Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Quick Tip: Tennis-Specific Dynamic Stretching Program

Quick Tip:  Tennis-Specific Dynamic Stretching Program
from Dynamic Stretching, by Mark Kovacs, Ph.D., CSCS

Tennis requires a combination of flexibility, power, strength, and dynamic balance to perform at a high level.  The energy transfer from the ground up through the kinetic chain requires a strong core and effective strength and flexibility through the lower body, up through the core and upper body and into the racquet.  Dynamic range of motion at the hips (both linear and lateral) and shoulder area is vital to help prevent the likelihood of injury.

Heel Walk
Objective:  Develops strength, functional range of motion, and stability around the ankle joint.  Also strengthens the muscles around the shin bone to help reduce the likelihood of shin splints.
Starting Position:  Stand tall with good posture, keeping your shoulders back.
1 Raise your toes off the ground.
2 Step forward with your left leg and push your body-weight into your heel, pointing your toes to the sky.  This movement will activate the anterior tibias (the muscles that runs down the front of your leg from your knee to the ankle area).  Step forward with your right leg and repeat the process.  Continue alternating legs.

Hamstring Handwalk - Inchworm
Objective:  Develops functional range of motioning the hamstrings and lower back while increasing strength in the arms, shoulders, and core.
Starting Position:  Keeping your legs straight, place your hands as far forward on the ground as possible.  Make sure your heels stay on the ground and that your arms are extended.  
1-2 While keeping your back and legs straight, slowly walk your feet as close as possible to your hands without allowing your knees to bend.  You will feel a stretch in your hamstrings and through your lower back.
3 Once you've walked your feet as close as possible to your hands, slowly walk your hands out as far as possible into starting position.  Continue this sequence.

Ankle Flips
Objective:  Develops functional range of motion and explosive power in the muscles around the ankle joint.  Also develops force-producing capabilities of the shin (anterior tibialis)  and calf muscles (gastric-soleus complex).
Starting Position:  Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, keeping your shoulders back.
1 Keeping your left leg straight, take one step with your left leg, pointing your left foot to the sky (dorsiflexion).
2 Immediately and forcefully fire the foot down into the ground.  As this foot makes ground contact, take a step with your right leg, pointing your foot to the sky.  Continue the cycle while maintaining a strong core and great upper body posture.

Spiderman Crawl
Objective: Develops functional range of motion in the hips and lower back while increasing strength in the arms, shoulders, and core.
Starting Position:  From a standing position, take a small to medium step forward with your left leg at approximately 45 degrees.  Bend at your waist and knee to crawl forward, maintaining a neutral spine and walking your hands forward toward your left foot/knee.  Keep your eyes looking straight ahead.
1-3 Slowly walk your hands across to your right as your right leg slowly comes forward.  

Knee to Shoulder Lateral Walk - Frogger
Objective: Develops functional range of motion in the hips, specifically the external hip rotators, while developing multi-limb coordination.
Starting Position: Stand tall with good posture, keeping your shoulders back.  Extend your arms at shoulder height straight out to the sides, palms facing forward.  
1 Flex your left hip and as it starts to rise, externally rotate it to bring your knee up toward your armpit.  
2 As your left leg comes down, perform the same motion on your right side.  Continue alternating legs.

Lateral Lunge
Objective:  Develops hip mobility in a lateral direction while also dynamically stretching the gluten, hamstrings, and groin.
Starting Position:  Assume an athletic stance.
1 Step to the right side with your right leg, keeping your right foot facing forward.  Slowly lower your weight back into your hips and drop your hips in line (parallel) with your right knee, which is bent approximately 90 degrees.  Hold this position for approximately two seconds, making sure that your spine is erect and your shoulders are back with good posture.
2-3 Bring your left foot in under your center and repeat this movement on the left side.  Performa a number of these on the left side, return to starting position, and then perform the same movement on the right side.

Lateral Shuffle
Objective:  Develops strength and stability in the muscles that initiate and control lateral movement.
Starting Position:  Assume an athletic stance.
1 Keeping your hips low and facing forward the entire time, shuffle to your left for 10 meters.  While shuffling, always keep your feet shoulder-width apart while also maintaining a low center of gravity.
2 Shuffle to your right.

