Dolphin training

A dolphin trainer will either 'accept' or 'reject' a dolphin's behaviour. He will accept behaviour by making a big fuss over it (praise/reward) and reject behaviour by simply ignoring it. Coaching and parenting implications?

Hope your day is good.

Unconquered

Invictus - Latin for 'unconquered':

The poem was written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley whose leg was amputated below the knee at 17 having contracted tuberculosis of the bone. The poem was made famous by Nelson Mandela who recited it to other prisoners on Robben Island and was empowered by its message of self mastery. More lately the line, 'bloody but unbowed', was the Daily Mirror's headline the day after the 7th July London bombings in 2005.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Marc Woods, 4 times to the Paralympics and also an amputee below the knee at 17 recently said: 'Challenge can be dumped on you and you don't choose it, but you can choose your behaviours and response to it.'

Perception is everything isn't it?

The sport of Lawn Tennis

As a little follow on from my blog of yesterday:

'Lawn tennis is one of the good things in the world, one of the things that help and are really worth while. It may sound sententious, and even old-fashioned to begin like that, but the ancient saying about a healthy mind in a healthy body is certainly old-fashioned, invented a very long while ago, and none the worse for that. A strenuous hour on the tennis court in the fresh air and sunshine is magnificent medicine for a pessimist. Sport, exhilaration, pleasure and good exercise are all realised more quickly and conveniently at lawn tennis than in any other way I know; and that it, perhaps, the chief reason why it is my first favourite amongst outdoor games, why I love it and believe in it.'

This taken from Chapter 1 of 'Lawn Tennis - How to improve your game' by Mrs. L. A. Godfree - Women's Singles Champion and Mixed Doubles Champion, 1924 and 1926

Drop that racket head below the ball...

Wind the clock back 30 odd years. That puts me in Tucson, Arizona as a 13 year old, absolutely besotted with tennis. I'm a member of the Tucson Racquet Club, a 33-court tennis, health and fitness centre. The junior programme was run by some great coaches, Gary, Sam, and Mike, and I was lucky enough that my parents could afford for me to have a lesson or two a month and a couple of 'clinics' a week with them.

Other than that though, the rest of my tennis development was up to me and over the next two years I must have racked up over 1500 practice sets, most of them with a crew of my best mates down at the club, but I'd also hustle the better adult men for a set whenever I could. And the thing was this: there were no rating or ranking points riding on these sets, no kudos to be gained or bragging rights - it was just about the tennis, the sheer love of getting out there when the temperature was often well over 100 degrees, hearing the squeak of my shoes on the concrete courts (wrecking my knees in the process for later life though!) and matching my skills and wits against whatever opponent I'd dragged onto court.

I still remember to this day hitting my first topspin backhand lob. It wasn't in a lesson, or a clinic (squad to us over here in Britain) but in one of the countless sets I played against Rog on a Saturday afternoon. We had been watching some US Open highlights in the bar earlier, and inspired raced out onto court 7, the show court! A two minute warm-up at best and we were straight to it. As Rog worked his way into the net behind an approach, I instinctively changed my grip, dropped the racket head below the ball and ripped up the back of it for a perfect lob whilst he stood dumbfounded at net wondering, as I was, where the heck that came from.

So what you're thinking? Well, the key thing here is that I doubt I'd have ever tried that if there was 'more' riding on the match - if rating or ranking points were at stake for example. But this was just Rog and Mike out on court 7 doing our normal weekend thing and with it came the freedom to experiment, to take some risks, to play simply for the sake of playing and in doing so learning more that I could have ever have been taught.

I know the rating/ranking deal is important, but if that's all you're competing for, I wonder if you're limiting your chances, limiting those moments when for the for first time you might just drop that racket head below the ball....

Starting and stopping

This is Gil Reyes (Andre Agassi's trainer) talking in 'Open' - the Agassi Autobiography:

'In don't know anything about tennis, but it seems to me that, by the third step, you'd better be thinking about stopping.  Otherwise, you're going to hit the ball and keep running, which means you'll be out of position for your next shot.  The trick is to throttle down, then hit, then slam on the brakes, then hustle back.  The way I see it, your sport isn't about running, it's about starting and stopping.  You need to focus on building the muscles necessary for starting and stopping.'

Agassi

Two years after everyone else seemed to have read it, I picked up Andre Agassi's Autobiography 'Open' yesterday.  I was never particularly an Andre fan, not because of who he was but more how he played.  I was more Sampras, Becker, Edberg, Rafter than Agassi, Lendl and the baseline brigade.  They say in sales you buy off those you perceive are like you.  Well, I likened myself towards Sampras (I wish!) so Andre became the bad guy, a bit like Fed and Nadal today.

