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Entries in Parenting (48)


Who Does Roger Federer Practice With?

Parents usually have the best intentions in mind for their children. When playing practice sets (or even tournaments), they sometimes believe that the best strategy is to have their children practice with players who are of a higher caliber. When feeling like you're getting sucked into this mentality stop and ask yourself: WHO DOES ROGER FEDERER (OR WOZNIACKI, NADAL, SHARAPOVA, DJOKOVIC, ETC.) PRACTICE AGAINST? I guarantee you that the answer is not one of the other players  are of the same caliber. Often times,  Federer actually practices against juniors. The fact is that there are a lot of good players that someone can, and should, practice against in order to improve. 

I believe that the best option is to play 33% of the time against players who are "worse" than you. These are the players who might not give you all the pace, spin and consistency you want, but against whom you can play your game and work on certain components without worrying about hurting their feelings. For example, when playing sets, you can practice serving and volleying, hitting no forehand winners, chipping-and-charging, hitting mostly backhands, hitting only slice backhands, finishing the point in less than 3 (or 4, 5, 6) strokes, hitting only second serves or slice serves, working on not hitting winners, etc. These opponents will push you just enough if you don't pay attention but, overall, you can use them as a way to boost your confidence and develop feel. And remember, the way you "zone" against better players (because you have nothing to lose) they will be "treeing" against you. 

33% of the time, you should practice with players at or around your level. These are the players who will beat you even if you're only 2% off your game. These practices are often very competitive and, unfortunately, a lot of juniors tend to shun them because they are afraid that their confidence will be ruined if they happen to lose. Losing and winning is part of the game and you can use these matches to constantly fine-tune your game during drill workouts. 

33% of the time, you should play against people who are better than you. Unlike the players who are your level, these players will give you more pace, spin, consistency and accuracy so you really have to be on your game in order to even come close to them. But, beware! Just because you play well against them doesn't mean that you are AT their level. Sometimes, weaker player step up the game because they feel that they have "nothing to lose". But this is not always the correct attitude. Often times, during a match, you will play against people your level and there is something to lose even if that one thing is pride. Therefore, you should practice under pressure as well as when there is no pressure. 

Remember, winning can only be LEARNED. It CANNOT be TAUGHT. A coach's job is to help you with technique, strategy, tactics and attitude. But she cannot do the playing for you! You have to learn to figure stuff out (what/when/how to do it) on your own. If you constantly play matches against better players who kick your butt, what are you really learning?! You're learning how to LOSE. Furthermore, once you're content with losing, then turning the ship around is very difficult. All good players have learned how to WIN and have learned how to DEAL with losses. That's why not every tournament is a Grand Slam Event. Some smaller tournaments ("tune-up events" anyone?) are utilized for working on certain kinks and gaining confidence for the bigger tournaments. Same concept applies to practices. 

Lack of Loyalty and Cherry Picking Coaches

Tennis is an endless search for the Fountain of Youth.  Ponce de Leon learned the hard way, venturing to Florida to only fail in finding the ever so famous Fountain of Youth.  As like Ponce de Leon, venturing to Florida to the world reknowned tennis coaches such as Nick Bollitieri or Rick Macci will not boost your tennis game overnight.  If it were that easy, I would recommend locking in a time slot with Nick himself at $800 a pop.  

The reality is tennis is a very tough game.  There are no magic pills, secret elixirs, or specific technical tips that will instantly make something click in your head.  One has never heard of a story who from a one hour lesson went on from nobody to somebody in a matter of weeks.  Tennis takes time, patience, and an endless amount of trial and error.  The best players are able to grapple with this fact sooner than later, accept their flaws and work within the boundaries placed before them.  Sure, you will always attempt to improve different aspects of your game, but when it comes time for the match of your life with money and pride on the line- you must do only things that will increase your chances of winning.  

