The following post is an excerpt from The Tennis Parent’s Bible. I have just updated my web site and I will be re-posting the blogs that have been deleted. Thanks for visiting, Frank
It’s Friday, the day before a local junior event, John the young hitting pro carefully feeds balls waist level, in the perfect strike zone for your little Nathan. Nathan doesn’t have to move and hits like a champ. On the way home, Nate says, “Man, I’m on fire! Tennis is easy! Forget the open tourney, I’m going pro!”
Saturday morning rolls around and little Nate’s opponent is playing “keep away” from him. He’s wisely keeping balls above Nathans shoulders out of his primary strike zone. Nathan goes down in flames. After the match Nate says, “I don’t get it, I was famous yesterday.” Practicing in the manner in which you are expected to perform is a battle cry heard at my workshops daily. There is a totally different set of skills that provide “competitive” confidence or confidence under stress versus simply hitting. It is important to understand that the essence of a champion doesn’t simply lie in their strokes but in their head and heart. The ability to stay comfortable when things get uncomfortable is undeniably a skill. Mastering their emotions may be just the ingredient your child requires to break through to a higher level. In typical private lessons, clinics and academies around the world the primary focus is on stroke mechanics. The attention is placed on bending your knees, change your grip, toss higher and run faster. No question, developing sound fundamentals is a critical element of success. However to improve your child’s ability to perform under stress, it is in their best interest to switch from 100 percent stroke repetition practice to the following five practice solutions:
- Stop hitting without accountability
Hitting without accountability is like spending money with an unlimited bank account. Juniors perceive they hit better in practice because they are not aware of the sheer number of mistakes they are actually making. They remember the 10 screaming winners they hit, but forget about the 50 unforced errors they committed in the same hour.
- Change the focus in practice sessions
Concentrate on skill sets such as shot selection, patterns, adapting and problem solving, spotting the opponents tendencies, tactical changes and between point rituals
- Turn off the fear of failure
Top players lose almost every week. Take for example one of the ATP stars I worked with as a teen, Sam Querrey. He has been on tour full time for five years. He is well adjusted, rich and famous and yet he understands that he is not going to win every tournament – which means he’s ok with the fact that he will most likely lose almost every week.
- Replace some of the hours spent in clinics with actual matches!
Do you want your child to learn how to play through nervousness and manage their mistakes? Do you want them to get better at closing out those 5-3 leads? Do you want them to actually beat that moonball pusher in the third set?
Well, they have to overcome these issues several times in dress rehearsal first before you can expect them to win under pressure. Playing great under stress is a learned behavior. Practicing under simulated stress conditions is the solution.
FUN FACT: Most junior players spend hours upon hours hitting in academies and zero hours a week in full practice matches. They’ve become solid ball strikers but weak competitors.
The challenge is to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Rehearse doing what you’re scared of doing. Take the tougher road less traveled. One of my favorite sayings is “If you want to get ahead of the pack, you can’t hang in the pack.” This goes for parents as well. Obviously dropping your child off at the group lesson then going shopping for shoes is way easier than finding practice matches, charting and /or paying a college hitter to play sets. But ask yourself, is taking the convenient way out keeping your child from winning national titles?