The Three Golden Rules of Tennis
Are there any universal rules of tennis that will help lift all players to higher levels of success and growth?
Here are 3 interesting and pivotal concepts borrowed from some top coaches and writers.
1. Never Do Anything on Court that Does Not Help You Win
* From Allen Fox, Ph.D., former World-Class Player, Coach, Psychologist and Author.
Fox tells us that champions never lose sight of their ultimate goal - to win. Losers, meanwhile, often seem to be driven by a fear of failure. Thus, for Fox, the first (and final) "Golden Rule" is to ask yourself: "Will this help me win the match?" If not, don't do it, admonishes Fox.
Examples of things that happen on court that typically enable and encourage players to get "off-track" or not "let-go-of-a-point" are: bad line calls, faulty umpire instructions, crowd distractions, weather issues, court surface problems and many other related topics. Of course, these types of issues should not be completely ignored. Rather, they should be carefully managed to avoid losing focus on the final goal - to win.
All too often, warns Fox, lesser players feel pressured and fear failure, and quickly fall into excuse-making, defeatism or personal antagonism. Only the rare player can elevate his or her game with anger. For most of us, we draw far better dividends by staying focused and keeping "our eyes on the prize."
2. Never Do Anything on Court that Does Not Help You Become More Loose
*From Jeff Greenwald, M.A., M.F.T., former World No. 1 and USA No. 1 in Men's Singles and Doubles (35-and-Over Division), Sports Psychology Consultant and Author
Greenwald suggests that a player's best tennis happens when tension and tightness is released. But conversely a certain amount of arousal and adrenaline should be maintained. Thus, Greenwald prefers the term "loose" as opposed to "relaxed". Being "relaxed" may imply a certain lack of intensity or focus. Being "loose", on the other hand, forces the player's mind to think about his or her body. And encourages the player to make things more limber and fluid.
The goal for Greenwald then is to "drop into a looser state" so you can execute with your highest confidence. How is it done? Greenwald says that the key is to first be aware of your body's tightness and literally "call up" this looser state. Shift attention to your hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, upper and lower backs. Are they loose and limber? Are you breathing deeply?
Even simple technique reminders such as committing to a "split-step-and-go", "early racket preparation", or "full follow-through" often helps many players increase their physical looseness and shift away from tension. Simply pay attention to your body and loosen it up, counsels Greenwald, which then paradoxically allows you to forget your ego and get out of your head.
"Looseness" of hands, say most coaches, enables a player to grip the racket in the ideal manner - as if holding an raw egg or live bird. "Looseness" of body, suggest most coaches, empowers: footwork to be quick and urgent, swing technique to be smooth and fluid, and the mind to be focused and intense.
3. Never Do Anything on Court that Does Not Help You Improve Your Game in the Long Run
*From Vic Braden, Legendary Coach, Sports Psychologist and Bestselling Author
Braden reminds us that all of us are naturally focused on short-term results. What is the score? What is my rank or rating? How can I win now?
Yet, half of us will lose our matches. Indeed, every player in a tournament will eventually lose - except, of course, for the winning champion. Yet even the champion has suffered his or her share of past losses. Therefore, we will all eventually lose. Braden suggests however that while "losing" is inevitable, "defeat" is optional.
In other words, we can never be defeated if: we first play to the best of our ability on every shot and point, and then learn from our losses to improve our game for the long run. Our victorious opponent, after all, has conveniently shown us our weaknesses and our strengths. We win by building our game up with the knowledge we have gained - fortifying our strengths and addressing our weaknesses.
In this way, Braden defines for us a "new kind of winning" - one in which we can't lose. Many coaches call this the "cycle of improvement." Our final goal is to always come back and, of course, "play our game" - but this time an all-new and improved game.
1. The Winner's Mind, Allen Fox, Ph.D. (Racquet Tech Pub.: Vista, CA, 2005) For more: Fox
2. The Best Tennis of Your Life, Jeff Greenwald, M.A., M.F.T. (Betterway Books: Cincinnati, OH 2007) For more: Greenwald
3. Mental Tennis, Vic Braden (Little, Brown: New York, NY 1993)
For more: Braden