My first attempt to become a competitive junior player and follow my father’s steps didn’t go well at all. As a ten-year-old, I played in 5 or 6 tournaments and did NOT win one match. Quitting the game was a natural decision that was understood at our house.
However, during the summer of 1987, at almost 13 years of age, life was starting to get a bit chaotic on our street with my friends, and my parents decided that taking me to the club and signing me up for a few lessons was going to help keep me away from the “troubles” that we were getting into. I didn’t really have much of a choice on this decision because I knew that some of the boys were simply up to no good at all.
My father started to find time to hit with me as well, and while he was a very good player (definitely more accomplished that I ever was), he simply didn’t know “how to teach the game”. His logic told him that in order for me to win matches was by simply the avoidance of errors, and he would do a lot of consistency live drills with me. I remember one time in particular in which he told me that if I “ever” kept 100 balls in a row, he would buy me a pair of Adidas tennis shoes that Ivan Lendl was using at the time. I wish I could tell you that I immediately raised my level to reach that goal, but it actually took about A MONTH to get it!! It was literally painful because we would get set of 40s, 70s, even 90s, but I would miss, and he had no sympathy and would have me start from zero again and again. I eventually got it, and the reward (those Lendl’s shoes!!) made me feel like a better player instantly, but as I look back, it had been all those sets that incrementally improved and that frustrated me that had made me more consistent with my strokes, and definitely stronger with my mind!!
Accomplishing the end goal of a particular practice or competition is obviously uplifting and motivating. As coaches, we see that body language and positive energy improve after a kid experiences victory in a tournament, but it is important to look past that because we need to learn to compete against ourselves daily, and as coaches, we try to design simple benchmarks to help player go from point A to point B because we know that the victories will be the result of many of those point A to point B accomplishments. The message is simple. Pay attention to the small improvements, highlight them, and trust that their accumulation will take us places!!
See you on the courts!!