Competition is a choice

Paul Dent and Keith Reynolds in their 'Tennis Coaches Tool Kit' talk in detail about the 'real deal of competitive tennis'. This is based upon the fact that competition is a choice. We choose to put ourselves into the competitive arena – at least I hope we do and that no one is forced to do so! As obvious as this sounds, I'm not entirely sure we all subscribe to this idea. I talk to so many players who walk off court with excuse after excuse. Wind, rain, bad calls by the opponent/umpire/whoever else, the opponent 'zoned,' hit a lucky let-cord on set-point, courts were slippery, too fast, too slow....blah, blah, blah!

What else did you expect?

This is the playing field. If you enter the event you also agree that any/all/none of these things might happen on the day. Acceptance of 'what might happen' at the point of entry makes dealing with tough moments along the way (and they'll happen for sure) much easier.

In accepting what might happen before you step onto the court, I'm reminded of the job advert that the great explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton posted in The Times of London in 1901, calling for volunteers for an Antartic expedition:

'Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.'

Those that made the choice to sail with Shackleton did so with full knowledge of what might happen on the journey. As competitors in a different arena we can do the same and that pre-match inoculation is a vital tool in maintaining emotional control and composure during the inevitable challenges that will present themselves.

Act it out!

I have explored in an earlier blog my thoughts around what it means to be competitive, and one of my 10 key qualities in this is our ability to demonstrate body language that shows confidence, fight, and a 'I can handle anything you throw at me' attitude. Let's just look a little further into this.

As coaches we talk so often about the importance of body language on court and for good reason. We know that thoughts (self talk) move our feelings (emotions/ attitude), and feelings move our behaviour (actions/performance), but it's also important to recognise that this works in reverse as well, so when we act out the appropriate behaviour, we can in turn move our attitude and thinking.
So in this, we need to develop great 'acting ability' as performers. Great actors get us to 'buy' in with our emotions, because the emotions they display are real. There is a direct physiological response to a well acted out behaviour. Therefore, acting out body language that shows confidence, fight and a 'I can handle anything you throw at me' attitude will in turn engender those feelings and thoughts. Walking tall, shoulders back, a clench of the fist or slap of the thigh – these are simple tools to help get those competitive juices flowing, especially on a day when they are not coming naturally.

The best performers, those who meet their own expectations under pressure, are also the best actors. They are so in touch with their own emotions and feelings that they know just when to increase or decrease arousal levels. I would suggest that more often or not this is achieved through well acted out behaviours - body language and breathing being critical in this.

Of course this is not just an 'on the sports field' deal. We can use this day in day out to help lift our attitudes and spirits on days when, well, we just don't feel like it...

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What's your value?

A guy called Rob Bell said this: 'We pick up from a young age from the world around us that it's about winning. It's about impressing. We pick up that our worth and our value and our significance come from how good we are, how smart we are, how skilled, how better, how competent. And we quickly realise that the way to get ahead is to raise yourself up, to take the path of ascent. To climb higher and higher.'

For those of us involved in performance sport there is a tension here - we struggle, work, and fight each day to get better, to improve, and certainly within the realms of professional sport, to improve our chances of winning and earning a living. Yet we probably know deep down that drawing our worth as human beings from this pursuit is fruitless at best and devastating at worst. Establishing worth, value and significance as a person because you are better, stronger, faster, smarter than the next person will increase insecurity and decrease self-esteem. Why? Well, simply put you will be eclipsed or beaten at some stage, NO MATTER WHAT. It's very much like having a fixed mindset in your own ability (when you perceive you have been given 'x' amount of this or that talent) - great if your abilities outweigh those of others, disastrous if they don't. A growth mentality, where potential is seen as the ability to develop skills with effort over time points towards your own personal journey in becoming the best you can be, regardless of anyone else.

So where does our self-worth come from, our significance and our value? Well, I've got a few ideas and thoughts, but perhaps I can leave you this week to consider this for yourself - I'd be interested to hear what you come up with.

Have a great week.

Update from Everyball at Halton

Nice work by Scarlett Hutchinson (pictured below being congratulated by team-mate Lara Hill!!!) who won the regional 'Orange' tournament at Esporta Northwood on the 6th of March playing some smart tennis and serving well.  She won her box by beating Ella Drake, Lara Hill (Everyball/Halton), and Lillian Mould from Warwickshire.  In the semis she beat Naomi Brown and in the final beat Lillian again with a very solid performance.  Excellent work Scarlett - well done!

Also over the weekend a big congratulations to the Bucks Girls U18 County Cup team who gained promotion into Group 2 (out of 7) with wins over Northumberland, Cheshire and Derbyshire.  Alex Clark, Bucks number 1 and and team captain said, 'We fought really hard under pressure and stayed composed in tough situations.  All the girls gave 100% and we had amazing team spirit - the loudest by far!'.  Well done to all the Bucks girls which involved many from Halton's Everyball Academy - Alex Clark, Tor Pisani, Claudia Marsala, Alice Patch, Ruby Brady, Annabel Westermann and Holly Davies (from Milton Keynes David Lloyd but on occasions accesses training with EBI).

Thought for today

There was very interesting article in 'The Times' over the weekend detailing an interview with Dave Alred, the top rugby coach who's now doing some work with Luke Donald, the golfer.

'Donald was ranked 29th in the world when he started working with Alred 13 months ago. He is now ranked No. 3. "Is he going to make No 1?" asks the journalist. "I don't know," replies Alred. "He's too busy getting better to worry about that."

Hmmmmm.......!

What comes first? Process or result. I think we know the answer. Can we put it into practice?

U18 County Cup

Congratulations and good luck to the following Everyball players who have been selected to compete for Buckinghamshire in the LTA U18 County Cup.

Boys: Group 2 in Redbridge - Tom Miller, Jack Mordey, Owen Richards, Gavin Mckinlay, James Gammell

Girls: group 3 in Sheffield - Alex Clark, Tor Pisani, Claudia Marsala, Ruby Brady, Alice Patch, Annabel Westermann and Holly Davies (who accesses EBI training on occasions)

Have a great weekend and good luck all!

Katy makes good start in SA

Everyball player Katy Dunne made a good start today in the ITF Grade 2 event in Potschefstroom, South African.  She beat Swiss player Gaelle Rey 6.3, 6-3, and will play IIze Hattingh from South Africa tomorrow.  Great job K and good luck for the morning!

Michael Shaw wins Batchwood Grade 3

Congratulations to Everyball player Michael Shaw (pictured below) who won the Batchwood Grade 3 12&U Boys Event in St. Albans last week. Michael beat Cameron Bowie 7-5, 6-4 in a gritty final. James Morgan, individual coach to Michael commented: 'Michael had to battle the whole way for this, but as ever his attitude and effort were first class - he simply does what it says on the tin!' Great job Michael and keep up the good work - the major efforts you are making will continue to pay off. Good luck also to Katy Dunne who plays her first match tomorrow in South Africa in the first of 2 Grade 2 18&U ITF events. Katy is travelling with LTA Coach Jane O'Donaghue who reports that Katy is 'more than ready to play!' Chomping at the bit hey Katy - that's what we want to hear!

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.