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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Knowing Your Self is the First Step in Tennis Success

Will Caroline Wozniacki make the necessary adjustments in the off-season to win her first grand slam? Self-awareness may be the key that unlocks her grand slam potential...
FOX’s reality television show American Idol is designed to identify vocal talent that has not yet been unearthed and transform them in to a star. The show has unearthed great talents that have gone on to successful music careers. While listening to these great vocalists can be entertaining often the most entertaining television occurs during the first few weeks of the show as the judges tour the nation to find pop star talent. Contestants often “bomb” as they attempt to be the next Idol. In fact, many of them sadly cannot hold a note. I find myself cringing as they ask for one more shot and the judges are pushing them out the door. So, why would they put themselves out there on national television for Simon (previously) to remark “don’t quit your day job”? For some it is about getting attention. For many others, however, they truly believe they can be the next Idol. Yet their singing is atrocious. Clearly they are lacking self-awareness. You can see it as they have interesting reactions to the failed audition. Some cry hysterically and others are absolutely livid, almost violent, as they realize their dream is being crushed. How couldn't they see this coming?
Similar to talented singers and musicians, great tennis players often have tremendous self-awareness. They have a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. They know when they are attempting to do too much such as using a weaker skill in critical moments of a game. Serena is not likely to hit a drop shot at match point down. She is going to use her big time forehand and serve.
Great players also are realistic and recognize their capabilities and limitations. This does not mean they give up on their dreams or do not try to get better. Instead, they work with and on their limitations. What have we seen from Nadal and Djokovic the last few years in their attempt to dethrone each other and Federer? Nadal used the off-season prior to the 2010 ATP season to improve his serve. Going into 2011 Djokovic, to overcome Federer and Nadal, needed to be more consistent and aggressive. And, he did it. He controlled almost every match this year with his groundstrokes. Furthermore, during matches great players have game plans and strategies to use their “weapons” or strengths against an opponent’s weakness. That is why you will see many tennis players like Steffi Graff run around their backhand to hit inside-out forehands; they are using their “weapon.”
How can you enhance your self-awareness?
  • Listen to Yourself – be aware of your self-talk during matches and practice. Is it positive and productive or negative and unproductive? Also, how do you coach yourself when learning skills or tactics?
  • Listen to & Accept Feedback – sometimes the feedback that coaches, parents, and teammates give us is not fun to hear. However, to be your best you most learn from those around you. Make a commitment to focus on the message, and not on how it is being said.
  • Know Your Blind Spots – talk to others about the things you do that hurt your performance (a hitch in your swing) or relationships with others (a tendency to interrupt others when talking). This requires having a tough skin, but what you can learn helps you avoid acting unintentionally.
  • Watch Video – watching video of past performances can open your eyes whether it is during a slump or just to become more aware of your patterns of behavior in competition. When I watch video of my clients I will spend time looking at their body language, eyes, and routines especially before and after big points and critical changes in momentum.
  • Set Goals – spend time thinking about what you want versus what others want for you. What are your goals? These goals then take top priority in training.
  • Look for Signs During Matches – when and how do you get down on yourself? What are trouble spots when your performance drops? Knowing this allows you to develop a plan to overcome it.
  • Reflect on the Performance Post-Practice and Post-Match – after every game and practice take a few minutes to evaluate what happened in a journal. Ask yourself, did you achieve your goals? Did you follow the game plan? What went well and not so well? What should you work on in practice based on this performance?
Spend time analyzing your performances and you will develop faster. That is, of course, if you are motivated to do the work on the things that are most difficult for you to do in your game.

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