(As you may have noticed I am posting some recent blog posts in a new format, this one was mainly written by Styrling Strother when we collaborated on the blog)
Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is. ~ Vince Lombardi
We call them tennis players, not tennis performers. The outcome of the match is never determined by a subjective judging scale. Perhaps he perceived value and potential of a player can be judged in this way. “When everything clicks, they are going to be great.” “Those strokes look limited, and I don’t think we are going to accept that player into our training, even though they are beating some of the more talented better trained players.” These are some thoughts that I imagine go through the minds of many decision makers in our sport. This is what I see in my minds eye, and I have entertained those same notions myself. At USATennisCoach, we believe its misguided to ignore the most important object of the game: to win. We frame all of our teaching and training around providing a full tool kit of skills, mindset, fitness, strategy, logistics and every other factor that contributes to a winning environment for a team and individual players. Of course many of the skills of tennis take the form of technique, and we use technical solutions to tactical problems, but failing to discuss how to win a tennis match early on does not prepare our players minds early and often for how to compete and win.
The Eye Cannot See What the Mind Does Not Know. ~ Unknown
In my very earliest lessons with beginners, we have a discussion in regard to how to win a tennis match, and how to identify crosscourt and down the line shots. In the last two weeks, one of my students told me that she wants to be #1 in the world. That’s awesome and we won’t discuss realism until she is in middle school, or about two years from now. In our latest lesson, now that she is also attending drill sessions, we sat on the bench for a little talk. During that time, I asked her, “What is the object of any game?” She didn’t understand at first, so I reiterated, “When you play a game, what are you trying to do?” She said after thinking a moment, “To play well?” I asked again, “Do you just want to play well, or something else?” She stated, “To win the game.” Isn’t that interesting how difficult that was, and it was probably also hard to read. I’m not sorry about that, because this is such a vital ingredient to training our player’s minds to see what a match really is. I then told my young student that everything we do in our lessons is going to be about helping her win matches. We will do everything she needs at this level, and also train for future levels, so that when the time comes, she will have been doing those things for years and have a great comfort level.
From Styrling: Transforming the Practice Court to Win More Matches
Over the past year, I’ve been working with players ages 8-12 years old with the objective being to develop exceptional technique combined with learning the tactics needed to win more points. The idea of fusing both technical and tactical skills, synchronizing them so the player understands why and when to loop a high forehand or drive a backhand, is producing players with a higher tennis aptitude during match and tournament play. Over the past 3 months, our program in North Carolina has fielded more players in the finals of local tournaments than any other program. I don’t say this in a bragging way, I say this because the concept is one that seems to have eluded many tennis training environments. I’m sharing this example to inspire more mindful play in your program. Our two main training concepts are: 1. Compete hard at all times in practice and on the weekends. 2. Always show your opponent respect by going after them in every practice and competition. We are having a lot of fun developing these young players and seeing them bond together each and every session during the week.
Exciting Breakthroughs Learning How to Win
One of my players who came about a month ago, and is age 10, just made his first tournament finals this past weekend since he started playing 2 years ago. He ended up playing another player in our weekly group. They competed with one another, with these instilled values and both enjoyed the idea that they had played hard to be the last two left going after the trophy! Young players love the game-based approach of learning, they thrive because of the element of fun built into it. Keeping score, playing for each point, never backing down, and doing their best each and every time they take the court. It’s a winning mindset, one where you can win every time you play because you’ve decided that the journey of improving is the joy of winning. We are proud of our young players who’ve embraced the challenges of losing and winning points. They have embraced the idea that it takes dedication to have exceptional technique. These young players are discovering the art of the drop-shot, the lob, the approach and pass. It’s not about just waiting for the ball from the baseline every single shot, it’s about seizing the moment to move forward and take the ball early to pressure their friends and opponents to beat them with a better shot.
Styrling’s Challenge to All Coaches
Coaches, keep up the great work you do, I’m challenging you reading this article to look at training your players with a bigger vision. Instead of isolating to an extreme degree technical skills, challenge players to learn to strike random shots with a tactical plan. Create a game format to teach the art of winning points with different shot combinations. I believe we are on the brink of a new generation of tennis players. Well-rounded players who find a way to win no matter what the score because they are training in creative and fun environments that challenge them to merge their technique with their strategy. Bill and I have a strong track record for having players who get in the game and stay in the game when compared to the 67% of all players who never play another tournament after their first one. We want you to also greatly improve your retention of players into and beyond the competitive phase!
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