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Friday, July 30, 2010

REFLECTIONS...you might have been on to something

Have you ever seen someone discuss or display concepts or techniques or even idea that you had already either considered, used or was a part of your normal routine? And did they make it seem like it was some unconventional, special or unique idea? Did they give it a cool buzzword name that was destined for branding?

I've had this type of thing happen many times in my life. It usually takes place when someone gains prominence, authority or credibility with the masses or co-workers in some way. Therefore, since they are now supposedly "in the know", what they have to say becomes a revelation–or at least they make it seem so. In fact, it is usually a rehashing of what has already been.

If you are reading this blog, and you know how I feel about snootiness or pomposity in tennis, then take this to heart. You may already have discovered the same concepts as the "PROS" but without the associated hype. It is nice to label things as a way to categorize them and communicate them to others. But don't take any information as golden simply because it comes out of the mouth of a person who has gained success. Each person is an individual, and we gain knowledge and skill from a variety of sources. As a certified teacher, I know that everyone learns differently. I may say things in a way that make sense to you on a given stroke or concept, or someone else might use better words or illustrations that will fill your individual need. Use what works best for YOU always regardless of who said it.

Whatever I pass on to you is based on my continuing learning cycle, knowledge of almost four decades on a tennis court, and my best use of common sense. Does that mean I have all the answers? No way. But if I have ANY answers for you, then visit this blog frequently, download my podcast from iTunes, and even buy my book whenever I can get to finish it.

So whenever you think you have an idea or concept to share, and someone treats you with an eye-roll or makes you feel stupid for even bringing it up, just remember this quote by German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer–it is one of my favorites: "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

Friday, July 23, 2010

REFLECTIONS...is losing badly nothing but stupid?

Recently I listened to a podcast and felt a bit disturbed afterwards. It was mentioned that some folks lost a doubles set 6-0 and would have been stupid if they did not change their tactics for the second set. The idea of "if you keep doing the same thing you will get the same result" is a sound principle. But there is something also to be said for sticking to a plan, keeping the pressure on, and waiting for your opponent to cool off.

I don't think I could ever refer to someone as stupid for playing hard but losing a match. Shortsighted might perhaps be a bit more of an accurate term. Of course, without knowing how close a set might have been, 6-0 might be misleading. It is not appropriate, in my opinion, to refer to the winning team as "embarrassing" their opponents by a score of 6-0 when we really do not know how close the game points were. How many of the games went to deuce for example? Was the other team just a little bit better at playing the big points well? Were their other factors involved that we do not know? I think we need to be careful when analyzing how poorly one performed without really knowing the details.

Let's face it: no one likes to lose 6-0. But there is something to be learned from every set that is either won or lost. Don't let someone else define how you should feel about it. If I played a good, solid set, hit my strokes well, but was simply outplayed by a more skillful challenger, then I know more work is ahead of me if I want to win some games against this person in the future. And I would not take kindly to being ridiculed for the lack of games won marked on the scoreboard.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Episode 50: He who hesitates serves better?

What motion works best on the serve? A half-swing that stalls behind the back or a full windmill motion that keeps moving start to finish? We'll take a look at how effective both techniques seem to be.

Friday, July 16, 2010

REFLECTIONS...youthful shortsightedness and a return to craft

I recently watched a video clip of Louis C. K., professional comedian, actor, director, producer and writer from Boston, Massachussets. In an interview with Conan O'Brien, he was making light of how much technology has changed in his lifetime citing things like the rotary phone and airline travel. But what I found most interesting was his statement, "now we live in an amazing, amazing world and it is wasted on the crappiest generation of just spoiled idiots who don't care." For me, he was relating to the folly of our youth who seem to think that older adults are "so over" and have little to contribute to their world. They forget that WE CREATED THEIR WORLD. They need to be thanking us and not acting like they somehow know MORE about EVERYTHING as if our life experience over several decades is not relevant in today's world.

Case in point related to tennis: In a recent article from Paul Fein at TennisOne.com, I read that the International Tennis Federation had been approached by thirty well-know tennis figures, including the likes of John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova, with a letter that promoted the reduction of racket head size and racket length in an attempt to tame the over-powering game we see in today's game of professional tennis. Thanks to this out-of-control obsession with powerful baseline groundstrokes at the expense of net play, especially by our current generation of youthful players, there is less CRAFT and more CRUSH to the sport that has seen some professional mainstream sports go the route of monster-truck destruction as their mantra.

