Create uncomfortable environment for complete improvement

The beauty of tennis is that even one ball can change dramatically situation on the court. We all have experienced many situations which support this fact. Player is leading 6:2 3:0 and everything is going perfect. Every forehand is so accurate that is bringing only winners. Backhand is consistent like never before. Serve is so precise and fast that break points are not possible. Volleys are played like top 10 players in the world. There is nothing what can stop this guy from winning that game. And boom! Player is hitting another winner but opponent is calling out. Player is sure that ball was on the line because even coach stood up with hands placed on the head. However, rival is not eager to change decision. It was out. And it begins. Player is angry and can’t believe that opponent could cheat on this one. Player wants to play more winners to crash him/her down but it results in errors. It doesn’t matter because player wants revenge. 30 minutes later player leaves court after losing 6/1 in final set. Coach asks: “What happened?” The answer can be only one – He/she cheated. These scenarios are so common especially in junior tennis because players can’t let it go. Can we help our students to survive these hard moments? Let’s see.


            Firstly, we have to understand that what happens on court is not a problem with cheating opponent. It is a problem with our player. We can’t change other player but we can work on our students so this is a basic approach. Secondly, we have to choose what area need to be improved. Is it tactical, technical, physical or mental? Of course it is mental and this article shows how to help player to become “-mentally-stronger” athlete. Mental side of every sport is the same like any other; we have to practice it consistently to be sure that this is our strength and rivals won’t use it but they should be afraid of it. Anger management and emotional control are not skills that you can just tell yourself to do. Without many repetitions and many failures, it is not going to work. Coaches can help players to learn how to deal with these situations but it demands understanding and creativity.


At the beginning, player and coach have to understand that “this” is a problem and it is necessary to improve that weakness. Talking with player or watching video from last match are great ways to see what was going on. Many players think that they can improve emotional control in really short period but it is more difficult than it looks like. If player understands this, we are on the first step to success. Next, particular goals is what coach and player should establish. It can be smiling after hitting into the net or turning back and looking at the racket after easy mistake. This approach is simple in drills but it challenges player more when it is performed while playing practice match or tournament battle. This is a great test if player can control emotions while playing and taking care of the score. However, there are many other factors that can ruin mental side too. And coach has to help to create them. Exactly, you read it correctly. Coaches can make up many situations that are real and challenge players during practices. Let’s see them:


Sorry! Can you pass me this ball?


            This scenario is really known especially on tournaments where courts don’t have any fences between them. Players play next to each other and many rallies have to be stopped because of other ball. It looks like easy situation but it can damage many players especially when they have advantage in given rally. The best solution is to just let it go and try to win next rally but it is not so easy. Response to this kind of situation has to be conscious and should be practiced. However, how can we practice things which are not dependent on us? The answer is simple. Coach has to help. Coach is on court while players playing matches so this is an opportunity to train emotional control. Coach has to decide where is the best moment to “accidentally” throw ball on the court. The most important thing is that players can’t see that this action was planned. It has to look like accident because only reality gives players chance to check their mental skills. Many players can’t control their emotions and play on much lower level after these actions. Coach should talk to player after the match and explain him/her what happened after this particular situations but coach should never say that it was planned. It just happened like in a match!


It wasn’t on the line. It was out!


            The second scenario that I would like to talk about is coping with cheating players. As we have all experienced, we don’t have fair calls many times. It can happen because somebody wants to win no matter what or just because he/she can’t see the ball very well. For us, the reason shouldn’t be important because we have to react in the same way. Calmness and playing own tennis are what all players should do after opponent’s call. Player can’t be mad and think only about this decision because it won’t change anything. However, it is easier said than done so players should practice these problems more often. How can they do that? Again, coach is the answer. Many times players ask coach for call after indecisive ball. This is a great opportunity to train and check player’s emotional control by giving point to player who shouldn’t win it. This is a real test and if player can pass it, he/she won’t have any problems during the tournament. Coaches have to remember that this “cheating” can’t be performed many times so it has to be chosen smartly.


            Players can significantly decrease their tennis level because of inability to cope with basic mental situations. Mental side has to be trained like any other area e.g technical or tactical. This process of learning can be facilitated by coach who can make up many helpful situations. Even these situations are not right with own values, they can bring a lot of improvement in player’s mind.