Monday, May 27, 2019

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

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It is a common courtesy to say "hello" "please" and "thank you."  It is so common that it is easily forgotten.  But for those who remember, it goes a long way.

If you want the coach to feel appreciated for giving their time and effort, say "thank you" after each practice.

If you want the coach to go beyond their call of duty, say "thank you" in your public acknowledgment.

If you want the tournament director to feel appreciated for their time and effort in putting the tournament together, say "thank you" at the end of the tournament.  

If you want the tournament director to really remember you, send them a "thank you" email or a "thank you" card.

Getting a gift and saying "thank you" is heartfelt.  But when you go out of your way to say "thank you" it brings on a whole different dynamic.  It shows your appreciation and gratitude for their effort, their time and energy, their sacrifices.  It's about caring and connecting on the same plain, not superiority.

In the midst of pursuing excellence and outdoing the competitors, it is easy to forget to show appreciation and gratitude towards the people in the circle of influence.  Forgetting does not make the athlete a bad person but it cannot be overlooked and use it as an excuse.

Moms and dads, this lesson starts at home.  Check with your star athletes if they are saying their "thank you" on a daily basis.  Don't just assume.  

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Simplify to tap into your confidence

Kurume, Japan May 16th with temperature registered at 30º C (86º F) and feels like 38º C (100º F) with humidity and the UV index at 9 out of 11.  It's blistering hot.  The wind is swirling like a sandstorm making the match more like a survival game than a tennis match. Toppled that with a lot of bad line calls.  It's downright frustrating.  To say it's a challenge is an understatement.

As challenging as these conditions might be, they are a lightweight compared to when one feels lost with their confidence.  In my opinion, confidence is not something you lose once it's acquired.  It may be hidden with a lack of practice, but not lost.  

I was watching a match the other day where a non-seeded player was playing against the number 1 seed in the tournament.  The non-seeded player was up a set and a break in the latter part of the second set playing great tennis until it was time to close.  She loses the second set and a one-sided third set.  One minute she was playing brilliantly with full of confidence and the next completely lost her way.  Her travel companion turned to me and proceeded to tell me that she's been struggling with her confidence. 

So, the question is how do you tap into a hidden confidence?  Here are three key points.

1. Setting objectives & plans
Pinpoint what your player needs.  Is it tactics?  Should they return down the middle to cut down return errors?  Is it a higher % of first serves win?  Is it to return earlier against second serves?  If you want to tap into that hidden confidence, this step of setting up objectives is crucial.  You need to narrow down on the specifics of the things that need attention and to have a clear idea of the what and the how.  Most people can see what's wrong but not everyone knows how to fix things.

2. Keep track
After putting the objectives and plans in motion, you'd want to keep track of the progress following each practice session or a match.  You can keep track either by using a scale of 1 to 10 or by percentages.  Whichever method you chose, it needs to be consistent.  Tracking, in addition to making sure all involved are on the same page, it helps to keep everyone focused on the things that need attention.  When things are not going well, it is easy to generalize and contaminate the other parts of the game.  Once a level of competency is achieved, you are ready to move into the third stage and that is to set new objectives.  

3. Set new objectives
When you and your player arrive in this third step your player should be feeling better about his/ her game.  They are inspired and motivated to train harder.  It is important to set new objectives periodically to keep things fresh and to constantly work on improving.  

Confidence is like a stroke.  You spent hours upon hours mastering the skill.  You might get rusty when you don't practice it but it comes back with practice.  It's there on the sideline.  You just need to pinpoint which stroke needs to be worked on.  It is that simple!

Yours Truly...

Friday, May 10, 2019

Identifying Identity

Ready, set, go except in a tennis match, it's game, set, and match.  There are 56 female competitors in the draw here in Fukuoka with 60 percent of the players from Japan and the remaining 40% from other parts of the world.  Yet, only a handful of them plays with an identity.  
Establishing a strong identity, knowing with absolute certainty what you're about, gives you the competitor's edge.  It's a trust that you have with yourself that when push comes to shove you can depend on you to show up to fight until the very end.  
In a tennis match, there are three situations that take place to test your tennis identity.

Identity #1: toe to toe

You're both on even ground score-wise, skills wise, mentally wise, emotionally wise.  You're on a deadlock keeping pace with each other waiting on the first one to falter.

