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Coaching advice

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?

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Success is "Intoxicating"

It’s so hard not to get intoxicated with fame.
— Jay Wright, Villanova men's basketball coach

Villanova, who is in the 2016 Final Four for the second time in Wright's career, is poised to win a national championship this coming weekend.  The article is a great example of the ups and downs that coaches, athletes, and teams face in sport, and how success can alter one's mindset and change a winning approach.  Wright's first Final Four appearance was in 2009, which was immediately followed by a few disappointing seasons, full of early tournament losses.  It was during the 2011 off-season that Wright confided in his assistant coach that he did not handle his program's success very well, and that success ultimately changed his approach to recruiting.  Rather than replicate the best-fit recruiting philosophy that led to the 2009 run, Wright made decisions based on best talent, which did not pan out to more wins.    

Success, using Wright's term, can be "intoxicating."  Winning can bring a lot of positive reactions, like increased confidence in one's abilities and increased motivation to continue succeeding.  But winning can also lead to a shift in an athlete's mindset, where the focus is on the success itself and what it brings (social acceptance, financial gain, etc.), rather than the process that went into its development.  The emotional defense mechanisms kick in and there is a temptation to change, to listen to the "noise", to "protect" what you just earned.  These reactions are all normal, but that is where the distinction needs to be; they are only reactions, not habits.  It is important to let success sink in and pull the positives from the experience, but keep your training and thinking habits close and take the time to reflect on what got you there. It's time to set new performance and outcome goals and get back to work.