Anyway, cracking read and can't put it down now.  I liked this from the 1st chapter:

'It's no accident, I think, that tennis uses the language of life.  Advantage, service, fault, break, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature......it reminds me of the way seconds become minutes, minutes become hours, and any hour can be our finest.  Or darkest.  It's our choice.'

Federer v Tsonga today at the finals of the ATP World Championships?  Gotta go with the one-hander; you buy from those like you!

Thought for the week - perfection

In his message last night the pastor of our Church last night reminded us: 'If you ever find the perfect Church, don't join it because you'll be messing it up immediately!'. Thought that was a good take and one to bring into daily life. If
you ever find the perfect tennis club, training programme, school, governing body, government, etc. DON'T JOIN 'cause you'll mess it up!!! A nice reminder that life is imperfect, we are imperfect and to expect perfection from yourself or those around you is a tough call.

At the ATP World Championships yesterday Fed and Rafa were by no means perfect, but enough balls in court, enough fighting spirit and they both got the job done. Continuing to strive for your very best effort in all your do on the other hand is another matter entirely.

Have a great week.

Life lessons through sport...

Many of us involved in sport often talk of and sell the idea of 'life lessons' learned through it. This week I was lucky enough to listen to motivational speaker Marc Woods who highlighted a couple of qualities that re-enforce this idea.

In his opinion, athletes are particularly good at:

- receiving feedback
- reviewing performance

Imagine walking into an interview and being asked what qualities you'd bring to an organisation. The ability to receive feedback, especially tough or unwelcome messages and the ability to objectively review one's own performance would have to be behavioural characteristics at the top of any employer's list. An athlete is on the constant end of feedback, whether it's the outcome of a shot or the result of a game, and of course through a coach or significant other. Assuming the athlete is constantly busy getting better, they will also be reviewing every training session or match, looking at what they did well and where improvements can be made. Great life lessons indeed.

Bridges and the rules of learning

Relationships are like bridges - bridges between you and another person, over which messages and communication travels to and fro. These bridges can be measured by the weight of the messages they carry. A 1 ton bridge for example might be a bridge between you and an acquaintance and may only support superficial communication. A 500 ton bridge on the other hand might be that of a stronger relationship, a relationship that can support some pretty weighty messages, even unwelcome ones at times, without the bridge collapsing and the relationship breaking down.

We know that one of the fundamental building blocks or pillars in coaching is that of building relatedness, developing relationships where 'weighty' communication can take place. This takes time, energy, effort and can't be rushed. As the old saying goes, 'they don't care what you know until they know that you care'.

In a similar vein, if behaviour doesn't change in the athletes we are helping to shape, let's challenge our communication first. The 3 rules of learning come into play here:

1. Athletes (people lest we forget!) learn at different speeds
2. They learn in different ways
3. They require a 'desire' to learn

Does our communication take into account these things? Can we adapt our communication and create the environment around our athletes to accommodate them?

And of course, as it always does, this goes beyond the athletic arena and into life, parenting, families and work.

Dominic King - Head of Athlete Development - Everyball International Academy, Halton

Over the few years Dominic King has been heavily involved with the Strength and Conditioning development of many of our top athletes within Everyball International Academy and has worked very hard to create strong links within the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) S&C (Strength and Conditioning) department at the NTC (National Tennis Centre) where he has developed an excellent reputation for the work he has done over the past years with not only our full-time athletes, but also a whole host of emerging younger players as well.  He has been superbly supported by Jon Price (Head of Core Strength Gym) in this, and Jon's leadership has released and enabled Dom to pursue this particular area of delivery that has been so vital to us all.

As we move forwards into 2012 and beyond The Everyball International Academy at Halton is very pleased to appoint Dom as our 'Head of Athlete Development'.  This formalises the current role he already plays, but adds further scope to developing out further support and services to our athletes as we move forwards.

Dom will be the key point of contact for all S&C related activities within EBI and the HPC (High Performance Centre) programme and continue on in close liaison the coaching team with respect to the development of our athletes.

Dom will be giving a presentation, The Role of Strength and Conditioning in the Tennis Journey, on Wednesday 9th November from 5.45 - 6.45 pm in the studio at Halton to which all are welcome. We do hope you can make it, but we will schedule in another date shortly for those who are unable.  A reply back to Mike via e-mail to give us some indication on this would be useful.

Many thanks indeed and may I take this opportunity to thank not only Dom, but Core Strength Gym and all it's practitioners for being such a tremendous support to the tennis here at Halton and EBI.