why, how players adjusted their court positions and aggressiveness based on the score, how the elite players controlled the match tempo based on the momentum of points. He illuminated the way top players utilize the sharper angles more than the lower level players, how the best play approach shots differently than the others because they understand the pressure of the pass will break a player. He showed me how players use the shorter wide serve to create room for the T-serve ace, and how returners adjust their initial court position based on their desire to neutralize or to attack, and then how servers counter that tactic. It was a hot day in the desert and, during our conversation, I’d gone through three bottles of water. My bladder felt like a crowd of Black Friday shoppers and, not wanting to leave or offend him, I informed Pancho of my desperate circumstance. He responded, “Is ok, Keed, I pee my pants two hours ago!” and then he burst into uproarious laughter. When the matches finished, Pancho shook my hand and rolled off into the sunset. It was the best tennis lesson of my life.

With that memory as backdrop, here is today’s take on the Juan Del Potro-Dominic Thiem match.

Delpo is a tour veteran returning from a recurring wrist injury, and Thiem is one of the young talents with potential to reach the top five. I assumed this match would be won mentally more than physically and it turned out to be true, although frankly, at this level, most of them are.

The first few games are always a feeling out process. Back in the 1990’s, Andre Agassi talked about finishing his warm-up with tiebreakers so he could get the feel of already being into the match when he entered the court. That allowed him to come out of the gates hard and grab a quick lead against players who wanted time to assess him. Today’s players don’t do that as much. They play tentatively at first, making sure they make few unforced errors and playing well inside the lines until they establish a rhythm. And so it was for the first six games of this match.

At 3-all, Thiem made two unforced errors in the game (which is almost always death at the pro level), and Delpo reached double break point. In every match, there comes a time when one player grabs the match by the scruff of the neck and says, “This is mine.” Usually it is the player who is playing confidently, who believes he or she will win rather than can win. In this case, Delpo’s years of injuries may have cost him the break. He dropped into conservative mode and Thiem held. Delpo smacked a ball to the rooftop and Thiem gave a small fist pump as if to say, “I’m still here, big guy.”

Now Delpo serves at 3-4. He holds but not because of great play. On several occasions, Delpo had opportunities to step up and take control of the points but failed to do so. Fortunately, Thiem donated a few points and Delpo held. It’s interesting to watch Del Potro fight his inner demons. Theres a saying that goes, “War is hours of boredom and moments of terror.” I’ll bracket that for Juan saying, “Delpo’s game is hours of average and moments of brilliance.” After so many months away, he’s just not quite back to form yet. Like flowers, confidence wilts with time. After the hold though, Delpo’s double fist pump reminded Thiem, “I’m here too, kid!”

At 4-4, elite tennis gets stubborn. This is crunch time and players walk a tight rope of aggressive play to conservative targets. Donating a point here can be like lying beneath the guillotine while attacking at the right time can mean you’re the one holding the blade.

Other than a weak double fault at 30-0, Thiem holds easily, playing clean first strike tennis and hitting his spots.

5-4 the kid.

To this point, Thiem has adjusted well. In search of a break, his first few return games consisted of aggressive drives or neutralizing heavy balls. Now he presents a different look. Elite players adjust. The ability to do so, and to know when and how to do so, is what makes them elite. Them plants himself just behind the baseline and blocks the first few returns. He gets to 30-all and misses a return an inch wide, then plays a long rally to get back to deuce. He continues to block the return and sets up break point. Delpo bangs a service winner and you can feel them straining on the tug-of-war rope. It’s all about resolve now. One player is two points away from the set, the momentum, and a massive mental advantage. The other is two points away from even, the momentum, and a big boost of energy.

Delpo double faults into the net with the kind of tight second serve that reminds you of that mechanical arm in the 40mph batting cage. In matchplay, big points require confidence, focus, and belief that you will persevere. At present, you can actually see the big Argentinian questioning himself.