Rotational Walking Lunge
Objective: Develops functional range of motion in the hip flexors and rotational muscles of the core while improving strength in the quadriceps, gluten, and core.
Starting Position:  Stand tall with good posture, keeping your shoulders back and your hands on your opposing elbows at shoulder height (think I Dream of Jeannie).
1-2 Step forward with your left foot and bend your back leg until your knee is about 1 to 3 inches from the ground, directly under your right hip, and your left knee is at a 90-degree angle.  Your left knee should be directly above your left ankle.  As you lower your weight, slowly rotate to the left, twisting from your waist over your left leg.
3 Push off with your right leg to bring it forward into the next lunge, this time rotating to the right.  Continue alternating legs.

Lateral Pass
Objective: Increases rotational range of motion in lower back and hips and improves multi-limb coordination.
Starting Position: Assuming an athletic stance, stand back to back with your partner while holding a medicine ball in front of you.
1-2 Keeping your feet in place, twist to your left and pass the ball to your partner.
3 Twist to the other side to receive the ball from your partner.

10-Yard Movement Sequence
Objective:  Warms up the body for linear and lateral movements.
Starting Position: Assume an athletic stance.
1 Perform a linear run.
2 Perform a Lateral Shuffle toward your right side.
3 Perform a Lateral Shuffle toward your left side.
4 Backpedal.
5 Perform a Backward Run.
6 Perform Carioca to your right side.
7 Perform Carioca to your left side.

Dynamic Empty Can
Objective: Improves shoulder strength and endurance, specifically the supraspinatus muscle of the rotator cuff.
Starting Position: Stand tall with good posture, keeping your shoulders back and your arms along your sides.  Internally rotate both arms so that the backs of your hands turn in towards your thighs.
1-2 Raise your arms approximately 60 degrees, to just below shoulder height, continuing to internally rotate your arms as if to empty a can.  Repeat using a controlled tempo.

Hugs/Cheerleaders/Wipers Combo
Objective: Improves dynamic range of motion of the shoulders and chest.
Starting Position: Stand tall with good posture keeping your shoulders back, and extend your arms in front of you at shoulder height.
1 Wrap your arms around your body and try to grasp the back of your opposing shoulder.
2 Reverse the movement by taking your arms back and squeezing your shoulder blades together.  Repeat using a controlled tempo.
Objective: Improves dynamic range of motion of the shoulders and chest.
Starting Position: Stand tall with good posture, keeping your shoulders back.
1-2 Slowly raise both arms out to your sides and straight above your head, touching both palms at the top of the movement.
3-4 Lower your arms out to the sides and then down by your waist in a circular arc.  Repeat the movement at varying speeds.
Objective:  Improves dynamic range of motion of the shoulders.
Starting Position: Stand tall with good posture, keeping your shoulders back.  Extend your arms straight out in front of your body.
1 Slowly raise your right arm while simultaneously lowering your left arm.
2 Change direction and repeat.  

Pro in the Spotlight: Jeff Barrera

Pro in the Spotlight:
Jeff Barrera

Current Title:  Head Professional at The Montgomery Country Club

Hometown:  Tallahassee, Florida

College:  Huntingdon College

Other Sports Played:  Tennis, Golf, Soccer, and Basketball

Proudest Tennis Achievement:  My proudest tennis achievement is from my sophomore year in high school. I taught a good friend who had never picked up a racket how to play tennis. He was a good athlete who played other major sports, but wanted to learn to play tennis. We would go to the public park up the road after finishing homework at least 3 nights a week for several months. He later went on to
play some tournament tennis and was a member of the high school tennis team.

Superstition/Ritual as a Player/Coach:  As a player and a coach, I would have to say that my superstition/ritual resides in “the bounce of the ball before serving”.

Something you do in every practice:  Picking targets and visualization is what I have been about from years of playing to becoming a teacher.

What can we do to grow tennis in Alabama?  Growing the game of tennis in Alabama is important to me.  Social tennis for adults is definitely on the rise. For competitive tennis to grow in Junior Tennis we need to look at 2 areas: 1-
How we as coaches are training our juniors to compete (Rules/Attitude). This will bring about a better experience when they are competing, and hopefully lead to more retention of players and 2- Sell to the parents that traveling for tennis is more fulfilling and enjoyable than traveling for other sports.

What can we do to make tennis in Alabama more competitive in our Section and Nationally?  I think one way to make tennis more competitive is, in tournaments, playing the third set out for at least the main draw matches. As for our section, we need to make traveling for tennis “cool” again. I am a believer that the more new faces a player faces the more enjoyable the experience, leading to increased competitive play.

