Being competitive

For the last couple of weeks we (at the academy) have spent a lot of time discussing what being 'competitive' means and the behaviours associated with being so:

1. Going as far as we can using all that we've got on a given day
2. Fighting hard from tough positions knowing there is always a way back
3. Running down everyball, no matter what the situation/circumstance
4. Focusing on helpful attentional material - match goals, in between point routines etc
5. Catching negative thoughts (self-talk) and re-framing with positive ones; change the thought change the feeling mentality
6. Keeping/remembering score and calling the lines accurately (not giving points away but being fair)
7. Body language that shows confidence, fight, and a 'I can handle anything you throw at me' attitude
8. Attending to errors; figuring out why we missed and looking to make necessary adjustments
9. Demonstrating that competition is a privilege and that as performers we meet our own expectations under pressure
10. Demonstrating that it is my choice to compete and I'm aware of the possible 'triumph' or 'disaster' that may result!

Over the next few days I'll be exploring these points a little further so I hope you'll read on. Hope you're having a good weekend.

If at first you don't succeed.....

Did you know that Darwin and Tolstoy were considered ordinary children? That Ben Hogan, one of the greatest golfers of all time, was completely uncoordinated as a child? That the photographer Cindy Sherman, who has been on virtually every list of the most important artists of the twentieth century, failed her first photography course? That Geraldine Page, one of our greatest actresses, was advised to give it up for lack of talent? (Mindset, Dr. Carol Dweck)

A person's true potential is unknown and it's impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.

Let's just focus on that word 'toil' for a moment. I think toil is linked with 'error' and 'failure', two words that seem to carry negative connotation. But can we see error and failure in a different light? Can we actually turn them into a gift?

We believe that intellectual and physical skills can be developed through effort, so let's not be discouraged by failure, let's not even think we are failing, but instead let's think we are learning and through our errors and failures, 'scaffolding' ourselves up to higher levels. That's why we 'fight for every ball' - the language of 'effort' helps us to identify with the ground level struggle of failing, correcting, trying again, failing, correcting..... The philosophy of 'Everyball' (and the name given to our Academy at Halton Tennis Centre) is a call to arms, a philosophy to inspire greater effort, deeper practice and improved performance both on and off the court.

As everyball players we fight with our heads, hearts and legs. We make smart decisions and play with purpose and clear intention, we are courageous, resolute and determined, and we have the physical condition to run every last ball down. As performers we seek to live up to our own expectations under pressure, and we understand that our 'potential' is our capacity to develop our skills with effort over time (see Mindset again).

As everyball people we seize each day with integrity, courage and creativity. We seek to embrace discomfort and we take each day as an opportunity to grow and improve, meeting head-on the full range of life experience.

Committed to change?

As coaches we seek to 'sell' change. As players, we hope we are able to embrace that change to improve, but real change only takes place with 'absolute commitment.' Absolute commitment means we will do whatever is needed to create the desired results. We will use creativity, courage and persistence to deal with problems and obstacles. Where does commitment begin then? Larry Wilson in 'Play to Win' outlines 5 levels of commitment beginning with 'passive interest' where we show no resistance to the idea or the desired results, but we are unwilling to change. We then move into 'active interest' where we find value in the plan, it sounds sensible and agreeable but we don't initiate actions that would start us down the path. 'Compliance' suggests we do what is asked but don't have the energy to motivate ourselves. 'Qualified' commitment shows we are positive and focused on the plan, we willingly move forward, but we may be overwhelmed by obstacles leading to slow progress or a complete stop. We are committed, but not at a sufficient level to overcome problems and obstacles. Only Absolute commitment leads to lasting change. Want change? Then check your commitment levels first - they'll be a great indicator as to how successful you might be in developing that new behaviour.

More from Miss Dunne on tour in Asia

Hey, I thought as you had put up the blog of my match I might give you one for pre-tourney, like plane journey and dares and what not cos those are the funny bits!!
I'll try do my best with the computer cos it's a japanese one so really weird!!

So here goes....

We left Wednesday morning from heathrow airport. Before the flight we had to make sure we had enough food to last the epic 27 hour journey so we all bombarded into Eat (type of sandwich place). So all of us got a good quantity of food, bar the one, who went overboard on the stocks...of course it was Pippa Horn, who made sure she had one massive baguette, 2 packs of sandwiches, bag of crisps, banana, pot of fruit, big bar of chocolate and of course a muffin (the girl eats like a horse!!) though this wasn't enough for her as she lapped up the plane food as well! During the flight some managed to get some sleep but others (unfortunately me) couldn't manage it :/ though finally I fell asleep for 5 hours during our wait for the connecting flight!!
So finally landed in Japan at 6.30 Friday evening to the awaiting darkness (goes dark here so early!) and found our way to the hotel where I went straight to bed.

