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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Coaches Q and A: The Need for Independent Thinking

While I was in Florida, I had an opportunity to stop by the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and to meet Andy Brandi and Harold Solomon, who are now regular contributors to zootennis in this Coaches Q and A forum. There may be a finite number of issues to address when it comes to junior and collegiate tennis, but I don't think we've even begun to scratch the surface.
Today's issue: Independent thinking and its role in grooming great players.
Andy Brandi explains:

At the age of 18, Arthur Ashe explained to me what a good tennis player was. In his words, ”a good player is a player who, on a bad day, finds a way to win”.

As coaches, how do we teach our students to give themselves the best chance to compete for each match? How do we make our students good thinkers and problem solvers? How do we teach them that they do not have to play their best at all times?

One thing that we must do is to make them independent thinkers. Too many times we incapacitate them by doing the dirty work for them. Let them take care of getting the rackets strung. They can arrange for warm ups in tournaments. They can carry their own racket bag! We need to be helpful yet give them room to grow, develop and mature as players and as individuals.

Often parents ask what we can do as coaches to help players reach their full potential. It is not so much what we can do for them but what they can do for themselves. First, we must give them good information and support. Second, we must make them understand that they are responsible and accountable for what happens out there. Third, they must make their own decisions and lastly, that they play for themselves and we must be positive with them.

Many times we are concerned about results too early. Tennis is like a marathon. Players struggle before they succeed. We have to give them chances to fail and learn for the future. Many players who are successful at 12 cannot compete at 18. The first meaningful benchmark is around ages 16-17-18. They will learn more from a loss!

My brother Joe, who traveled with Pete Sampras in his younger days, would give him a plan A or B for matches. He would tell him not to look over after every point. He wanted Pete to learn to be out there on his own and make the decisions he felt were right. This gave him confidence as a person and player. He also took him to Europe to play on clay where he took his lumps, but that September, he won the US Open!

By teaching them to compete and love the battle, they will feel comfortable and confident that they can compete under any circumstances and give themselves a good chance to win.

All this will happen if they become self sufficient and independent thinkers.
Do you have a question for Andy or Harold? If so, please send it to clewis[at]zootennis[dot]com with the phrase Coaches' Q and A in the subject line.