What a great target!

I was reminded today of the story of David and Goliath. Here was a small shepherd boy going up against the mighty giant of the Philistine army - a man that no Israelite dared to confront. What on earth was going through David's mind as he stood before his adversary? You could bet it was something along the lines of, 'What a great target! Look at the size of his forehead!'. Don't you just love that type of thinking? It was an excellent way for David to focus his 'mind's eye'. George Kohlrieser in his book 'Hostage at the table' writes: 'The mind's eye makes it possible to achieve just about anything we want - the important element is to focus on the positive outcome.....If a child is told, 'Don't spill the milk,' he or she will probably spill the milk. Or, if she or he hears, 'Don't fall off of your bike,' the child will probably fall off the bike. Why does this happen? Research has demonstrated that the brain uses pictures as a primary way of getting the mind's eye to focus. So what is the picture a person gets? An image of spilling milk. An image of falling off the bike.'

We've all experienced this to some degree whether on court, the golf course, football pitch or giving a presentation at work. On a particular golf course I sometimes play, I often find myself firing straight into the lake or bank of trees that I'm so keen to avoid - another great demonstration of the power of the mind's eye.

Young David knew all of this over 2000 years ago. His focus was on the ample size of Goliath's forehead which he would target with his sling, rather on the potentially less appealing outcomes of his encounter which he could easily have got carried away with.

On what will your mind's eye be focused on this week - the barrier or the positive outcome?

Barbados

Just spent a lovely week with the family in sunny Barbados. Wonderful rest and relaxation, sea was beautiful and the people so friendly.

During the week I was privileged to be invited to run a clinic for the Barbados Tennis Association and 40-50 of their up and coming juniors. I say privileged because of the attitude of the association and the players and their parents and of course the coaches. They were so grateful and appreciative of a little further support and some different ideas to continue to fuel the fantastic work that they are already doing.

Being a non-profit organization and the Council or Executive consisting of volunteers, the Association is dependent on the Government of Barbados, the Barbados Olympic Association, the International Tennis Federation and the private sector for financial assistance, in addition to its members to assist with projects and programmes. The assistance is minimal - far less than any single High Performance Centre in Great Britain, but the output is fantastic - loads of young players just loving hitting a tennis ball and being involved in our super sport as well as some with real performance potential led by Darian King who finished last year in the top 50 ITF 18&U world rankings and is now has an ATP senior ranking of 1235. No doubt some lessons for us here I believe around managing our resources to inspire that real hunger to achieve.

The Clinic began in the rain, but soon enough the courts were dry and the kids were out there hitting balls!

The "Home of Tennis" - the National Tennis Centre - has great potential in the development of the sport and is increasingly becoming recognized. However, the Association is aware that a massive financial investment must be made to raise the standard of the game and to enable the Association to fulfill its mandate.

Thank you all for your wonderful hospitality and good luck! Hope to see you again soon.

Further success at Halton's Everyball International Academy

Well done to Jack Molloy who matched the feat of his training partner Sam Gough in winning the 12&U Regional Indoor Event at Bucks Indoor Tennis Centre, High Wycombe over the weekend. By accounts, Jack put in 6 solid performances to win the event, but hungry to keep improving his game further he was back out on the training court and in the gym this week. Hear his interview here.

Sam Gough picks up tourney win

Congratulations to Halton's EveryBall International Academy player Sam Gough (pictured on the right with his winner's medal) who won the Winter Regional 12&U Tournament at Leeds Met University, Carnegie this weekend. Sam beat George Baird (number 1 seed and 4 in UK at 11&U) in the final. Already ranked 8 in GB at 11&U this win should see him rise even higher in the next published rankings. Even more important however is the fact that Sam has made ever increasing improvements in his game over the last few months and has focused well on what he can control - effort and attitude. Well done Sam.

Power versus.......

Just back from tutoring in Nottingham on the LTA Senior Performance Coach Course. 3 good days with the course candidates - plenty of debate, discussion, learning and challenge for us all.

Been a few days since the last post so a few thoughts.... 

With modern technology (balls, rackets, court surfaces), the increased physical fitness of the competitive player, and the advances in biomechanics, tennis has moved on incredibly in terms of power generation, but is it truly a power sport? The case is strong, but perhaps consistency, accuracy and precision are still the more dominant factors. 

Shot-put is a 'power' sport - you only have to get it right once to win Olympic Gold, whereas in tennis you've got to get it right over and over again with great precision, timing and accuracy. In this sense, it is truly a game of black and white - either the ball is in or out, either you are 'in' position to execute effectively or you're not. Power only becomes relevant within the boundaries of consistency and accuracy.

So what are the implications for us as coaches working with young players? Do players develop power first and then add the necessary control or the other way round? Perhaps it doesn't matter which side of the argument you fall, but ultimately to understand the relationship between power and accuracy/control to help produce a consistent result shot after shot is vitally important. The ability to perceive the flight of the incoming ball, prepare body, feet and racket accordingly, time the contact point and manage the racket face to perfection creates a hugely demanding feat of co-ordination and precision.