Many parents and players have been guilty of cherry picking.  If you ever have gone cherry picking on a farm, your #1 goal is to find the plumpest, juiciest, reddest, most vibrant cherries on the stem.  By golly, when you see it, snag it.  Well in terms of searching for coaches, parents and players do the exact same thing.  They see someone is having a little success with one coach or they think they are in a rut, the easy solution is to jump ship and cherry pick a juicier coach.  I'm not suggesting one coach isn't better than another, but when one starts to seek a multitude of coaches on a frequent basis to solve their issues, one is not going to have the success he or she wants.  

The first problem is very few parents and players are willing to accept blame and responsibility.  With very little sense of loyalty in the world today, most are looking for the easy way out.  There will always be someone around the corner or at a tournament chirping the "grass in greener on the otherside" tidbit.  Those people are usually frauds, beware of them.  The good players who have some class, character, and substance don't look for the easy way out.  They refuse to cherry pick and try to work out the issue themselves.  

If you talk to good to great players who grew up before the 1990s, most played tennis because they had the "bug" for it.  They played because their parents played.  They played because their friends played.  In today's society, parents are driving the kids to lessons.  If the kid has poor results, lets find a new coach who can motivate the kid better.  The parents are always ready to catch the kids when they fall.  The coping skills needed to become a good player are not being developed as the parents are doing them a great disservice in finding them solutions to their problems.  

The ideal way to start and develop as a player is to limit your private lessons to one per week.  One per week is plenty.  Why?  The player needs time to digest the information.  The player needs time to work out the kinks whether be a new technique, strategy, or shot.  The player needs to spend hours on his own honing his skills through a series of trial and errors experiments, learning how to make adjustments on the fly without being told how to adjust.  The player might make a discovery on his own and stumble upon something amazing for his/her game.  Lastly, the player needs to test his lesson under matchplay pressure.  Play a couple sets before the next lesson and see what needs work.  A week later, the player now has some good information to relay back to the coach.  Do not overcoach the kid.  Let the player learn to adjust and adapt with no one else looking over their shoulder.  The best players have ultimately learned to become their own coach.  


Matches Are Won or Lose 2-3 Months in Advance

Many times we, as coaches, are approached by eager parents who would like us to fine-tune their kids' games immediately before the tournament ("hey, ________ has a match on Saturday so is it OK if you could give him a good hit on Friday").

My personal theory is that matches are won or lost well in advance of the tournament (CHAMPIONS ARE CREATED ON THE BACK-COURT NOT CENTER COURT). It's how you approach your practices 2-3 months prior to the tournament that has a greater bearing on your results. Sometimes, a "good" practice can in fact be counterproductive because the player is overloaded with new information that s/he has not been able to process, synthesize, implement and refine. Consequently, there is a chance that the player enters the tournament with too many thoughts in his/her mind. This is the fallacy of fine-tuning in that it's difficult to fine-tune something that hasn't been "tuned" in the first place. Second, a great deal of players have the tendency to play better in a tournament when their immediately preceding practices have not been the "best". These players use these bad practices as ways to motivate themselves for the match. In other words, they don't take their Saturday morning match for granted because they know how easy it is to be thrown off their game by the opponent. Such players go out there and actually concentrate better during the match and compete hard for every point. 

As a result, it is more important for players to set up their practices in such a way that they peak for the main event. An effective process would be to have consistency/stamina-focused practices well in advance of the tournament (T[ournament]-minus 2-3 months) and the add more power and precision-based practices as the player gets closer to the main tournament. Smaller tournaments during this period should be used as testing grounds for what the player practices. For example, if the player is working on his backhand, he should try to play some tournaments where he focuses on working his backhand around the court. Maybe go for no winners with his forehand and try to get as much practice hitting backhands as possible. 

Then, as the player gets closer to the main tournament, practices should alternate between consistency, power and precision so that the player is comfortable executing the same on a day-in day-out basis. The last few weeks before the tournament (T minus 2-3 weeks), every practice should contain a consistency, power and precision component. Only after mastering the foundation and fundamentals can the player be assured that some last-minute fine-tuning will have any effect. However, the good results come from the player's knowledge that she's given it her best during the foundational practice stages. 

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