2019 National Tennis Training Camp

2019 National Tennis Training Camp

Location: The Pingry School, Basking Ridge, New Jersey

When: June 24-27, 2019

Click this link for camp info: 2019 National Tournament Preparation Camp

Dr. Brandyn Fisher and Randy Rowley (Army Men’s Tennis) are running a National Tournament Preparation Camp. Players will participate in competition-based training, with a primary focus on the tactical and mental aspects of the game.

  • Daily off-court mental training and video analysis sessions.

  • Limited spots available - Restricted to national-level players.

  • Each player will receive a complete evaluation related to the camp’s primary themes.

Register soon, as space is limited! Register now by visiting https://www.bigbluesummer.org/summer-programs/pingry-high-performance-tennis-camp/

2019 National Tournament Training Camp - Dates and Location Announced

2019 National Tournament Training Camp - Dates and Location Announced

Location: The Pingry School, Basking Ridge, New Jersey

When: June 24-27, 2019

2019 National Tournament Preparation Camp

The American Sport Psychology team has announced a 2019 National Tournament Preparation Camp.

Get ready to excel this summer with a complete training program. Prepare for elite performance!

  • Competition-based skills camp includes a focus on the mental and tactical aspects of performance.

  • Daily off-court mental training and video analysis sessions.

  • Limited spots available - Restricted to national-level players.

  • This camp will be led by Dr. Brandyn Fisher (American Sport Psychology director) and Randy Rowley (Army, Men’s Associate Head Coach)

In the "Now": From Negative to Neutral

In the "Now": From Negative to Neutral

“You have to be positive.” This is a statement almost every athlete has heard at some point from either their coaches and/or parents. But how can you suddenly be positive when consumed with frustration and a negative inner voice? Is it really that easy? The simple answer: no. The more complex answer: No, and failing to shift from negative to positive can lead to more frustration and negativity. This article offers a different perspective on making the jump out of a negative frame of mind. Instead, make the jump from negative to neutral first. For example, is it really possible to go from saying “I am the worst player here. That was so stupid” to “I can do it. Things are going to be better”? And even if the “positive” statement comes out, does the athlete really believe it? This gap between what the athlete is really feeling versus what they are telling themselves can lead to a progressive downward spiral.

Use “neutral” statements

Neutral statements are directions with no emotional attachments (neither positive or negative). Think about the simple tips you receive from your coaches. What are they telling you to do? “Win with your strengths and find your way to the net”; “Play ‘x’ pattern and find your forehand from the middle of the court”; “Take more time before playing the big points.” These are all examples of simple, “now focused” statements. Create your own and be prepared to launch when you feel frustrated.

Time is your biggest ally.

An angry/frustrated athlete tends to speed up and play faster and more out of control. Their awareness of time is lost and replaced by a negative inner voice that directs their behavior. Simply taking more time allows the jets to cool off and can give the frustrated performer a moment to shift his/her attitude to a neutral space. Consider placing a towel in the corner and use it as a reminder to slow down, or create a simple “power statement” like “1, 2, 3, let it be.”

Deploy the chute before it’s too late!

Negativity breeds negativity. As the saying goes, “Bad habits are like a warm bed on a cold morning - easy to get into, hard to get out of.” Ultimately, your responsibility is to manage how loud the negative inner voice gets, and redirect it to a controllable aspect of performance. Allowing one bad play to fester opens the door for more to follow. Start out with giving yourself a limit: for example, no more than 5 negative statements per practice/match/etc.

Prioritize your inner voice! What you say does matter and does influence your performance. While it may be challenging to jump from negative to positive, the move from negative to neutral is within reach.

Motivation Blockers: Comparisons, Expectations, and Outcome-Focus

Motivation Blockers: Comparisons, Expectations, and Outcome-Focus

Athletes will hit the skids throughout their careers, and motivation can suffer as a result. So, what stands in the way of maintaining a high level of motivation? Here are a few of the more common motivation blockers I come across while working with athletes:

1. Constantly comparing yourself to others (or a previous version of yourself)

Comparisons are measuring sticks and ways to determine where an athlete fits in the pecking order. There is a place and value of using these comparisons to help motivation, but taken too far, it can lead to decreased self-confidence, increased frustration, and increased doubt. I recently worked with an athlete who was always making comparisons to himself at a younger age, as well as to his peers who were now doing well in the older age divisions. He was very successful as a younger player, but was currently struggling to find the same level of success. The game changed, his opponents grew, and the things that worked in the younger age groups did not have the same effect in his current bracket. He was really struggling to find his way and he was contemplating hanging it up. The message was simple: he had to develop the skills that would lead to success at the higher levels of competition and focus on his own journey. Additionally, he had to set, and work towards, a completely new goal process. 

Key Take-Aways:

  • Reframe the negative thoughts when making comparisons to others. These rogue thoughts and statements will come, and when they do use neutral/positive statements to redirect attention and focus.
  • Create a goal achievement pathway that is focused on skill development at your current level.

2. Unmet expectations (your own expectations, someone else's expectations)

Another common motivation blocker is the role of expectations, specifically unmet expectations. As a mental coach I am supportive of athletes setting the bar high, but I also recognize these individuals do not typically have an appropriate pathway that will help them inch closer to their goals. Without these smaller, bite-sized markers to achieve, athletes can get frustrated and lose sight of their journey. 

I had an interesting conversation with a coach recently who suggested that setting goals is counterproductive. His argument - goals that are not obtained can lead to frustration, burnout, and decreased enjoyment. It is an interesting point, but one that I do not particularly agree with. However, it does highlight a vital aspect of goal setting: the need to establish achievable goals that are developmentally appropriate. One of the first questions I ask an athlete is what his/her goals are, and most of the time I get an outcome-oriented answer, or a very lofty expectation that does not seem to fit where the athlete is developmentally.

