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Mental training

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.

Busting through the pecking order

For first-timers at this summer's super national events, being able to break through the
"established order" of rankings and seedings is a big challenge. Create the mindset of breaking up the pecking order with the following tips:

1) Trust your training. Take confidence from the hours of hard work you have been putting in over the last several weeks and months.  All the sweat, pain, and struggle has built your skills and toughness; now you have to use your training as a means of building your confidence.

2) Play with pressure, play to win. A player who states they are going to play "pressure-free" does not truly believe he/she can win.  If you play pressure-free, what happens when you find yourself in a position to close it out? Will you be ready to take on the pressure when it does come?  

3) Extend the match to add pressure. Good things happen when you can extend the match while playing from behind.  The longer you can keep your opponent on the court the better, especially when he/she is favored. 

4) Own the court, present strength. When you do something good, do something good; display body language of a confident player who believes he/she can win. Walk around the court with purpose; jog to and from the bench on changeovers; execute your routines between points. 

Good luck this summer and find your new position in the pecking order.