Can you teach it??

In 2019 I very much hope to bring out a new edition of my book 'Everyball' Reflections, anecdotes and observations from a life in tennis aimed to tool you up for the game of life! first published by Panoma Press LTD in 2016.  It would present a wonderful opportunity to extend my thinking, explore a few more ideas and tell some more stories, and particularly work on the bits that make me cringe when I read them over again now!  I guess that's a writer's curse - never being happy with what you've done!

Anyway, driving home last night listening to some football punditry on the radio extolling the virtues of Liverpool player Mohamed Salah, the discussion touched on the nature versus nurture debate, what you can teach, what you can't, what God put in and what God left out.

This was a subject I explored in Chapter 19 of Everyball, 'Can you teach it?' and here is a short excerpt:

My own position is that we do indeed ‘arrive’ with a certain genetic (natural) starting point and with the same amount of quality practice and exposure to a sport, not everyone will get to the same level, unlike the now well-known 10,000-hour rule might imply. By the way, Epstein stresses it was never called a ‘rule’ by K. Anders Ericsson in his paper ‘The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance’ and it frustrates me when advocates of early specialisation in sport use this argument to win business for their programmes. I also maintain these different genetic starting points can be both physical and mental and even the ability to practice may have genetic influences.

But practice of course, makes what? Yes, permanent! Not perfect, so be careful what you practice! And I’m a great believer in practice and that with real persistence over time kids can indeed develop a high skill level and, at the very least, become the very best they can be, within their own genetic framework. There is also a very strong link here to passion, and my understanding that passion for a sport does not come as some lightning bolt out of the sky, but from a position of where a child is introduced to a game, struggles and wrestles with it and in persistently doing so, develops a love and passion for it.

As parents and coaches therefore, it’s so important to be aware what our kids are attracted to and what they in turn become passionate about, as before we begin any discussion on talent, ability, deep practice and the like, a love and passion for what you do must come first.

Look at Federer now at almost 35 years old and Serena at 33. Above and beyond all their gifts and talent, whether natural or nurtured, they love the sport, they love competing, they love the journey of continuous and never- ending improvement.

To support this we have posted the following quote attributed to Roger Federer on an outside wall leading to the courts at Halton:

Sometimes you’re just happy playing. Some people, some media, unfortunately, don’t understand that it’s okay just to play tennis and enjoy it. They always think you have to win everything, it always needs to be a success story, and it’s not, obviously, what is the point? Maybe you have to go back and think why have I started playing tennis? Because I just like it. It’s actually sort of a dream hobby that became somewhat of a job. Some people just don’t get that, ever.

Everyball, everyday, for everybody. Come on and join us!

The compassion of a hardwood warrior - the coaching philosophy of Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson knew how to win.  In fact, he's the winningest coach in NBA history with 11 NBA Championships, 6 with the Chicago Bulls and a certain Michael Jordan, and five subsequently with the LA Lakers. He is the only coach who has won multiple championships with more than one team.

Yet, the one word that seems to underline his philosophy more than any other and flies in the face of the macho world of the NBA (and perhaps much of male professional sport) is 'compassion'.   In his book 'Sacred Hoops - spiritual lessons of a hardwood warrior' he writes:

'Compassion is not exactly the first quality one looks for in a player.  But as my practice matured, I began to appreciate the importance of playing with an open heart.  Love is the force that ignites the spirit and binds teams together.  Obviously, there's an intellectual component to playing basketball.  Strategy is important.  But once you've done the mental work, there comes a point when you have to throw yourself into the action and put your heart on the line.  That means not only being brave, but also being compassionate, toward yourself, your teammates, and your opponents.'

And whilst he was a serial winner, he was not obsessed with the winning:

'Eventually, everybody loses, ages, changes.  And small triumphs - a great play, a moment of true sportsmanship - count, even though you may not win the game.  As strange as it may seem, being able to accept change or defeat with equanimity gives you freedom to go out on the floor and give the game your all.

I used to believe that the day I could accept defeat was the day I would have to give up my job.  But losing is as integral a part of the dance as winning.  Buddhism teaches us that by accepting death, you discover life.  Similarly, only by acknowledging the possibility of defeat can you fully experience the joy of competition.  Our culture would have us believe that being able to accept loss is tantamount to setting yourself up to lose.  But not everyone can win all the time; obsessing about winning adds an unnecessary layer of pressure that constricts body and spirit and, ultimately, robs you of the freedom to do your best.'

Improve your shoulder-high attack forehand with these super 7 tips!

1.  Contact point will be further out in front of your body, prepare early and space yourself with great footwork with this in mind

2.  Hitting shoulder will be 5-10 degrees in front of your non-hitting shoulder at contact

3.  Get your body mechanics right: 'turn and hit' rather than 'hit and turn' - body comes through first (legs > hips > torso > shoulder > arm > elbow > wrist)

4.  'Throw the elbow' at the ball - creates lag and racket speed at the right moment just prior to contact

5.  Speed up the body on contact (rather than trying to find too much racket speed from too far out)

6.  Be courageous and be prepared to miss some - go after the ball and get used to committing to the shot!

7.  What's your next move?  Never play a shot in isolation and think about how you are going to follow up