Parents, coaches, and peers can also play a role in decreasing an athlete's motivation. Words like "talented" and "special" can be difficult labels to live up to, especially as the athlete rises through the levels and the demands become greater and greater. Additionally, statements like "You have to...", "You should...", "You can't..." have an impact on how an athlete looks at his/her progress. For example, a tennis player I worked with recently was struggling to beat players who were below his level. Part of the issue - his dad would always tell him that he "should win easily", or "this player isn't very good". The athlete was pre-loaded with expectations that were not within his control and as a result the pressure would flood in, leading to decreased performance. 

Key Take-Aways:

  • Establish a number of process and task goals that can be achieved in a shorter period of time. Smaller successes will help you stay motivated when tougher times come. 
  • Focus on where you are in your journey at this stage and work on your self-talk. Flush out the "noise" and engage in more positive or neutral statements.

3. Overly focused on outcomes

I get it, you play to win the game. Ultimately sport is about competition, but what happens if the results are not coming?  What if the athlete has just recently progressed to a higher level and is not winning as much as before? There may be a number of factors that influence the results you are achieving. But focusing on those results alone is a quick way to get frustrated and lose motivation. I like to find ways to help athletes "protect" their confidence. This entails looking back on a result and keeping it about the facts, NOT THE EMOTION. Take the good, improve on the not so good, then turn the page.

Key Take-Aways:

  • Results can be very motivating, but poor results can have the opposite effect. When you are struggling refocus on ways to improve each performance domain.
  • Lock into what you can control after a loss. Reflect on what you did well and what you could have done better, then move on. Ironically, this is the same process you should use after a win.

NEW in 2018: ASPire Video Assessments

NEW in 2018: ASPire Video Assessments

Starting in January 2018, American Sport Psychology will be offering yet another level of mental performance assessment: Match Analysis of Performance (MAP). Here are the details...

What is a Match Analysis of Performance (MAP)? 

A MAP is a complete performance assessment that includes feedback in the following areas:

MENTAL (balancing momentum, decision-making, point-to-point routines, emotional responses, body language, etc)

TACTICAL (game style, shot selection, strengths/weaknesses, problem-solving, etc)

TECHNICAL (footwork/movement, biomechanics, strengths/weaknesses, etc)

What do I have to provide?

You provide the complete video of the match and we do the rest. Simply send us the link or raw video and we will analyze your performance in each of the key areas. 

What services and assessments will I receive?

In addition to a written performance assessment, players will receive analytics information that includes a momentum chart, basic match stats, and a serve/return scatter plot. We can also provide expert analysis of technique and movement (side and back views work best). If your video allows, we can also do voice-overs throughout the match and offer specific areas of focus.

What does it cost?

Single-match MAP : $175 (add a 30-45 minute phone consultation for an extra $50)

10-match MAP : $1700 

10-match MAP + 10 mental performance sessions : $3,000

How long does it take?

Our coaches will turn your video into a complete performance assessment within a 24-hour period. 

Contact American Sport Psychology today and start improving your performance tomorrow. Contact Dr. Fisher : brandyn@americansportpsychology.com. 

Are you recruitable? Lessons Learned in College Placement

Are you recruitable? Lessons Learned in College Placement

I get this question all the time: What do college coaches look for in players? Recruiting, and how college coaches go about identifying prospective talent, is a primary interest of mine and one that influenced my line of research while in graduate school for sport psychology. The following is a short summary of years of actual research, along with hundreds of conversations with the nation's top tennis coaches at all levels. Keep in mind, these anecdotes are from coaches of top 20 programs and their answers reflect their own needs in terms of talent, character, and intangible abilities.

Can the player....play?

Not surprisingly, prospects need to have talent and be able to play at a high level. As one coach told me, "If he can't play at this level then I simply can't recruit him. He might be a great guy, but if he doesn't have the skill set required to win then he can't really help us." Improve your skills and then back it up with results. Rankings and results are simply a ticket to get into the show, but there are other factors that ultimately influence recruiting decisions. 

Can I trust him/her?

The word "trust" permeated countless conversations I have had with coaches over the years. In short, coaches want to know that they can trust you if they decide to put you in the starting lineup. They want to know if you will compete, regardless of the circumstances. They want to know if you will have a good attitude and fight through adversity. They want to know if you can handle pressure and not let it define your performance. They want to know what will happen over the course of 10 matches. As one coach once told me, "The worst feeling is putting a guy out there and not knowing what he will give you that day. Will he fight? Will he tank? Will he put it on the line? Will he crack under the pressure? If I can't trust you, then how can I start you?" Build trust by bringing your bottom end up. Bring a consistent effort and fight level to each competition. In doing so, you build trust in yourself and others will be able to see it as well.

Does the player care?

As one DI coach told me, "I look at how a player responds after losing a tough match. Does she take it hard and is visibly upset? Or, does she drop the loss quickly and laugh it off with her friends 5 minutes later? For me, I want the kid who is visibly upset and hates to lose. I can't love the game for the player, nor can I make her care about doing well." Simply put, coaches want to see your passion. Prove that you care about doing well by putting a good product out there each time. Work hard in practice each day and invest yourself. The more you invest, the harder it will be to accept a loss or poor performance. 

Do I want to be around this player? Would my current players like this player?

It might seem strange, but coaches are human beings too. They don't always like everyone simply because they are on the team. A player's attitude and character can greatly improve the team culture and make the experience unforgettable. On the other hand, a player's attitude and character can rip a team apart and make it no fun for anyone. Which player are you? As a DI coach stated, "I like to watch a player interact with his family, with his friends, with the tournament staff. These interactions give me a lot of information. Is he well-liked? Does he have any friends? Is he personable? Is he respectful? Is he humble and gracious in success and defeat? Most players don't realize we are watching a lot more than just the time you spend on court during competition."