I turn my attention to Thiem. For the entire game, he’s been near the baseline, blocking returns and making Del Potro play. The Argentine has just doubled and is feeling the pressure. Now, at the most pivotal moment of the match, he is twenty feet behind the baseline preparing to neutralize the return. Whether he should be sticking with the “blocking returns” game plan that got him to break point is a great question for his coach. Some would say he shouldn’t deviate from a winning game, while others would say the circumstances require him to make the return and make the server feel the pressure of hitting a lot of balls on break point. As I mentioned, elite players know when and why to adjust. Them makes the return and misses the first groundie. Deuce again.

This pattern goes on, with them always returning from deep in court now, until Delpo eventually holds.

A few moments later, they reach a tiebreaker. Both players step back from the baseline and nod themselves into confident states. The first point lasts twenty shots and Del Potro gets the mini-break. You get the sense that he suddenly believes he should win this one. It’s subtle, a Neanderthalic glance at his opponent, a quicker step toward the towel kid, a small shake of the racquet – these are the indicators that he’s in this fight and feeling like the Alpha dog. Eleven points later, Del Potro wins the set and eventually the match 7-6, 6-3.

I remember being a kid and watching the ball go back and forth and thinking how cool it was to be watching my idols. It was like going to the Museo del Prado and looking at Rubens or Goya or El Greco and thinking, “cool painting.” But then I met Pancho. Now I can see the finer strokes, the subtle colors that signify emotions, the intricacies and precision which make some artists Masters. With young eyes, I looked through an old man’s lens and came away wiser.

These ATP events give me an opportunity to see what Pancho was talking about. There are a lot of things happening out there on the court that we don’t always see.

Process Based vs Results Based Tennis Players

Image courtesy of www.design2build.com
Image courtesy of www.design2build.com

Today’s Guest Post is by coach Todd Widom.

If you have read some of my previous articles, I speak about how tennis is a never ending pursuit in trying to become the best you can be day in and day out. The best tennis players I have ever been around go through this process in a disciplined manner each and every day they step on the court. To go one-step further, there are players that are process based and there are others that are results based during the development phase of tennis.

Everyone loves a winner. In order to consistently win at tennis, you have to continually improve, or else your competitors will leave you behind in the dust. As parents who dedicate so much effort, hours, and money to their child’s tennis career, it is natural for the player and parents to be results based. For example, a parent might think if their child has a good ranking and frequently wins, then they are doing very well. But, if they do not have the great ranking and they are not winning a lot, their child is performing on a subpar basis. Obviously you need results to get into the college you would like or play on the professional tour. Realistically speaking, needing to have these types of results should come in the latter stages of the player’s junior tennis career. I see all too often players, coaches and parents becoming too results based when the player is at the younger end of the spectrum that it hampers the player in the latter stages of their junior career, which is where it matters most for their college placement and potentially into professional tennis. I am specifically speaking about the 12’s and 14’s superstar that hits a wall and is in trouble in terms of their development all because many strategic training and developmental missteps were taken with the particular player’s development. I will go into further detail about this most important subject in future articles.

The best and most efficient tennis players I have been around are process based. Their coach and parents are well informed that this is a long process, and that there are going to be many stages that the player must go through to become a great player and achieve their goals. The results will come if the player has done proper tennis training, mental training, and physical training. The results are a by-product of doing these aspects of training properly.

The results based coach, parent, and player will plateau at some point in their tennis development. If results are solely what you are after, the learning and development will come to an end because the student is stuck in the same habits, which are very difficult to break in the latter stages of their junior career. Many coaches can sense when they have a results based student, but I believe it is their job to explain what it is going to take for this particular player to progress to the future stages of their tennis career. It could be a tricky situation because the coach could lose a student by trying to break some habits, and as a result, the student could suffer some loses through this process. This now all depends on whether the parent and student can handle taking a step backwards in order to be able to take multiple steps forwards and for the player to thrive.

In conclusion, you need to know why you play this great game. Is it all about winning or losing, or is it about learning and trying to achieve your goals through hard work and persistence? Keep in mind that results may not be coming to you within your desired time frame. Each and every student matures and learns at a different rate. It is a long process, but learning how to excel at different aspects of the game and to go about learning the right way about tennis, will get you where you would like to be. Remember that the results are a by-product of the constant pursuit to going about the process either properly or improperly.