How has your coaching style evolved?  My coaching style has evolved over the years by learning to be quick to identify what the student wants and needs to improve
on. I hope and believe that the years I have spent on court teaching has helped me hone and streamline the message and relay the order in which the student needs to focus: 1- establishing of grip(s), 2- footwork patterns, 3- visualization and target practice (Only after 1 and 2 are complete).

What qualities make a great coach?  Being a great coach is about believing in your methods, staying consistent in message and knowing when to take extra time on a particular skill and when to move on to the next skill. This is something I believe all pros wrestle with given the limited time we have on court with each student.

What types of continuing education do you do?  For continuing education I try to attend as many USPTA/USTA educational events as possible that are close in proximity, as well as reading through the RSA publication and The Standard. The last area of education is watching Pro Tennis. Every year player strategy is adapting and watching helps identify things such as: most common stance, recovery patterns, and stroke production differences.

Who would you most like to play doubles with?  If given the option, I would have liked to play doubles with John McEnroe. He seemed to really enjoy doubles and definitely added excitement to the game.

Do you have a hero in the tennis world?  My hero in the tennis world would be a tie between Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf. Their incredible footwork and strong mental game created a blueprint for future stars success.

TPU: Match Day Stretching



Preparing the body for the upcoming competition should be a major priority.  Serious players seeking peak performance and injury prevention should incorporate a customized stretching routing.

"Current sports science research suggests that elevating the core body temperature is recommended before dynamic stretching begins."

Pre-Match Stretching Routines

Customizing their routines is a great way to assist your athlete in being accountable.  If you player does not have a fitness trainer, I suggest asking them to formulate their very own dynamic stretching routine by using Google: YouTube dynamic stretching tennis warm up routines.

Pre-match warm up routines will be an important part of your athlete's match day stretching regiment.  Dynamic stretches help warm-up and elevate core body temperature.

Pick two lower body dynamic, mobile stretching routines.  These are tennis-specific movements aimed to prepare your lower body for the actual demands of match play.

Pick two upper body dynamic, mobile stretching routines.  These prepare your shoulder, arms, and core for the demands of a high performance match.

Post-Match Stretching Routines

Post-match static stretching routines are used during the cool-down phase.  While standing or sitting still, elongate muscles and hold the position.  This allows the muscles to be stretched farther in order to increase range of motion.  Once again, assist your athlete in being accountable.  I suggest asking them to customize their very own static stretching routine by using Google: YouTube static tennis cool down routines.

Pick two lower body static stretching routines.  These cool down their shoulders, arms, and core after the demands of a high performance match.

Benefits of stretching:
  • Improves range of motion
  • Reduces the risk of injury
  • Reduces post-match soreness
  • Reduces fatigue
  • Increases power
"Part of an elite player's entourage is an off-court tennis specific trainer.  Consult a certified trainer to customize your athletes stretching routines and rituals."   

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Quick Tip: The Storm Cloud

Quick Tip:  The Storm Cloud,
by Craig O'Shannessey

Adversity Happens

It is way better to prepare ahead mentally for adversity in a tennis match than hope it does not happen. If you accept the fact that every match you play will have a period, or periods of adversity then you will be better off in your mind to deal with it when it finally arrives.

You Don’t Know When

Tennis matches are all different. The adversity may come very early or it may come very late but you know at stage you are going to have to deal with it. Closing out a set can be a difficult period and the beginning of the second set is often a time in a match when the waters get choppy as the player who lost the first set makes a major push to get right back into the match.

 Size Of The Cloud

This is mostly dependent on you. Are you going to make a mountain out of a mole hill? A lot of times we stress way too much over the smaller things and turn a small problem into a much bigger one all on our own. It’s in your best interests to try and make the storm cloud, and the problem, as small as you can. Much easier to deal with.

Minimize The Problem

Too often when adversity strikes it has a much longer effect than it really should. You may lose a point but are you going to lose the next one or a string of points because you just can’t get over the first one? Hanging onto the negativity is like a cancer that eats away at your future. Get over the problem quickly. It’s not worth dwelling on the problem when the next point is at hand and the chance to gain back the momentum presents itself.

Short Term Memory

When you lose a point you must quickly learn from it so that you can stop it happening again in the future and then completely get rid of it. You don’t need it anymore. It is way better to have short term memory loss with all the bad things that happen in a match and commit to your long term memory all the good things you are doing so you can keep repeating them as much as possible.