So, what does it all mean? College coaches want the complete package - talent, character, personality, resiliency, etc. So, what can you do? Here are 3 things to be working on or aware of as you work your way towards recruitment:

1) Practice and compete as though you are being watched each and every day. What would a college coach see if he/she watched one of your practices or matches? Before you can become consistent in attitude and effort, you have to be consistent in your attitude and effort. Make the right choices each day and become the constant, not the variable. 

2) Be a different player 2 weeks and 2 months from now. Will a college coach see improvement since the last time he/she saw you play? Create short term goals and keep yourself accountable to them each day. Stack quality practices on top of one another and realize you won't get those bad practices back. 

3) Be open, be honest. When talking with college coaches, be honest and ready to explain your plan to improve. Answers like "I just need to keep working hard" are not good enough. What do you have to improve? Is it mental? Physical? Tactical? Talk about your player development plan and tournament schedule, along with your upcoming goals. Coaches love to see a player take ownership and be self-motivated to improve. 

Winning the Body Language Battle: Are you giving your opponent confidence based on how you look?

Winning the Body Language Battle: Are you giving your opponent confidence based on how you look?

It is a scene all too familiar in every level of competition - negative body language as a result of poor decision-making, poor play, and frustration. Once the negative body language begins it typically takes root the rest of the way and is hard to overcome. The match progresses from me versus you, to me versus myself.  However, regardless of level, you will notice that the top players are better at limiting what they give away to their opponents and do a better job of keeping it about competition (me versus you). 

Let's start out with two questions:

What are you giving away to your opponent?

What events tend to set you off the most?

The answers to these questions are important because 1) they identify your hot buttons and 2) they can help you realize the impact your body language has on the opponent. Once you know what sets you off you can then build proper reactions to these events and make it a priority during competition. Additionally, by realizing your reactions have an effect on your opponent (good and bad), you can start to create a stronger on-court presence that increases pressure on the other player.

Here are a few additional thoughts:

The Negative-Neutral Cycle

Negativity breeds more negativity, and also clouds any positives that might be happening. Players get tunnel vision and they lock into the negative thoughts. As a result, they miss the good things they are doing and start what I call the negative-neutral cycle (negative response after a mistake, neutral response after a positive). This is exactly the opposite of what the cycle needs to be, which is neutral-positive (neutral response after a mistake, positive response after a good point). I find that negative players have difficulty going from negative to positive, but are able to go from negative to neutral. Start by limiting your negative outward displays and focus on a neutral outward reaction, such as going right into your routine when the point is over. Eventually, you will train yourself to have a neutral response after errors and this will open the door to you being more positive when good things happen.

You Give Them Confidence

Keep in mind that your opponent is watching you and they will often create their perception of you based on what they are seeing. If you are hunched over after a mistake and keep talking to yourself, the opponent can simply wait until you are ready to lose. This reduces the pressure they feel because they don't need to keep playing great to win - they simply allow you to do the work for them. Keep the pressure on by maintaining a solid presence throughout competition; at least this will send the message that the opponent must keep competing to get the victory. Your opponents will respect you a lot more if they see you continuing to fight even when behind/playing poorly. 

It's a Major Waste of Energy

This is an overlooked aspect of negative body language - it takes a lot of energy to be negative! Over the course of a long match or tournament, players simply run out of gas. In addition to physical exertion, emotion also burns energy. Thus, a downward cycle occurs; player makes a mistake, player gets mad, player gets negative, player gets tired, player makes more mistakes due to fatigue, player gets even more negative, etc. Be more aware of how you are using your energy during competition. Do you want this energy to be directed towards your opponent or towards yourself? Being aware is important, but it will take a full commitment to having a better mindset during competition for your behavior to change. Asking yourself a simple question during competition can help - am I competing against my opponent or against myself?

Negativity is a Distraction

Simply put, negativity distracts you from your goals and from the things that really matter. When you are engaged with prior mistakes, you disengage from your future purpose. A simple method of staying on task is to write down 2-3 goals/directions on a note card that you can read through during breaks in the action. Make this part of your routine on changeovers - in time, you will teach yourself to move on to the things that matter and drop the negative weight.

Best of luck this upcoming Spring season. We look forward to seeing you on the tournament trail. ASP coaches will be attending over 15 national and international events this year, so look for us and say hi.

2 Methods of Staying Positive

2 Methods of Staying Positive

1) Go from Negative to Neutral first, then work on Neutral to Positive.

In my experience, athletes struggle with shifting from a negative mindset to a positive mindset during competition - it's just too big of a jump to make in the moment, especially with emotions running high. Instead, focus on having neutral reactions first. Going from negative to neutral is a much easier transition to make than negative to positive. Work on limiting your emotional responses, especially when you are feeling frustrated or angry. In limiting your negative reactions and displaying a neutral response, eventually you will learn to limit the negativity in your thoughts and reactions. Once you learn to have a neutral response after errors/mistakes, making the jump from neutral to positive will be much more attainable. 

Skill Execution: Routines, routines, routines! Practice neutral responses each day, along with neutral thoughts. Focus on keeping a plain face, shoulders back, and a simple thought immediately after the point/play is over ("Next one", "Reset").

2) Be your own coach when competing and limit the voice in your head.

If you were to transcribe all of the thoughts you have during competition, 1) how long would that transcript be, and 2) what types of statements would you see? In general, athletes are overly critical of their performances, which leads to flooding the brain with useless, negative statements. For example, after missing an easy layup a basketball player might respond with negative affirmations: "I am terrible. How did I miss that? A 3 year old could have made that shot." And what tends to happen next? That's right, another mistake and another negative reaction/thought. Additionally, players tend to have a running dialogue in their heads, with very little instructional comments being made. The influx of thoughts and statements slow down the physical reactions and prevent the athlete's training from kicking in. In essence, the player gets in his/her own way.