First day of practice and were all gagging to have a run about after the journey. Half an hour in and disaster strikes....Pippa (my doubles partner) fell on a ball about 8 metres behind the baseline and couldn't get up as her ankle had swollen to the size of a tennis off to the hospital she went (she managed to find herself there the last three trips!!) Myself, Fran Stephenson and Lucy Brown finished our practice and went back to the hotel for a shower where we found Pippa on crutches with a cast on her leg...bang goes my doubles partner.

The day before matches and were all pretty bored of waiting around so we go to the local park for a chill out and game of dares which starts pretty light, with dares that just make us look plain stupid but then they got a bit more intense. We dare Lucy to go and ask these two Japanese kids to use their ball while their eating their lunch....first dare complete. But then we thought we would make the stakes a bit higher with Lucy having to go across the park by herself and interrupt some adults skipping by running in and start skipping with them. Which of course she did and found it so fun she ran over and got me and we skipped with them for 10 minutes...very funny i guess you had to be there to understand it!! But safe to say we have made some japanese friends!

....And then there was match day which you already received.

Note: Katy won her first round doubles match today

Update from Katy Dunne in Japan

Everyball International Academy's Katy Dunne (15 years old, ITF 18&U world ranking of 210) lost first round today in Osaka (Grade A ITF World ranking tournament) to Japan's Rio Kitagawa (14th seed and ranked 103) 6-4, 6-4.

Katy writes: 'Looking to the future.....big lesson of the day is stick to my game and not be dragged into someone else's...respect it but then destroy it. I know that I am right there and can compete at this level even on a slightly off day; just a smidge to go and it will flow ;-) Today my opponent got away lightly though others will suffer the consequences of what I've learned today. Dragged Jane back out onto the practice court late this evening in the dark to get out and strike the ball, maintain my court position and do what I do best!'

Love the response here Katy to a tough first round loss - shows a great 'growth' mentality and clear vision of how you want to play.

Shanghai Masters

As much as I love Federer, Murray just looked too tough today in the finals of Shanghai. Loved Murray's quote in his post-match interview: 'My second serve has improved loads since the beginning of the year'. Almost sounds like he was saying to Rog, 'If I had a second serve in Australia the title would have been mine'. This is strong labeling - he's putting a message out there that his second serve is so tough now you can't get on it anymore, and also a great example of his commitment to the value of constant and never-ending improvement.

The rules of results (a re-blog of a post from 18 months ago or so) - Sampras had the right idea!

A few quotes out of the Pete Sampras autobiography A Champion's Mind

'To us, it was about playing the 'right' way, trying to develop a game that would hold up throughout my career......some of those juniors didn't think long term, they lived and died by their daily results, ignoring the fact that what worked in the juniors wouldn't necessarily be useful on the pro tour.'

'By putting pressure on myself to develop a great game, I had less pressure to win.  These days, I tell kids that the way I grew up, it wasn't about winning.  It was about playing well, about playing the 'right' way.  That approach helped me enjoy the game and develop mine to its maximum potential.'

'....I learned to lose.  A champion is supposed to hate to lose, and it wasn't like I was ever crazy about the idea.  But I learned to deal without having my spirit or confidence broken, which would help me immensely over time, not just in the big picture but even in specific matches when I found myself in a jam.  Fear of losing is a terrible thing.'

How do these relate to the current competitive climate in junior tennis and the practice of working the system by getting your wins (to go up a rating) and then opting out of competition until the next rating run.   

Whilst understanding the motivation behind this (needing the rating to get 'into' quality competition) it seems to fly in the face of developing a winning culture in British Tennis and in fact re-enforces a 'play not to lose, fear of failure' mentality.   You've got to learn to lose and the value in competing when there is more on the line (ie: your rating) is massive.  Performers are those who meeting their own expectations under pressure. Stepping out at this point robs you of the opportunity to learn and develop further and sends out the wrong signals about what competition is all about.  Interestingly enough, by opting out of competition when you've got your 'wins' also robs you of gaining further 'ranking' points which internationally is a much more relevant currency (and now gaining greater importance in the UK with things such as the LTA Player Matrix).  

The rules of results might help in this:

1.  You can't control the results you get - the real world is full of outside influences, multiple variables, and random events.  Try as we may, we can't control anything 'external' to us, although we may be able to 'influence' such things.
2.  The results you are getting are the results you should be getting - when a player says, 'I should have won', he/she actually means, 'I could have won if I'd done something differently'.
3.  If you want to change the results you are getting, you have to do something differently

Particularly relevant to this is rule number 2 - the results you are getting are the results you should be getting.  In other words, if you're good enough, your rating and ranking will improve and it's vital to put yourself and your game on the line in this regard.