 Say to yourself – “I know a tough time will come eventually. I am ready to battle it.” 

Don’t run from adversity. It builds your character and makes you stronger. In a lot of ways welcome it.

The size of the storm cloud is up to how well you can stay positive under pressure.

The length of time the storm cloud stays is shortened when you stop beating yourself up.

So important to not hang on to errors and keep repeating them in your mind. 

Let go of the bad stuff. Embrace the good stuff much more than you ever have.

Pro in the Spotlight: Steve Faulkner

Pro in the Spotlight:  Steve Faulkner

Current Title: Director of Tennis – Greystone YMCA

Hometown: Midfield, Alabama

College: Gadsden State Community College, B.S. Computer Information Systems, Jacksonville State University

Other sports played in the past and/or currently: baseball as a kid

Favorite tennis memory: playing college tennis and playing at nationals for my team

Proudest tennis achievement: becoming an Elite Certified Professional with the USPTA

Superstition/rituals as a player and as a coach: I have lots of rituals. I bounce the ball a certain number of times before every serve, I have a routine for after the point is over, and I have a routine at the changeover, etc. As a coach, I have my players go through the same warmup drill before every practice

Something you do in every adult and/or junior practice: emphasize the importance of making good decisions when playing, controlling what you can control, trying to help players understand where they are in a point, game or match to help them recognize their opportunities and know when to play defense or offense.

What can we do to grow tennis in Alabama? I think we make our sport too complicated. There are so many different formats that tennis players and parents have to keep up with. We need to simplify that. Tennis is such a “life sport” not only can you play it the majority of your life, you can start at almost any age. We need to do a better job of publicizing that along with the health benefits associated with tennis. 

What can we do to make tennis in Alabama more competitive in our section and nationally? The new progressions for juniors is going to help in the long run. But we need to get more junior players involved in tournaments and playing locally. Team tennis is a great way to start but I would like to see something different in either the scoring format or match format so that team tennis players can make the transition more easily to tournament play.

How has your coaching style evolved? I pay a lot more attention to details now. I try to help players learn to develop the skills they need to be a complete player and compete at whatever level they choose. 

What qualities make a great coach? The ability to adapt to the students particular needs, goal setting with players, whether it is an achievement goal or a technical goal, how to deal with and overcome adversity.

What types of continuing education do you do? I attend USTA/USPTA workshops and USPTA conferences as well as follow major innovators in our industry. I read a lot of sport science material and watch video almost nightly of top players.

Who would you most like to play doubles and/or mixed doubles with? I would love to play doubles with Roger Federer and mixed with Eugenie Bouchard

Do you have a hero in the tennis world? Roger Federer. Roger is the greatest player I have seen in my lifetime. He continues to amaze me even today in his pursuit of tennis perfection. Roger makes the impossible look so easy and the way he conducts himself is pure class. He always gives credit to his opponent win or lose and always assumes the responsibility for not playing well. Lastly he is so giving to our sport and is a true ambassador for tennis.

Book Review: Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance

Grit, by Angela Duckworth

In this instant New York Times bestseller, pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth shows anyone striving to succeed—be it parents, students, educators, athletes, or business people—that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls “grit.”

Drawing on her own powerful story as the daughter of a scientist who frequently noted her lack of “genius,” Duckworth, now a celebrated researcher and professor, describes her early eye-opening stints in teaching, business consulting, and neuroscience, which led to the hypothesis that what really drives success is not “genius” but a unique combination of passion and long-term perseverance.

In Grit, she takes readers into the field to visit cadets struggling through their first days at West Point, teachers working in some of the toughest schools, and young finalists in the National Spelling Bee. She also mines fascinating insights from history and shows what can be gleaned from modern experiments in peak performance. Finally, she shares what she’s learned from interviewing dozens of high achievers—from JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon to New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff to Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll.

Among Grit’s most valuable insights:

*Why any effort you make ultimately counts twice toward your goal
*How grit can be learned, regardless of I.Q. or circumstances
*How lifelong interest is triggered
*How much of optimal practice is suffering and how much ecstasy
*Which is better for your child—a warm embrace or high standards
*The magic of the Hard Thing Rule

Winningly personal, insightful, and even life-changing, Grit is a book about what goes through your head when you fall down, and how that—not talent or luck—makes all the difference.

Chapter 1:  SHOWING UP

By the time you set foot on the campus of the United States Military Academy at West Point, you've earned it.