Skill Execution: Work on limiting the emotional and critical comments you make to yourself during training and competition. Give yourself a goal of having less than 10 negative comments each game/match, and then work on having fewer than 5, etc. Additionally, after each negative comment, give yourself a piece of coaching advice. For instance, what would your coach tell you after missing the easy layup? "Great effort, you will get the next one. Now get back on defense and play team ball." Ultimately, you want to remove most of the emotional/critical comments and have more instructional statements, which are process-focused and forward-thinking. Remember, you are trying to alter your thinking habits, so it will take some time (stay accountable by setting thinking goals each day).

The "ASPire Pillars" Series: The Power of Intention

The "ASPire Pillars" Series: The Power of Intention

Over the next few weeks, I will discuss the primary "ASPire Pillars" of mental performance, which is the foundation of our work with athletes. The first "Pillar" is The Power of Intention.

What is Intention?

Intention, by my definition, is the purpose behind an athlete's actions/decisions. It means having a mental and physical plan of action for training and competition.

Intention Comes Before Execution

Athletes can get overly focused on outcomes, rather than the intent behind actions. This can lead to frustration and decreased motivation, especially when learning a new skill. Regardless of the outcome, or if you executed the skill, ask yourself a simple question: Was it the right decision? This is what really matters in the long run - making the correct decisions repeatedly during competition. Eventually, as correct decisions continue to mount, so too does execution. Athletes tend to look at the outcome and pair their emotional responses accordingly (happy if they make it, frustrated if they don't). Instead, change the dialogue in your head - Was it the right decision? Yes, do it again. No, what do I need to do better next time?

What Does Intention Look Like?

Successful athletes have clear purpose and intention when competing. How can you tell? Watch what happens after they make mistakes - they consistently correct the error right away, rarely making the same mistake twice in a row. For example, after double faulting, great players adjust by taking pace off and getting the first serve in on the next point. Intention can be very subtle, or blatantly obvious. It can be seen in body language and decision-making, as well as reactions to good and bad events. Some might say the player looks "confident" when they have intention. Which leads to my next point...

The Feeling You Get From Having Intention

Confidence stems from intention and knowing exactly what you WANT TO DO - the execution eventually follows. Take, for example, Rafa Nadal most of 2016. He consistently mentioned having low confidence in his forehand, but at the same time, he knew that he had to keep going after it during matches. In his words, "eventually, it started to go in." There are many uncontrollable factors during competition, with outcomes being one of them; however, the plan and purpose behind our actions are within our control, which can in turn lead to a confident feeling.

How Can You Work on Your Intention? 

Intention is a mindset. There is no luck behind intention, only a controllable thought process. Here are a few ideas to create intention and purpose in your training and competition: 

1) Know Thyself: At the core of intention is self-knowledge. You must know your game style and your strengths. You must know what events typically derail your concentration (along with a plan to deal with them), as well as what motivates you and gets you activated. By understanding what makes you tick, you will be more apt to develop clarity of mind when it comes to training/competition.

2) Create A Game-Plan: Having intention begins before you step onto the court, whether it be in practice or competition. You need to create your purpose and goals for the upcoming performance - create simple thought-directions and visualizations of these actions to employ during your pre-match preparation.  

3) Take Control of Your Thoughts: Nerves are normal, but when they become overbearing, it is usually due to excessive doubt and worry. When these thoughts come, replace them with your plan of action. Some players will repeatedly tell themselves the same instructions over and over to "flood" their brains, leaving no room for any other thoughts. Frustration operates in the same manner - limit the emotion tied to the outcome and instead redirect your thoughts to an action you want to take next.

4) Take Control of Your Reactions: Be a "Neutral-Positive" competitor, which means having a neutral response when faced with a poor outcome and a positive response when faced with a good outcome. Your reactions can linger and influence the next action you take - do you want a positive feeling to stick around or a negative one? By taking control of your reactions your body language will improve, and your opponent will see a more confident player acting with purpose and direction.

3 Simple Confidence-Boosters

3 Simple Confidence-Boosters

Make Positive Choices

A simple choice like ordering a healthy sandwich versus greasy pizza not only impact your energy levels for training, but these choices can also solidify your total commitment and dedication to your craft.  In making these types of positive choices, athletes begin to feel more responsible for, and in control, of their training - this leads to increased ownership and accountability, which are necessary to reach elite levels. 

Ideas: 1) go to bed 30 minutes earlier each night instead of watching another tv show, 2) limit cell phone use an hour before bedtime, 3) make healthy choices when it comes to nutrition and hydration (water instead of soda, etc).

Self-Statements: "The positive choices I make each day make me stronger. My sacrifices are for a purpose and create a more professional attitude/mindset."

Do Something Extra Each Day

Confidence can emanate from the feeling that we are going above and beyond the regular training load. While the extra reps can positively impact your physical performance, this extra workload also can strengthen your commitment, motivation, and confidence in your skills. Create a "first on, last off" mentality; be consistent and train with intention.

Ideas: 1) stay an extra 30 minutes after practice to work on a specific skill, 2) commit to daily injury prevention work, 3) show up early and jump rope 15 minutes before practice, 4) set daily practice/training goals and evaluate your effort, attitude, and intention. 

Self-Statements: "No one is going to outwork me. When everyone else is off, I am on. The extra reps are making me stronger." 