My contention for quite some time has been that power tennis sends the wrong message to the recreational player who tries, without the benefit of flawless timing and solid technique, to emulate the pros who hit bigger than the Empire State building. Perhaps these pros who want the racket face reduced from the current 12.5" to 9" have something beneficial to say that we can all benefit from. Mary Carillo, fomer tennis pro and current popular tennis analyst, suggests perhaps a compromise that allows larger rackets for recreational weekend-warrior-type players while providing a pro line that will keep the power game in check for both our current and future tennis professionals. I can virtually guarantee that none of these proponents of a more multi-dimensional tennis player for today's game were born much past the 70's.

Imagine that. An older person with wisdom, born out of life experience, that can benefit our youthful players whose injury rate is on the rise as they continue to bludgeon the ball to death and have seemingly all but lost the art of finesse.

Friday, July 9, 2010

REFLECTIONS...percentages of success

After hitting the other night, I mentioned something to my partner upon finishing up a longer and more-difficult-than-usual rally. Upon being fed a short ball on my forehand side from his angled volley, I ran up and had to decide whether to hit a hard drive with topspin or a softer, well-placed slice. I decided on the latter and hit a winner down-the-line as a passing shot. It wasn't extremely powerful, but I carefully guided the ball past his racket into the open court. It made me think about determining what percentage of success, in a split second, I was going for. I played this shot as if the match depended on it, but in fact, we were not playing for points at all. But in my mind, I leveled high importance on winning this rally. I chose what I considered to be an 80-20 shot or maybe even a 90-10. Had I gone for the big blast, it would have looked more imposing but the likely percentage for MY game would have dropped to maybe a 60-40 chance for success. Missing the shot would not be very imposing.

What does this mean to you? We usually practice differently than we play for a variety of reasons. Just realize that, in your mind, the rally can signify anything you want it to. And the key to making the right percentage play is in the true understanding of your personal strengths and weaknesses. A point won is a point won whether it hits the net cord and drops over or it knocks the racket out of your challengers hand by the sheer power of the stroke. When the game is won, no one really cares if it was pretty or ugly. Neither should you.

PRACTICE when it is practice time, and PLAY when it is time to simply apply what you learned in practice about yourself and your game.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Episode 49: Left-handed fair advantage

Why have left-handed players done so well in tennis? Do they have an advantage over righties on the court? We'll take a look at the facts, some history, and even some speculation about lefty vs. righty.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

REFLECTIONS...the paperwork of tennis and life

Paperwork. Who doesn't hate it. Credentials are paperwork, and in tennis, they are something I never felt the need to pursue. It's not that I haven't done diligence and attended seminars, workshops, etc. I've worked hard to learn my skills as both player and instructor. But there are those who will never recognize these skills unless you hold a certain piece of paper. Nowhere was this more of an issue than in public education. I remember working with kids in a before/after-school program around my full-time job and being denied the chance to act as a sub in the very same school where I ran the program. Same kids, same building, same principal. I was told that I needed a sub certificate.

So, I got a sub certificate. To make a long story short, in order to be a teacher, I needed to get a Bachelor's degree, a Certificate of Eligibility, and then a Provisional Teacher License. I also needed to attend yet more classes at night. More paperwork. But successful I was, and all those goals were accomplished. Every step was a battle, and with every battle came an inevitable victory.

The educational field has been up and down for many reasons, but from years of teaching tennis prior, I had decided that working with kids for the "lightbulb" moment was worth the struggle of changing jobs, careers, and juggling every part of my life.

So recently, I decided that I might get one more piece of paper. This one related to tennis. I did my research and found the Professional Tennis Registry or PTR based in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Yet more effort on my part produced another favorable result. I now hold the credential of being a PTR Certified tennis instructor.

Yes, more paperwork. Credibility established. Naysayers silenced (well, at least some of them). But my racket skills, teaching experience, and knowledge base had already been firmly in place from decades of effort that came well before that certificate.

Ah, but that glorious paperwork. Don't ever let it define what or who you are. And don't let others define your credence since you are whatever you believe yourself to be. Great men (and women) have irrepressible belief.

TENNIS NOTE: if you ever feel the pressure of winning or losing a tennis match, remember that there are much bigger challenges ahead and bigger victories in your life to be had (try raising children for example). This might help you relax and play better tennis than ever.