The admissions process for West Point is at least as rigorous as for the most selective universities.  Top scores on the ACT or SAT and outstanding high school grades are a must.  But, when you apply to Harvard, you don't need to start your application in the eleventh grade, and you don't need to secure a nomination from a member of congress, a senator, or the vice-president of the United States.  You don't, for that matter, have to get superlative marks in a fitness assessment that includes running, push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups.

Each year, in their junior year of high school, more than 14,000 applicants begin the admissions process.  This pool is winnowed to just 4,000 who succeed in getting the required nomination.  Slightly more than half of those applicants -- about 2,500 -- meet West Point's rigorous academic and physical standards, and from that select group just 1,200 are admitted and enrolled.  Nearly all the men and women who come to West Point were varsity athletes; most were team captains.

And yet, one in five cadets will drop out before graduation.  What's more remarkable is that, historically, a substantial fraction of dropouts leave in their very first summer, during an intensive 7-week training program named, even in official literature, Beast Barracks.  Or, for short, just Beast.

Who spends two years trying to get into a place and then drops out in the first two months?  

Then again, these are no ordinary months.  Beast is described int he West Point handbook for new cadets as "the most physically and emotionally demanding part of your four years at West Point....  designed to help you make the transition from new cadet to Soldier."

A Typical Day at Beast Barracks:

5:00am Wake Up
5:30am Reveille Formation
5:30-6:55am Physical Training
6:55-7:25am Personal Maintenance
7:30-8:15am Breakfast
8:30am-12:45pm Training/Classes
1:00-1:45pm Lunch
2:00-3:45pm Training/Classes
4:00-5:30pm Organized Athletics
5:30-5:55pm Personal Maintenance
6:00-6:45pm Dinner
7:00-9:00pm Training/Classes
9:00-10:00pm Commander's Time
10:00pm Taps

The day begins at 5:00am.  By 5:30am cadets are information, standing at attention, honoring the raising of the United States flag.  Then follows a hard work-out -- running or calisthenics -- followed by a non-stop rotation of marching in formation, classroom instruction, weapons training, and athletics.  Lights out, to a melancholy bugle song called "Taps" occurs at 10:00pm.  And on the next day the routine starts over again.  Oh, and there are no weekends, no breaks other than meals, and virtually no contact with family and friends outside of West Point.  

One cadet's description of beast: "You are challenged in a variety of ways in every developmental area -- mentally, physically, militarily, and socially.  The system will find your weaknesses, but that's the point -- West Point toughens you."

So, who makes it through Beast?

It was 2004 and my second year of graduate school in psychology when I set about answering that question, but for decades the U.S. Army has been asking the same thing.  In fact, it was in 1955 -- almost 50 years before I began working on this puzzle -- that a young psychologist named Jerry Kagan was drafted into the army, ordered to report to West Point and assigned to test new cadets for the purpose of identifying who would stay and who would leave.  As fate would have it, Jerry was not only the first psychologist to study to study dropping out at West Point, he was also the first psychologist I met in college.  I ended up working part time in his lab for two years.

Jerry described early efforts to separate the wheat from the chaff at West Point as dramatically unsuccessful.  He recalled in particular hundreds of hours showing cadets cards printed with pictures and asking the young men to make up stories to fit them.  This test was meant to unearth deep-seated unconscious motives, and the general idea was that cadets who visualized noble deeds and courageous accomplishments should be the ones who would graduate instead of dropping out.  Like a lot of ideas that sound good in principle, this one didn't work so well in practice.  The stories the cadets told were colorful and fun to listen to, but they had absolutely nothing to do with decisions cadets made in their actual lives.  

Since then, several generations of psychologists devoted themselves to the attrition issue, but not one researcher could say with much certainty why some of the most promising cadets routinely quit when their training had just begun. 

Soon after learning about Beast, I found my way to the office of Mike Matthews, a military psychologist who's been a West Point faculty member for years.  Mike explained that the West Point admissions process successfully identified men and women who had the potential to thrive there.  In particular, admissions staff calculate for each applicant something called the Whole Candidate Score, a weighted average of SAT and ACT exam scores, high school rank adjusted for the number of students in the applicant's graduating class, expert appraisals of leadership potential, and performance on objective measures of physical fitness.

You can think of the Whole Candidate Score as West Point's best guess at how much talent applicants have for the diverse rigors of its four-year program.  In other words, it's an estimate of how easily cadets will master the many skills required of a military leader.