Create a Plan, Build Trust

Confidence stems from trusting ones abilities, but also trusting the plan behind the journey. Few athletes have a development plan, which is a series of action steps and goals meant to further develop physical skills, mental/emotional skills, and tactical skills. Goal-setting is important, but there also needs to be tangible training methods aimed at achieving these goals. Create the "WHAT" and also the "HOW" - in doing so, you will have a road map of how to improve, which will also increase the trust you have in your training process. It is imperative that you not only know what type of player you are, but also the specific areas you are working on to achieve a higher level. Confidence will come from knowing exactly what you need to work on, as well as what areas have improved over the last few weeks and months.

Ideas: 1) write down 1-2 goals/needs for each primary performance domain (mental, physical, tactical, etc), along with specific ways you can improve these skills, 2) commit to a 5 minute post-practice reflection period to evaluate yourself on the primary performance domains.

Self-Statements: "Trust the process, trust the training. I know who I am and what I am working on - this drives me each day." 

Into the Finals: Mindset of a Champion

Into the Finals: Mindset of a Champion

There's excitement in the air. Raging nerves. Only two players left. The finals. The finals are different than other matches; there is more pressure, more demands, less room for error, and only one chance to get it right. So how do you get it right? 

I have had the opportunity to coach and consult with several very successful players. One of the more common, and important, topics that come up is preparing for and playing in the finals (or simply a big match, farther than the player has been before).  Here are a few key things to consider when you find yourself in this position.

1) Nerves Serve A Purpose: Reframe and Redirect

A simple reframe of thoughts allows the player to acknowledge that the nerves are there and serve a purpose. Players tend to see their nerves in a negative fashion, but I urge them to look at this type of energy in a different way. I want them to reframe their nerves into something positive. For example:

"When my nerves come it means I am ready to go, ready to compete."

"Nerves mean I care and look to do well. I can use this energy to my advantage."

These types of statements elicit positive reactions - nerves are a good thing! Once you acknowledge you are nervous you can begin to change the dialogue in your mind before the match begins. In my experience, the first player to work through the nerves usually wins. 

2) Win the Body Language Battle

Your opponent is just like you, they feel nerves and pressure too, which is why body language is so important in big matches. When your opponent looks across the net, what will he/she see? I call this the Body Language Battle - show strength, show self-assurance, create doubt in your opponent's mind. Think about what you think/feel when you notice that your opponent is positive, energetic, and competitive; create that same look in yourself! 

3) Focus on the bookends - starting, finishing

I give players very simple goals to achieve when they start out matches or when they are trying to finish. Essentially they are the same goals; win the first point of the game, first serves/returns in play, high percentage shot selection, play to win mentality, etc. These are simple concepts and are within the player's control. Players tend to let their minds drift to the finish line, which increases pressure and opens the door for choking. When starting out or finishing, keep everything very simple and trust your training. 

4) When Behind, Extend. When Ahead, Discipline

Remember that your opponent is just like you; he/she gets nervous when trying to finish matches as well. When you are behind, extend the match as long as you can, because good things can happen the longer you keep the opponent out there. When you do something good, SHOW SOMETHING GOOD. Commit to keeping a neutral/positive response after points are over. When ahead, maintain your point-to-point discipline; take time, simple thoughts, keep doing the mental work in between points. 

Breaking Through Losing Streaks

Breaking Through Losing Streaks

Every athlete will go through a period when they find themselves in a slump. Vince Spadea once lost 21 straight matches on the pro tour. Aratxa Rus lost in the first round in 17 straight tournaments at one point in her career. Ouch. There are other losing streaks, of course, such as Andy Murray losing 4 Australian Open finals to Djokovic. This is one of the most common topics that athletes bring up during training: How can I break this losing trend? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

It's Easy to Complain, Hard to Find Answers

Get all the complaints out of your system, and after you do, it's time to buckle down and search for answers. I find that players struggle to get out of the complainer cycle, and as result are late to arrive at the doorstep for change. Ultimately, this is a choice you have to make; engage in finding problems or engage in finding solutions. Take Andy Murray's press conference after his Australian Open loss to Djokovic (the year Novak appeared to be injured during the start of the third set, then rolled back to win in 4). The press were hounding Murray with questions related to Djokovic's apparent gamesmanship. Murray never took the bait, and actually placed blame on himself; he stated there was a 10-minute stretch where he lost his focus and he did not recover until it was too late. The easy way out would have been to point fingers and place blame somewhere else. Instead, Murray shouldered responsibility and put himself in a position where he could move on.

Dig for the Positives Hiding in the Junk

Below is a short article on how Grigor Dmitrov worked through his struggles in Grand Slams. The main take-away? He recognized that losing early in tournaments gave him extra time to train, and thus, extra time to get things right. A coach once told me, "You are either getting closer to the answer, or you are getting farther away. You never stay in the same place." Dmitrov was moving forward, even though the results were slow to catch up. He continued to develop his game, focus on his strengths, and create solutions where problems existed. This is a mental attribute that Dmitrov has developed; the ability to be honest with himself, but also find a positive (which represents a launching pad for moving forward).


Lay it All On the Line, Every Time

This is essential if you want to get out of your funk. By laying it on the line, you give yourself an opportunity to evaluate your current standing, as well as what you must work on next. I see players struggle and go into tank-mode, which creates a crutch for excuses to follow. Be consistent in your effort during competition so you can gauge your progress.    

Confidence Comes from Knowing Your Game, Knowing Your Strengths

Simply put, you have to know who you are as a player (game style, purpose, personality, strengths). More often than not, a player going through a losing streak tends to make things too complicated, or has drifted away from his/her game style. Be the best version of yourself! Therefore, take the time to sit down and write out what makes you, you. Write down your game style, your on-court personality, your strengths, etc. In doing so, you can create a road map for getting back on track.

