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Friday, March 28, 2008

Coaches Q and A: How Important is Winning?

In this edition of Coaches Q an A, Harold Solomon of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida responds to a question on the importance of winning on the junior level.

Q.Many coaches tell their students that focusing on winning is not in their long term best interests; what do you think?

A. I have a different perspective on winning than some other people in our profession. In my opinion it is ridiculous to ignore that the intention of tennis players when they compete in tournament play is to win. I don't see anything wrong with having that intention every time you walk on the court if you are thinking correctly about winning.
Questions to ask while on the court
I think that every player's job when they walk on the court is to figure out how they can use the various parts of their game in order to be successful on the court against each and every opponent. In order to do that each player must constantly ask themselves questions. I am always in a dialogue with myself asking what's working and what's not working.
What does my opponent like and what doesn't he like?
How is he hurting me?
Does he like high balls, does he like slices, how is he at the net?
Am I effective when I go behind him, does he like pace, does he have a serving pattern?
Am I varying my serves, how is the depth of my shots, how can I use the wind to my advantage?
Is he slow, are drop shots effective?
The love of competition
I ask all of these questions so that I can be effective and so that I can come out the winner at the end of the match. Some matches I may have to resort to just moon balling to be effective, some matches I might come in on everything; my job out there is to do whatever I have to do within the rules of the game to be effective. Most importantly, I have to love the competition, I have to thrive in that environment. I am not afraid of competing, it's what I live for. My job is to push myself, to test myself, to challenge myself. On the other hand, if I incapacitate myself with the fear of losing, then I am not focused on winning. I am trying to avoid losing, which is a whole different way of thinking and one that will set me back, not push me ahead.
Finding the right level
Winning breeds winning; learning how to win is a skill that has to be developed with success. Too often I find parents or coaches have their children or students play the majority of their matches in age groups where they have little or no chance of being successful, under the theory that playing older and better players is the best thing for their development. I have personally seen too many of these players forget how to win, forget what it takes to win seven matches in a row to win a tournament. Learning to win is the process of taking your skills and resources no matter what they might be and finding a way to use them successfully against whoever is on the other side of the court and then have the character to be able to walk off the court and objectively look at your performance (no matter if you were successful or not) and make the appropriate decisions about what work needs to get done to take your game to the next level. What do you think?
Do you have a question for Andy Brandi or Harold? If so, please send it to clewis[at]zootennis[dot]com with the phrase Coaches Q and A in the subject line.