The Whole Candidate Score is the single most important factor in West Point admissions, and yet it didn't reliably predict who would make it through Beast.  In fact, cadets with the highest Whole Candidate Scores were just as likely to drop out as those with the lowest.  And this is why Mike's door was open to me.  

From his own experience joining the Air Force as a young man, Mike had a clue to the riddle.  While the rigors of his induction weren't quite as harrowing as those at West Point, there were notable similarities.  The most important were challenges that exceeded current skills.  For the first time in their lives, Mike and the other recruits were being asked, on an hourly basis, to do things they couldn't yet do.  "Within two weeks," Mike recalls, "I was tired, lonely, frustrated, and ready to quit -- as were all of my classmates."

Some did quit, but Mike did not.

What struck Mike was that rising to the occasion had almost nothing to do with talent.  Those who dropped out of training rarely did so from lack of ability.  Rather, what mattered, Mike said, was a "never give up" attitude.


TPU: Equipment Preparation



The day before the match, review their Match Day Equipment Essentials List with your athlete.  In case you need to run to the store to pick up an essential item or if their lucky shorts aren't washed.  Remind them that they may also want to pack their perishable Match Day Essentials the night before and keep them refrigerated and/or frozen and ready to go - ice, food, drinks, etc.

"Waiting until the last minute is a common blunder and adds un-needed stress than can steal everyone's emotional energy before even getting to the tournament." 

Match Day Equipment Essentials: (for competitive athletes)
  • Three to four racquets freshly strung and re-gripped 
  • Extra sets of string (your brand and gauge) and extra vibration dampeners 
  • A first aid kit composed of Band-Aids, athletic tape, elastic bandages, appropriate pain reliever, plastic bags for ice, sunscreen, liquid band-aid, hair ties, etc.
  • Extra shoe laces, socks, shirts, and a fresh towel(s).  You may need an extra towel to soak in ice water to cool you down in very hot temperatures.
  • Water, sports drinks, electrolyte powders, easily digested fruit (banana), and energy bars/gels to be used as quick energy and/or to bridge between meals.
  • Performance goals and match notes (Reminders).  Examples include: how to beat moon-ball/pushers, opponent notes, match performance goals, etc.

Top competitors are continually seeking an advantage.  One of the best strategic (mental) and calming (emotional) advantages comes from scouting an upcoming opponent.  Casually observing is one thing, but profiling the opponent is a skill set.  Each playing style has an inherent group of strengths and weaknesses.  Opponent awareness is an important part of match day preparation.  Player profiling involves looking past strokes.

NOTE:  Whenever possible, as I coach players from the 12's to the ATP/WTA pros, I apply the below profiling topics.

Opponent Profiling Scouting:
  • Primary style of play
  • Preferred serve patterns (especially on mega points)
  • Preferred return of serve  position and shot selection on both first and second serve returns
  • Favorite go-to rally pattern
  • Dominant short-ball option
  • Preferred net-rushing pattern
  • Stroke strengths and weaknesses (advanced players should also consider the strengths and limitations of strike zones)
  • Movement, agility, and stamina efficiencies and deficiencies
  • Frustration tolerance, focus, and emotional stability
Opponent profiling should continue from the pre-match phase, all the way through the actual match and into the post-match.  Intelligent athletes even jot down notes regarding the opponent's game on their post-match logs.  This is used as a reminder for the next time the two meet.

Looking Past Strokes:

During the warm up, the uneducated player/parents/coaches often think Player A has the match in the bag.  But what they do not realize is that Player B often wins because of their ability to identify and execute a game plan exposing their opponent's weakness.  Player A may have great looking fundamental strokes, but hidden flawed mental and/or emotional components.  Player B may have average looking strokes, but an incredible proficiency in their mental game.  Hence, giving Player B the edge due to his ability to isolate weaknesses or exert emotional intelligence at crunch time.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Quick Tip: Female Tennis Journey: Feedback to Players

Quick Tip:  Female Tennis Journey:  Feedback to Players
Carl Maes, from PTR Symposium presentation 2016
Carl Maes
Carl is one of the most experienced and respected coaches of female tennis players in the world. He joined the Belgian Tennis Federation in 1992 and throughout his time there, Carl specialised in the coaching of female tennis players, both seniors and juniors. 