Commit to The Struggle, See the Bigger Picture

Commit to your struggle and realize that these phases are there for a reason; to challenge you as a player, to challenge you as a person. In looking at these times as opportunities to develop, you build resiliency and a tolerance to withstand even greater challenges. Be sure to surround yourself with positive, tough coaches/players who will keep you accountable. Keep searching, keep grinding, keep moving forward. 

As we end 2016, take some time to reflect on your year and also start mapping out 2017. What do you need to improve? What are your goals? How will you achieve these goals? Where do you want to be a year from now? Good luck and happy training.

Part II: "Why do I play great in practice but poorly in competition?"

Part II: "Why do I play great in practice but poorly in competition?"

Following up on Part I, this post offers insight into developing practice pressure, ways to balance out process and outcomes goals, and creating a more effective practice attitude/mindset. First, a simple quote to get us started:

1) "Pressure is a Privilege"  

Few players ever get to know what it feels like to get tight or "choke", because they are rarely in a position to win! And this is the main point here: look at pressure as something you have EARNED the right to carry. Being in pressure moments is why you train so hard and make sacrifices. Set up your training environment to simulate aspects of competition, with pressure finding its way into your drills and situational point play. You don't compete in a bubble, so why practice in one? 

2) Own the struggle

While it can be a challenge to create pressure in practice, you must learn to perform when something is on the line. No matter how small, find ways to make things competitive. I used to have players each put in $1 and we would play a tiebreaker tournament, winner takes all. It was amazing at how competitive it was, and more importantly, the pressure mounted as the players went through each round. One of my favorite pressure cookers included picking 2 players to play a deciding point/game at the end of each practice. Other players would choose who they thought would win, as well as join in the sprints for the losing team. Be creative and find opportunities to put yourself in a pressure environment.

3) Mini-Goals for Competition

Players play to win, that is no secret. But sometimes this simple goal can be counterproductive or is an easy way out (no accountability for effort, strategy, etc). Going into competition, I always have players write down 2-3 mini-goals, which are bite sized directions for how to achieve the outcome. In doing so, you get to see the athlete's thought process (a potential teaching moment), and the athlete has an opportunity to bridge the gap between practice goals and outcome goals. 

4) Know your mental traps

This is one of the most overlooked areas of a player's mental performance; using practice situations to identify "triggers", or mental traps. I really don't mind when players get frustrated or upset during practice, but I do expect them to start figuring out what sets them off. In my own experience as an athlete, I knew the situations that would drive me crazy and make me lose focus or decrease my intensity. For example, I had issues with players who would take a lot of time in between points. I liked to play fast, so that worked against my natural tendencies. But what I learned was that I needed to do something with that extra time, which for me meant staying active by moving around and staying focused by spinning my racket in my hand (it was a cue for me to stay engaged on the court). Reflect on the things that get you riled up or cause you to lose your focus, and then create your game plan for how to counteract those moments. Use practice for your trial and error process; fail, fail better.

Year in Review: 2016 ASPire Training Camps Set the Tone

Year in Review: 2016 ASPire Training Camps Set the Tone

Wow, what a year 2016 turned out to be! The ASP Team hosted four ASPire Training Camps throughout the year leading up to the nation's top junior and international events. While we still have just under a month left in 2016, we wanted to take the time to reflect on what a great year it has been and what is in store for 2017. 

An Elite Group of Athletes

The group of players we had the pleasure of working with this year brought a wealth of experience and success. As of this writing, the players have achieved the following:

- 3 players earned their first ATP points this year

- ITF Boys Group combined for a climb of 500+ spots

- ITF Girls Group combined for a climb of 350+ spots

- USTA Rankings (year highs) included 5 top 10 players, 8 top 25 players, and 6 top 50 players.

- USTA Clay Court Championships (Gold Ball in singles and doubles)

- 5 National Selection Champions

- 3 National Regional Champions

- 6 College Scholarship commitments to Top 50 DI collegiate tennis programs

ASPire Training for the Total Athlete

The ASP philosophy is to train the total athlete, which means he/she must gain access to elite training on the court, in the gym, and in between the ears. To accomplish this, we developed a curriculum that an aspiring player can relate to and actually incorporate into his/her daily regimen. Here are just a few of the topics we addressed with the players in each performance domain:

On-Court Training

- Practice bookends: Proper training warm-ups and cool-downs

- Purposeful practice sessions (setting and achieving daily goals)

- Situational sets/point play, appropriate strategies

- Doing the work in between points (mental focus cues) 

On- and off-court Conditioning

- Footwork and agility training while on the road

- Fitness assessments, identifying strengths and gaps

- Developing a deeper understanding of a personal conditioning program

- Understanding recovery and periodization for maximum performance


- Professionalism in every performance domain (sacrifice, setting goals, ownership)

- Filling in mental performance gaps (motivation, resiliency, pressure, etc) and how to bring up your bottom end

- Believe. Commit. Execute. The fundamentals of mental performance.

- Mental performance assessments, building a plan to improve your mindset

Looking Forward to 2017

We are in the midst of developing our 2017 training schedule and curriculum, which will feature additional training opportunities and specialized topics for elite athletes. Due to demand, we will be limiting our camps to invite-only, and selection will be based on ranking requirements. If you would like to be considered for these training camps, please email Dr. Brandyn Fisher at brandyn@americansportpsychology.com.

There are still a few weeks left in 2016, so sprint to the line and finish strong!

Part I: "Why do I play great in practice but poorly in competition?" 3 Common Reasons Why.

Part I: "Why do I play great in practice but poorly in competition?" 3 Common Reasons Why.

1) Pressure-free phenomenon. 