Identity #2: when behind

Great competitors when playing from behind turns into this fighting machine that says "never say die" attitude.  They get every ball back making you hit another ball and they refuse to lose.  You will have to beat them because they are not throwing in the towel.  They have this mentality of "the tough get tougher."
Identity #3: when ahead
Oh boy, look out.  There is no stopping them.  They are relaxed.  Arms loose.  Laser focused and they are not holding back.  They see the finish line and they are going all out.  
Tennis is a small world.  Almost everyone knows everyone directly and indirectly.  Players and coaches formulate their opinions on their fellow competitors very quickly.  Be sure to establish a strong one for obvious reasons.
End of Day 3 - Fukuoka, Japan

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Fukuoka, Japan Day 2 - Three keys to adapt quickly & successfully

Carpet (Outdoor) ­ OmniCourt ProCourt (sand­filled)

Tennis as we know it is played on four types of surfaces - hard (Australian and US Open), clay (French Open), grass (Wimbledon), and carpet.  I am of course generalizing the surfaces here not giving them the justice of their playing characteristics.  
What if I were to tell you there is a fifth surface that is available to only a few countries?  It's soft under the feet but it's too prickly to walk barefooted.  There is white sand on it but not enough to slide like on clay but slippery enough that you can't get a firm grip on the footing.  When you hit a kick serve, the ball kicks up and outward away from the power house.  And when you slice, the ball skids.  But when you hit flat it slows down the pace.  Crazy right?
Here we are in Fukuoka at a professional tournament playing on this rarely seen surface called the Omni Pro Court.  A surface where no one other than the Japanese players has ever set foot on.  So, how does one adapt to a surface that is completely unfamiliar?  How does one adapt from different surfaces?
There are three things you can do to quickly and successfully acclimatize.

One: Build trust with your feet

Footing is a big part in getting set up properly for your shots.  You want to be in the best balance that you can be to hit a solid shot.  In order to be balanced, you have to be able to move.   Good movements come from trusting the ground that you can push off or change directions as quickly as possible.  What I like to do when approaching a different surface is to establish ground work with movements and agilities on the court without hitting.  With the more advanced players, we will incorporate several movements with their eyes closed to quickly establish a trusting connection between their feet and the ground.  Please do not try this at home.

Two: Returns, returns, returns

Did you know there is one commonality that you and Federer share?  Or you and Serena Williams share?  That is y'all have to start the point. when playing matches.  Federer has to start the point.  And so does Serena.  You serve to start the point.  You return to start the point.  Returns have a technique of its own that needs refining but largely neglected.  A good rule of thumb to practice your returning is to let your hitting partner serves from the deuce side follow by the ad side while you get to practice your returns the whole time before switching roles.  

Three: Understanding court character

Every surface delivers challenges and triumphs to different players.  While a certain style of play is more conducive to a particular surface it does not mean you are doomed from success if you don't have the compatible style of play.  Understanding the characteristics of how the ball moves after it hits the ground should give you great insights to which tools to use to be the most effective.  For example, with the Omni courts, using variations on the serves with kick and slice were more effective than flat serves.  That is not to say we never use the flat serves, it gets thrown in to mix things up as needed.

Tune in tomorrow for day 3.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Fukuoka, Japan Day 1

It used to be that when people asked how I was doing, I would answer good, great, or having a tough day.  Then, I caught myself repeatedly saying I'm super busy; or I need more time in a day; or I'm running around like a chicken without a head.  Busy, Busy, Busy.  I'm sure you get the idea!
With anxieties building up combined with restless sleep cycles I felt overwhelmed.  So, I decided to craft a more healthy me by minimalizing from every aspect of my life.  Some I eliminated altogether and others I simply put them aside for a break.
The weekly blog posting was on that break pile, in case you were wondering why you haven't received anything.  And now with a much simpler lifestyle and renewed energy, I am back.
With this surge of renewed energy, I am so excited to start blogging again that I am going to bring you with me on a trip to Japan.  Okay, maybe not physically but definitely visually.  I will share with you "the event of the day" covering challenges, heartaches, and abnormal situations that players have to deal with behind the scenes throughout the two tournaments.

As you have probably sensed from my previous postings that I like to keep things simple and unique with personal touches.  So, for the next two weeks, tune in to my blog.  Without further ado, join us on our first stop in Fukuoka.  

Getting to know Fukuoka

Other than the start up tournaments, it is customary for the tournament to host a Players Party to honor the players and coaches with great food and a show.  There were close to five hundred people attending tonight's event celebrating the opening of the first day of the tournament.
Cultural Education

Tune in tomorrow for Day 2.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

4 Keys to Bouncing Back Quickly After An Injury

Thomas Muster Former ATP World #1

No one feels good losing, not a close match, not the opponent played really well today schpiel, and definitely not when losing after a big lead.  Lose enough times doubts start moving in and confidence gets shattered.  It clouds the mindset and it is difficult to stay positive.