Carl worked with former US Open champion Kim Clijsters from the age of 12 and coached her exclusively between 1999 and 2002 during which time Kim reached a Sony Ericsson WTA world ranking of No.3. As Belgium’s Fed Cup captain, he led his side to only their second ever final.

He was formerly the LTA’s Head of Women’s Tennis where his role was to oversee and develop the junior and senior women’s game in Britain. Carl has also been a WTA board member for two years as a Player Representative.
Female Tennis Journey: Feedback to Players

If a player is to learn a new skill, or develop an existing skill, she needs to be clear on what she is trying to achieve (through the use of goal setting) and she needs to receive regular feedback on her progress. Feedback can come from a range of sources:
  • The coach
  • The player to herself (e.g. how the stroke ‘felt’)
  • From video replay
  • From others (e.g. parents)
The feedback that the player receives will be based on either the performance (i.e. how well the teaching point was executed or how the shot ‘felt’), or the outcome (i.e. where the ball went). By improving the quality of the feedback that their player receives, coaches can help her to achieve faster and more permanent behaviour change. 

Feedback from the coach
For best results, feedback from the coach should be positive. It should look forwards to how the shot is going to be better rather than dwell on what went wrong. Feedback should pick out what the player has done well then encourage her to ‘add’ something extra to her shot rather than correct or replace something that she has just done. For example:

‘Great! – the contact point was right out in front that time. Now this time try to add a little more ‘brush’ up the back of the ball.’
‘Good! – I was starting to see the knee bend on the serve. Now you’ve got a feel for it - this time I want you to exaggerate it even more.’

Feedback should also be well-timed. Generally, feedback is best given immediately so that the player can remember what she has done and will have an opportunity to put it right. It is important, however, not to give feedback after every repetition. A player needs to feel that she has had a chance to improve naturally before the coach intervenes. A coach that intervenes too much will frustrate their player, and their feedback will simply turn into ‘background noise’. Also, it is important to give feedback after ‘the good stuff’ as well as after an error that is occurring consistently. Sometimes, coaches stop drills to give feedback when the basket of balls has run out, or when time is up, instead of the moment when the performance goal has actually been achieved. This moment is called a ‘learning window’ - and it is crucial not to miss it.
Female players need to be encouraged and praised regularly (sometimes on every repetition if needed), particularly teenage girls who may suffer from an acute lack of confidence. The coach should frequently refer to each player’s own, specific goals since this avoids public comparisons and potential confrontation. Even in a group situation, the skill of the coach is to be able to give valuable individual time to each player.
Feedback must also be specific and consistent. It should relate to the goals agreed by the coach and player at the start of the drill. Coaches should not be side tracked by too many secondary teaching areas that may arise during a drill. Specific feedback will bring about a much quicker change in behaviour, particularly if it also includes some sort of a measure. Consider the following three phrases:

‘Next time I want you to prepare better.’
‘Next time I want you to improve your preparation by getting your racket back earlier.’
‘Next time I want you to improve your preparation by getting your racket back before the ball has bounced.’

The third phrase will bring about a quicker and more accurate change as it specific and also involves some sort of a measure. Female players relate well to this kind of specific detail, and will gain confidence from seeing a measurable improvement.
Finally, feedback from the coach needs to be appropriate to the player’s stage of learning. Since feedback is given based on either the performance or the outcome of a shot (or sequence of shots), coaches need to understand which type is most relevant in each situation. In other words, when a player is in the early stages of learning a new skill the feedback from the coach should encourage her to concentrate on the improvements that she is making to the skill – irrespective of the outcome. Examples of this feedback would be:

‘Don’t worry that the ball is going long – that just shows how much better the swing is. Keep going for that long swing through the ball.’
‘I know you missed it – but the choice to go down the line was spot on. Keep doing that and you’ll start to make the shot soon.’

When a player is in the later stages of learning a new skill she will have a pretty good understanding of how she is performing the skill. The feedback, therefore, should now consider the outcome a lot more in order to challenge the player further. Examples of this feedback could be:

‘Okay the stroke is still looking good – but the ball is landing short. Can you adjust it to force me back off the court a little more?’
‘Great decision again – exactly the right ball to go down the line on. You need to start making these though – let’s see if you can make three in a row?’