Yet our game is also full of gray areas, and these tend to be around the 'decision' making process. Whilst receiving the oncoming ball, a player has to choose the correct shot from a number of different options based around his/her court position, strengths/weaknesses, the quality of the oncoming ball, and the position of the opponent and his/her strengths weaknesses. And these decisions need to be made again and again and again with different variables thrown in at any given time - scoreboard pressure, nerves, etc, etc.

Prepared to commit to fight for every ball? You need to be!

It's all in the analysis

Observation and analysis are two words that often get thrown together to mean one, or with a stroke in-between to say they might be a bit different but no-one really knows the difference! A bit like vision/mission, aims/objectives, strategy/tactics and any others you care to come up with!

I like this simple definition. Observation is the 'what' you see/record. For example, Kathrin Woerle (Germany and pictured below) against Victoria Azarenka in their first round Aussie Open encounter had a winning first serve percentage of 41% (11/27). Fact.

The analysis is the 'why' which of course can be far more open to debate. Anything from attitude, injury, poor technique, great returning from Azarenka could be reasons why. Coaches and players alike need to be keen observers. But observing is not enough - becoming excellent analysts is vital, both to on-court mid-correction and post-match analysis and improvement.

Might be an idea to practice that this week. What do you see happening? Can you be specific and measure this? Then ask yourself why it's happening and see where your analysis takes you, because it's only in the analysis that we can actually begin to seek solutions to getting better.

An inspired man once wrote....

Many centuries ago, an inspired man wrote that one who guides a plow does not look back, or by inference, into the immense distance - but to the next step that must be taken. Pretty wise words I think. We all can look back to past results or behaviour and feel disappointed. We can also look too far ahead and feel overwhelmed. But if we just look towards the next step that has to be taken and break things down into manageable chunks we can actually see, feel and measure progress, making the biggest of challenges achievable.

That's part of the 'everyball' ethos - the ability to focus on the next ball, not the one before or the one after, but the one in front of you RIGHT now. As a kid growing up in Kenya I remember heading back to boarding school after the holidays. During some rather emotional good-byes, my Dad would often say, 'Mike, keep your eye on the ball'. It was his way of saying, 'one day at a time son, stay focused, don't look back nor too far forward but just on the ball that's in your court.'

Have a great week.

Right versus well

I was talking to a parent of one of our top youngsters today about the difference between wanting to do things 'right' or 'well'.

Doing things 'right' could mean conforming to a recognised belief about how something should be done, whereas doing things 'well' can mean simply being more effective with what you do with the ball. There are countless examples of players impacting their sport in significant ways by doing things well as opposed to right. Borg with his table tennis style, open stance groundstrokes, Rafa with his over-the-head finish on his forehand, Steffi Graf with her late contact point on the same wing. Did Donald Bradman (below) the famous Aussie cricketer play with a cross-bat much of the time, so good was his eye?

Aiming to do things right is admirable and I applaud it. By aiming to do things well you may just become a trail-blazer.

Mistakes!

I was listening to Kris Soutar, one of my co-tutors on the LTA SPC course in Nottingham, present to candidates last week. He mentioned that in figure-skating the very best of the best fall more often in training than their competitors. Why? Because the top skaters are constantly challenging themselves at that sweet spot on the very edge of their ability where reach is continually exceeded by grasp. Learning really takes off when we understand the value of making mistakes - our emotional response to them as being helpful and providing direction as opposed to them being a challenge to a fixed view of our ability/talent. A toddler learns to walk by eyeing up the sofa on the other side of the living room and makes those first tentative steps into the unknown. At the first fall she doesn't think, 'Oh, I'm no good at this!!', she just gets up, re-sets her sights and tries again, somehow learning from each fall until mission is accomplished. At what point then did we start to link errors with failure or lack of ability?

Everyball players make their mark in 'home' event

A number of Everyball players made their mark on the LTA Grade 3 Event held at Halton between Christmas and New Year.

Congratulations to the following players: Alexa Wilson (Winner, U8 Red event), Daniel Dean (Finalist, Orange), Imogen Scarles (Winner, U10 Girls), Oscar Glenister (U12 Boys semi-finalist), Jake Williams (U12 Boys semi-finalist), Jack Malloy (Finalist, U12 Boys), Sam Gough (Winner, U12 Boys), Alex Fage (Winner, U14 Boys).

Special mention to Alex Fage who had a couple of great wins in the semis and finals and in doing so demonstrated that solid, disciplined tennis combined with a great attitude and competitive spirit can take you a long way. The U12 Boys final was also of the highest quality with Sam Gough and Jack Malloy both playing towards the top of their games with some enthralling points.

Well done to all players taking part. Pictured below - Sam Gough and Jack Malloy receiving their trophies (great creative trophies by '5 star trophies') and prizes kindly donated by the Royal Air Force. Thanks very much to Sarah Tricks, Camilla Hayward, James Morgan and their helpers for such a well organised event.