Ultimately, we would like to develop competitors who are trying to develop 'great games', without fear of losing and who view competition as an opportunity to test their skills on a consistent basis.  Yes, improving rating and ranking has to be a goal, but the manner of how that goal is achieved has great implications on a player's future mindset, both on and off the court.

The refiner's fire

'No man can climb beyond the limitations of his own character' (unknown)

If the above quote is true, those of us with a desire to get better 'results' ought to invest more into developing our 'characters'.

How do we do that?

Well, an inspired man once wrote that in order to develop our character we need to learn to persevere, and to develop perseverance we need to 'suffer'. Hmmm, doesn't sound like too much fun does it, but this can help us make some sense of those times that all athletes will spend in the 'wilderness'. This might mean a bad run of results or really struggling to find the motivation to continue to train day in day out with the right intensity and commitment. It might mean being out for months with an injury or being on the receiving end of a poor ratings/rankings decision. Whatever your wilderness experience has or is going to be, you can be sure that it will be a period in which your 'character' is developed. In my opinion 'character' is a key requirement to help you through those critical moments in competition, so let's look to welcome those opportunities we have to suffer just a little!

Even gold is subject to the refiner's fire, so character forming wilderness experiences ought to be treasured! Counter-culture thinking, but what else did you expect?! Oh, and that inspired man goes on to say that the end product of suffering, perseverance, and character is HOPE, or in our context as athletes an OPTIMISTIC view of the future and what we can achieve.

Call your child talented?

It has been said that one of the cruelest things you can do to your child is call them 'talented'.  Daniel Coyle writes is his book the Talent Code: 'When we praise children for their intelligence (talent), we tell them that's the name of the game: look smart, don't risk making mistakes....we are exquisitely attuned to messages telling us what is valued, and true to findings, each of the (talent) hotbeds I visited used language that affirmed the value of effort and slow progress rather than innate talent or intelligence.  As Spartak, for instance, they did not 'play' tennis - they preferred the verb borot'sya - 'fight' or 'struggle'.  Coyle continues: 'The truth is, when you are starting out, you do not 'play' tennis, you struggle and fight and pay attention and slowly get better.  Effort based language works because it speaks directly to the core of the learning experience'.

A child who is constantly told how good/clever/talented they are will begin to develop a 'fixed' mindset (Mindset, Dr. Carol Dweck) about their abilities and then spend the rest of their lives trying to validate them.  Every 'challenge' becomes a major validation of their fixed 'talent' and failure is disastrous.  Far better to not even 'try' (tanking as it's known in tennis) than actually put my 'talent' on the line. The growth or effort based mindset sees failure as a necessary part of the learning process and is in fact welcomed.

Observe your language and the language around you - is if effort based? Fight for everyball!

Value-based coaching; Commit to fight for every ball

Last week I asked a number of our players what they understood by a 'value'.  Getting some rather vague replies I asked whether 'family' was important to them.  Naturally their reply was 'yes, of course!'.  I probed further by asking how they demonstrate that family is important to them.  The answers were numerous ranging from eating meals together round the table and playing the Wii together.  We decided that a value was something in which we place great importance on and is backed up by certain behaviours.  When we don't demonstrate behaviours to support a particular value, the value is compromised, and so are our emotions – we feel bad.

It's the same as saying, 'you'll only do what's important to you'.  I've long since been in love with the idea of playing the guitar, but since being lent one by a colleague three years ago, I've only picked it up once!  Why?  Because I only like the idea, I'm not fully committed to it and have not built a 'value' around doing so.

At our academy, one of our key values is our commitment to fight for every ball – so much so that we've named our Academy after it.  Fighting for every ball – head, heart and legs.  We fight with our heads by making smart decisions, we fight with our heart with a Nadal like 'never give up' attitude and we fight with our legs by being in the best possible physical shape to compete.  Running down every ball, no matter where it lands, getting up to the top of the bounce and recovering appropriately after each shot are key ingredients in our value of fighting for everyball.

Perhaps all this is obvious – doesn't every player do that? The answer is no. Why? Because just like me and my guitar, it all sounds nice, but the reality of doing so on an everyday, consistent basis is much tougher.  Therefore, as coaches we work hard to help our players build a true value around 'fighting for every ball' – this is in my opinion THE key coaching skill and one that challenges and stretches us day in day out.

In fact, change in any dimension is far better supported by building a value around the change you are making.  Building a value around use of the chopper grip will help your player 'buy in' to that change far quicker than if you just teach the chopper grip.  Creating values creates buy in, and buy in means a steeper learning curve and greater improvement.

When I see one of our players not getting up to the ball or allowing it to bounce twice without maximum effort to get there, a key value is being compromised, and as the leader of the organisation I feel this deeply.  What are your values and can you be more of a value-based coach?