Written by: Wayne Elderton
***Wayne Elderton is acknowledged as one of Canada’s leading coaches. He is Head of Tennis Canada Coaching Development and Certification in British Columbia. In this role, he has provided coaching training to over 1500 coaches. He is a main contributor to the Tennis Canada Coaching Certification program and has also written articles and coaching materials for the PTR, Tennis Corporation of America, Tennis Coaches Australia, and the International Tennis Federation. He is a popular speaker at coaching conferences world-wide. He is a Chartered Professional Coach (ChPC) as recognized by the Professional coaching association, Coaches of Canada. Wayne has enjoyed considerable success in his career using the Game-Based approach. As a High Performance coach, he has led provincial teams to gold medals in the Canada and Western Canada Games. His players have won numerous national titles and many have achieved full scholarships at US Universities. Some have gone on to achieve WTA and ATP rankings. He has also coached 3 wheelchair players to top 10 world rankings and has coached Canada’s World Team Cup squad (Davis Cup for Wheelchair players). He is a key builder of the Canadian National Wheelchair Team program and created Tennis Canada’s Wheelchair Instructor Course. In 2006 he was inducted into the City of Burnaby Sports Hall of Fame in the coaching category. He is currently Tennis Director at the Grant Connell Tennis Centre in North Vancouver which was awarded the 2005 Canadian Facility of the Year for program excellence by the Tennis Professionals Association. For more information, please go to www.acecoach.com***
We have identified 4 main ‘pillars’ that are the foundation of advanced coaching:
- Learning tennis as an Open Skill
- Coaching in a Learner-centred way
- Utilizing a Game-based Approach
- Integrating the 4 Performance Factors (Psychological, Physical, Tactical, Technical)
This month, we are delving into the, “Integrating the 4 Performance Factors” pillar.
To keep the Performance Factors in view, ITF hall of fame coach, Louis Cayer (with expansion from top coach Larry Jurovich) have created a ‘vision/mission statement’ for players. Just like with a company, the ‘vision’ part gives us a picture of the preferred future. The ‘mission’ element makes sure we have this as our major purpose. We introduced the statement last month which reads:
“A Performer who is a Focused, Competitive Athlete that Plays Smart with Effective strokes.”
The statement is in 2 halves. The first 3 characteristics comprise the half of the statement that is about developing the ‘person’ (the other half about developing the ‘player’). In this installment, we will focus on the “Focused” characteristic which is defined as:
“The ability to concentrate on the right things, at the right time.”
“Focus” is a more common psychological characteristic. The key is, just like a physical or technical skill (e.g. a topspin lob) focus requires training and plenty of repetition. Players and coaches often fall into the trap that, because they have ‘talked about it’, the job is done. Imagine just talking about topspin lobs and expecting them to work.
To train focus it is helpful to understand that it is not so much maintaining constant concentration but rather re-focusing. Tennis is very ‘on and off’ with high intensity activity broken up by multiple breaks. It is the skill of regaining focus that needs to be trained.
The focus (re-focus) that needs to be trained has the following characteristics:
- Task Relevant: This is the ability to narrow our attention onto the things that help us to play successfully and to apply ‘selective inattention’ to what doesn’t help. Having our attention on the people watching the match for example will hurt play.
- ‘Here & Now’: We hear examples of great athletes describing their focus and talking about, ‘being in the moment’. Any attention given to what is coming (future) or what has happened (past) is attention not available for what the player is doing right here, right now. For example, we can be focused on the mistake we just made which usually cripples our ability to play well. Alternatively, if we get caught up in what could happen it will also ruin our play (e.g. ‘If don’t get this 2nd serve in, I will lose the game).
- Process vs Outcome oriented: The outcome of play (e.g. winning, losing, rankings, etc.) is outside of our control so wasting focus on it will not make it happen and distract a player from their performance. Tennis is an evil sport psychologically. A good process gives you the best chance to get the outcome you want. In contrast, focusing on the outcome will ruin your process. How many players have blown a lead when they thought, “if I just win this point, I will win the set”?
Training focus is about setting tasks that require full attention with many opportunities to be distracted. For our Red starter players, we will purposely make the activities ‘stop and start’ so the players get constant opportunities to re-focus. Coaches train younger players physical skills but, even though focus is a huge part of tennis, they don’t spend time training it.
Targets are one of the best trainers of attention (and intention). Players can practice doing the time honoured activity of counting how many balls achieve a target. Make sure the target has specific measurements (e.g. the right height, distance, direction, speed, spin or any combination). Modify the scoring of the drill so when they make a mistake (or don’t achieve the target), there is a consequence (e.g. they minus a point from their score, have to start all over again, etc.) the error becomes the distraction that they must recover their focus from.
One can even upgrade the process by planting distractions. For example, one activity we do is to ‘plant’ difficult situations. During practice matches, the coaches will overrule line calls with bad ones. We will tell players to make a poor call on specific points and re-arrange the score, all to see if players can maintain their focus.
In a recent lesson, I asked a national level player, “What was that last game mostly about?” He went on to say his serve wasn’t going in so it became about that. I had to help him be aware of how he let that disrupt his play whereas, when he was playing earlier (and doing excellently) it was about the tactic he was trying to perform. In other words, his focus went away from his task, dwelt on the past, and produced anxiety about not achieving the outcome (winning the game). We need to practice re-focusing when things aren’t going well. Training focus is a requirement for success in tennis.
Try this while you coach tennis this week and keep moving along in the journey to 21st Century coaching.