When you're around tennis long enough you get to see and experience all sorts of emotions; the good, the bad; the indifferent.  As daunting as losing may sound, dealing with injuries takes it to a different level on the mind game.  The management of handling injuries during and after the injury plays a pivotal role in the speed of which the player returns to their level of tennis quickly or dreads on with despair.

If you want to help your star athlete to rebound back quickly from their injury below are some strategies that have been tried and true.  Please keep in mind that these strategies do not override the physician's protocol.  
  1. Mental work.   Research has shown that meditation and visualization can help with performance.  More and more players are utilizing these tools as part of their training routine.  With free access to youtube and live streaming, replays and live matches are readily available any time.  Watching and studying the game is a good learning tool to develop tactics and strategies.  
  2. Keep active.  One of the common mistakes I see parents do when their star athlete is injured is having them stay at home and "rest" for an extended period of time.  And when the athlete finally gets back on the court, it takes several weeks more to get back on track because they haven't done much physically.  Depending on the severity of the injury and the healing stage, here are some strategies to stay active.  If it's the upper body that is injured, work on the lower body.  Build up the endurance on a stationary bike.  Swim.   Strengthen hip flexors.  Do core work, etc, etc.  If it's the lower body that is injured, work on the upper body with strength training.  Sit in a chair to hit balls like former ATP world #1 ranked Thomas Muster.  There are always strategies to keep training.  The point is, keep your child active.  Because if they don't, they will feel absolutely miserable physically and mentally when returning to the courts.  
  3. Stay motivated.   Tennis is a great sport but man does it put tremendous demands on the body.  There is no point in griping how unlucky to be injured.  It is what it is.  The best that you can do is to help your star athlete to do all the necessary preparation for a strong return to the courts.  Understand this, it's not IF they will get injured, it's WHEN they get injured, what are they going to do to get back?  Help your child to stay positive.  To stay on track with their goals.
  4. When to return to competition.   More often than not players return too early to competition finding themselves having to take more time off.  They are anxious to get back quickly because they feel like they're missing out on the points, the ranking, blahblahblah.  Here's a checklist to determine when it is safe to return to competition.  1) Is she able to train full out for the entire duration of the training every day for a whole week and pain-free?  2)  Is he able to play several practice matches in a row and pain-free?  If there is even a hint of pain, don't do it.  Resist the temptation to push it through.  Take all the time they need.  It will turn out to be faster than having relapses.
I know it's hard to watch others competing and gaining points from the sideline but to return to competition even with a slight pain, the injury looms in the mind and it will hinder the confidence capacity.  The stress of competition is hard on a healthy body as it is and it's merciless on a vulnerable one.  There is always a tournament next week, and the week after, and the week after that.  Stay away from the rat race.

Best of luck this week.
Yours Truly,

Monday, February 25, 2019

Learn this to help your kid conquer their anxiety

Frozen hands, sweaty palms.  Butterflies taking up all the space in the stomach, no room for food.  Accelerated heart rate pulsating through the clothing.  No, I'm not talking about a teenager falling in love.  

Those were my symptoms.  Symptoms that I felt every time before my match during the 18 years on the WTA tour.  It was facing the unknown situation whereby the outcome has not yet revealed itself and I desperately wish for the outcome to swing my way that triggered them.  The anticipation into the future instead of staying at the present.

It is normal to feel anxious before a competition.  Competition in itself is not the problem.  The symptoms associated with anxiety are not the problem.  It's the experience that the child feels during and immediately following their performance on how you behave that dictates their association to competition and anxiety.  

Let me explain.  With anxieties, performance can suffer if the player can't get settled during the event.  While struggling in their match, your kid will look at you or sense you (if they're playing on a further court) for support and encouragement.  They are off balance.  They are doubting their ability to handle the situation.  During that intense moment, what you do and how you behave matter.  In fact, it matters a lot.  If they see your body language or facial expression of disapproval (shaking of the head, folding of the arms, tight jaw, pacing up and down, etc, etc) they will link your behaviors to their level of play.  You become a reflection of their performance. On the contrary is also true, if your body language projects poise and confidence, your superstar will hook on those cues as well.

You see, it's not what you say as much as it is what your body language projects during the most intense moment when your child looks your way.  You need to be mindful of what you do in the face of unpredictable situations.  You can choose to project positive vibes with poise and calmness or moan and groan on every unforced error and every mishap.  Whatever you choose, you can't be negative and positive at the same time.  So, choose wisely :-)

It is natural to feel anxious about the things that we want to do very well at.  Every child is different.  Some have the maturity to tame their anxiety symptoms and settle into their match quickly and others need extra support.  You want to be their solution, not become an added problem to their symptoms.

Best of luck this week.
Yours Truly,