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How To Train Your Strengths

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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?


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