Feedback from the player to herself
Every time a player executes a stroke she receives feedback. This feedback is always immediate and impossible for her to ignore! It is highly significant in terms of learning - but not always in a positive way. Coaches need to recognise this and, through good coaching skills, ensure that the player’s internal feedback works positively towards learning.
Verbal feedback from the coach needs to recognise what the player will be feeling from hitting the stroke. For example, trying something new often makes a player feel awkward and will come with a low rate of success to begin with. In this situation, the coach needs to try to overcome this internal feedback with very positive verbal feedback. For example:

‘I know that feels different – that’s good, it shows you’re trying something new. Keep going for that new swing shape – don’t worry about the mistakes since they will soon sort themselves out.’

Help the player learn through feel. Players receive large amounts of immediate feedback internally through how a shot feels. Through good coaching skills coaches can help players maximise their learning in this way. This is known as kinaesthetic learning. Examples of this kind of teaching/learning are:

  • Refer to similar skills that a player can already do and get them to transfer the feel to the new skill. For example, to improve a player’s ready position, ask her to imagine that she is playing in goal at hockey.
  • Develop a player’s feel for the extremes of the skill that you are teaching. For example, when teaching an earlier preparation, ask the player to alternate between preparing too early and too late. Then, after a while, allow her to find a balance in the middle that feels right.
  • Use physical training exercises to help a player develop the feel of a new technical skill. For example, when teaching the two-handed backhand, ask the player to throw a ball with two hands on her backhand side so that she can feel her body rotating through the stroke. Then, after a few repetitions, ask her to have a go with the racket and see if she can use the same kind of action.

Feedback from video
Video analysis is a powerful coaching tool that tennis coaches should be comfortable with. In the past it was considered a speciality that only a few coaches used – the majority relying on their ‘coaching eye’. Tennis (and sport in general) has moved on considerably in recent years to the point where players working in tennis programmes have a right to expect some sort of video analysis to be available.
There are many different software packages available providing a range of different features. The most useful functions that a tennis coach should look for are:

  • Video capture and replay. This allows a coach to take video of a player on a camcorder and then upload the video onto a computer using the software package. The software package then allows the coach to edit the clip and play it back to the player in slow motion, and freeze frame at key moments. Coaches can also use clips of pro players and put them alongside their own player in a ‘split-screen’ so that player and coach can compare.
  • Tactical analysis. This allows a coach to record a longer period of play – perhaps even an entire match. Before the match the coach identifies specific areas that he/she is most interested in (e.g. second serves, deuce points, passing shots etc). Each area of interest is allocated a key on the computer as a code. During the match, every time one of the areas of interest happens, the coach presses the appropriate key code. At the end of the match the software package is able to play back every time each particular area of interest occurred – allowing detailed analysis.

Feedback from others
Players will get lots of feedback from a whole range of sources around them. Coaches need to be aware that some of this feedback is very powerful, and therefore, need to make sure that it has a positive impact. Feedback comes from the following external sources:

  • Parents
Parents have a much bigger impact on a child’s tennis than the coach. Coaches need to understand this and work with their players’ parents so that the feedback from parent to child is helpful and consistent. Keeping parents away does not tend to work since it doesn’t stop them from giving feedback to their child - it only means that they are less informed when they do so! 
Keep parents informed about the areas that you and your players are working on and why. Explain how there may be a short-term drop in performance while new teaching areas are being learned, but that the long-term benefits will make it worthwhile. (For more information see family section in environment)
  • Role Models
Players will pick up a lot of feedback from their role models. It is vital that young female players use positive role models since this is a key source of motivation and inspiration. Coaches must encourage this, but be aware that young players, in particular, will often pick up and copy some of the more negative and insignificant aspects of their role model. For example, young players will often pick up on a role model’s poor behaviour at one point in a match, instead of the resilience they showed to fight back later on.
Coaches should try to ‘manage’ their players’ role models. They could discuss with the players who they are, and what it is that they do that make them so good and so successful. A coach could suggest role models for their players to go and watch. They should suggest players that have particular qualities that are relevant to their pupil, and discuss with them the things to look for. It is important that this does not turn into a ‘lecture’ - the coach should leave it to the player to draw their own conclusions.

  • Other Coaches

It is almost inevitable that a player will come into contact with a range of coaches during their training week. Coaches should be aware of this and ensure that there is clear and regular communication throughout the coaching team about each player. It is important the coaching team is aware of the player’s goals so that these can be reinforced consistently throughout the player’s time on court.

Carl Maes presenting at the 2016 PTR International Symposium.

I was thrilled to meet Carl at the 2016 PTR Symposium!