Practice environments are primarily free of pressure. As a result, the player is more loose and focused, which usually leads to better performance. Failure is not seen as that big of a deal, which limits the negative thought processes. Practices take on a different meaning; development of new skills, getting reps, practicing habits/routines, etc. 

Part II will take a look at how practice pressure is a necessary part of training, and ways to create a pressure environment.

2) Process > outcome.

Players are more focused on the process-oriented goals, while outcomes take a back seat. The thought process in practice shifts entirely, and players become more engaged with bite-sized chunks of goals rather than the bigger picture. In turn, the mind has more room for developmental processes to take place, and is not clouded by expectations and thoughts of winning/losing.

Part II offers strategies on how to balance process and outcome goals during competition, and effective ways to maintain a growth mindset during performance.

3) Limited stinkin' thinkin'.

Players get frustrated in practice, but generally speaking, the frustration expires after a shorter period of time than in competition. The weight of failure/frustration is not as heavy, which allows the player to move on to the next process. Practice represents an opportunity to "fail", and players are more likely to take chances/risk, or try out new things without negative thought repercussions.

Part II will provide insight on how to bring a practice mindset to competition, and how a player can learn from himself/herself in practice situations to help in matches/games.

3 Ways Champions Succeed in the Face of Adversity

3 Ways Champions Succeed in the Face of Adversity

Adversity is a necessary part of sport. Without challenges there are no opportunities to grow, to learn, to develop. In essence, without adversity where is the fun? Yet many athletes view adversity in a bad light and as a result they are not prepared for when it comes. Below are three ways champions succeed when challenges and adverse situations appear:

1) Champions accept what they can and cannot control. They do not get hung up on things they are unable to do anything about. For example, when they make mistakes, they are able to hit the reset button and move forward. They have trained themselves to let adversity come and go, without it negatively impacting their performance. Instead of trying to control the outcomes, or even the past play, champions remain focused on their own attitude, effort, and emotional response to things that happen on the field or on the the court. 

2) Champions see adversity as an opportunity. Elite athletes seek out challenges because they represent opportunities to overcome obstacles, to persevere, to achieve something greater; in short, the fun is in the struggle. Challenges bring out a champion's competitive spirit, which in turn brings out the best performances.   

3) Champions do the next right thing when faced with adversity. Have you ever seen a great player make a mistake? Sure you have, but watch what they do NEXT. More often than not, elite players find themselves making big plays after poor ones. They move on to the next play and put 100% of themselves into the challenge. Champions do the next right thing, which means putting the past to rest and refocusing on the upcoming opportunity. 



Eliminate the Limitations

Eliminate the Limitations

In my experience working with junior athletes, one of the main reasons why many will never realize their potential is not due to a lack of ability or desire, but rather the limitations that they place on themselves. To be great requires athletes to break the mold and be willing to make sacrifices. But yet, many players create limitations that prevent them from being the best version of themselves. Let's look at ways to break through these limitations and become more committed to achievement.

I Can't Statements are Killers

One of the most de-motivating statements a player can make is "I can't do it." It simply kills the practice or competitive situation. Most players may be able to do it, but they put limits on what they THINK they can do. Instead of going after the goal they protect themselves from the possibility of failure. How can you beat it? Stop the negative thoughts; be willing to fail if it means learning something; surround yourself with positive people; get extra training when everyone else goes home; put yourself in the best possible position to succeed. Change your "I can'ts" into "I cans".

Know Where You are Headed

Another limitation athletes unknowingly put on themselves is not having clearly defined and stated goals. You have to know where the top of the mountain is so you can game plan the correct route. I have yet to meet a successful athlete who did not consistently set goals. Keep it simple, but write them down. Start out with the end result and work backwards; know the destination and then work on creating the directions to get there.

Find Ways to Separate Yourself from the Pack

I have a saying that players need to "break through their fences", which means they have to find ways to grow beyond their current abilities. Players can break through their fences by finding ways to separate themselves from their personal best, as well as everyone else. Commit to doing more of something each day, such as getting an extra hour of sleep, making better choices at restaurants, or making injury prevention a regular part of the day. These little things increase confidence and make the player feel as though he/she is doing something no one else is willing to do. 

Limits exist only if you allow them to exist. Take control of your journey by eliminating the "I can'ts", stating goals, and finding ways to do extra work each day.  


Do you have the "stomach for losing"?

Do you have the "stomach for losing"?

I’m not going to lie, I had some nightmares about this heartbreaking final. You don’t want it to happen again. So I was really focused on going into this match. I really wanted that win.
— Felix Auger-Aliassime (2016 US Open Boy's Champion)

Just a few months ago, Felix Auger-Aliassime had 3 match points in the final of the Junior French Open, where he eventually lost 8-6 in the third set.  Fast forward to September and Felix is a Junior US Open champion at only 16 years old.  This time, the final had little drama, with Felix winning a 6-3, 6-0 match that was never in doubt.  The quote above offers a glimpse into Auger-Aliassime's mindset and motivation and how he used the French Open heartbreak to propel himself forward.

Roll with the Losses

One of the most important skills an athlete needs to have is the ability to roll with the losses and maintain confidence and motivation. As former top 10 ATP player Todd Martin once told me, "If a player wants to be great he has to have the stomach for losing."  Especially in a sport like tennis, where there is only one player who does not lose in a tournament, having the skill of resiliency is what will eventually separate the good from the great.  But like every other skill, building a resiliency for losing must be developed, starting with an understanding of what to take away and what to toss. 

Spend your Losses Like Cash

I have a saying that a player should spend his losses like cash, meaning that he/she needs to find the value (what to learn from the loss) and use the information to move on.  I find that most players hold onto losses way too long and do not focus on the information that really matters (i.e., what needs to improve, how to prevent the mistakes in the future).  Although Auger-Aliassime was holding onto his previous loss in the finals, he directed it in a positive manner; he used it to propel himself to a higher level and take advantage of the next opportunity. In essence, he allowed the loss to motivate himself to be better.  

Put 100% of Yourself into Preparing for the Next Challenge

I shared an article a few weeks ago about former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy and how he handled being fired in Tampa. In short, he talked about turning 100% of his attention and effort to his new team (the Colts). He would use everything he learned (both good and bad) from his time in Tampa to become an even better coach in Indianapolis. This is a great approach and is how I coach players to work through their mistakes and losses; PUT 100% OF YOURSELF INTO PREPARING FOR THE NEXT CHALLENGE. The longer a player stays in the past the less time he/she has to start getting ready for the next match. 

Take control of your training and mindset. The choice is yours how to move on during tough times. Believe in yourself and trust your abilities.


Words of Wisdom from Ivan Lendl

During the US Open Qualifying tournament, Ivan Lendl spent part of his day speaking with several of the top American junior coaches.  Here are a few of the messages he delivered:

Players Must do Their Job; Bring Energy and Motivation Each Day

1) "I have never understood how a player cannot be motivated to train or compete. If I have to motivate the player then it takes time away from doing other things that are more important. The player has to bring his own motivation each day, that way the coach can do his job." 

It's simple, the player's job is to bring his/her own energy and effort each day and the coach's job is to develop a training program and provide guidance. Simply showing up is not good enough. Are you bringing the right energy and effort to your practices each day? Are you self-motivated and hungry to improve? 

Take Advantage of Your Opportunities, and Always Be Looking for Your Chances to Do More

2) "Growing up in Czechoslovakia I had 2 hours of court time.  But I used to wait around the indoor facility and if a player was on vacation or didn't show up I would jump on the court.  I was able to get several more hours of training because of this attitude."

It was clear that Lendl had a unique mindset from a young age and took advantage of the limited opportunities he had in the beginning.  However, he was always searching for ways to do more, even if it meant spending all day waiting for an open court that may never come.  Are you taking advantage of the opportunities you have?  What are you doing to create new/more opportunities to improve?

Work on Bringing your Bottom End Up

3) "If a player has a weakness, he must keep hitting that shot until it's not a weakness anymore."

Lendl discussed how he knew his weaknesses and worked on them regularly to make them better.  For example, he worked really hard on keeping his fitness up so that he wouldn't mind longer rallies or longer matches. Lendl's reputation on tour as one of the most fit players certainly helped play into the mental warfare he waged during the match (i.e., running down every ball, making points physical). What are the areas of your game that define you? What reputation do you have at your level of play?

Surround Yourself With Like-Minded Players/Coaches

4) "In a club there might be a group of players. If one of those players is not working hard or not doing what he needs to do to get better, then everyone suffers. It's better for the club to push that player somewhere else."  

Growing up with motivated and hardworking training partners helped Lendl improve at a remarkable rate. When he had the chance to work with better players or pros, he talked about wanting to have a good practice for the other player.  This is a very different approach than most players bring to the court today; for the most part, players practice only for themselves. Would other players choose to practice with you?  If they would, what are the reasons? If they wouldn't what are the reasons?


Five Take-Aways from the Summer Nationals

After the summer grind be sure to find time to reflect on your tournament competition as a whole. What did you learn about yourself? What did you improve? What do you still need to improve to perform even better? What are new goals you will set moving forward? Similarly, coaches should do the same and be looking for ways to innovate and inspire their players. Below are 5 take-aways from the summer. Enjoy!

1. Be a better player on the last day as compared to the first day. When I travel with players to longer tournaments I am more concerned with how they are improving from day to day, rather than if they are winning or losing.  After a loss, I want to see the player clean things up in practice, and then go out the next day and do better in those areas.  The nationals provide players with plenty of opportunities to go out and fix certain areas from match to match; however, many players get hung up on the outcomes and neglect the process.   

2. The best "player" does not always win. The best "competitor" does. There were some pretty amazing matches this summer and I was impressed with the skill-sets that players have at such a young age.  From technique to tactics, most players at the national level have a solid foundation of skills.  However, technique and tactics did not separate the top players from everyone else, but rather competitiveness did. Competitiveness is an intangible skill, yet it continues to differentiate the good from the great. How long are you willing to fight? Will you work through the adversity and continue believing in yourself? If you want to break through to the next level commit more of yourself to how you are competing rather than how you are hitting the ball.   

3. Hold onto the wins longer; let the losses fade. It was interesting to see how the "wins" seemed to fade away too quickly, meaning that players were quick to move past the successes. However, "losses" remained for a longer period of time, and players were usually unable to move past them before going into the next match. Put the wins in the bank for confidence; use the losses for what you need and then move on. 

4. Commitment to the journey and long-term process is key. I had some great conversations with coaches this summer while watching their players compete.  The common thread was the emphasis on "playing the correct way." This can be very difficult for players and their parents to buy into, especially when the results are slow to come. However, tennis is one of those sports that require a systematic building process in which the player must go through a variety of things before progressing through the levels. Players are not ready to win until they are ready to win; failure is an indicator of the gaps that must be filled before success comes along. 

5. Take more responsibility off the court to find more accountability on the court.  When I travel with players I make them do a lot of things that they may not have to do when traveling with their parents. For instance, I always have players call for court time, buy a can of balls, call the tournament director for match times and locations, and even let the hostess know how big a table we need. While these things may sound trivial, these are opportunities for players to build confidence, get outside their comfort zones, and develop intangible skills that are often overlooked in today's society.  The result? When we return a week later, parents comment on how their child has changed (AKA, matured).  Players, pack your own bags, figure out your match schedule, and communicate what you need; in doing so, you will have a whole new outlook on your tennis.