Friday, May 20, 2022

Mental Tips from Golf to Help Tennis*

(*Adapted from "Lessons from Golf to Help You Master the Game of Life" by Patrick Cohn, PhD, Bottom Line Personal, May 01, 2022, pp. 7-8)

"[Tennis] is played mainly on a five-and-a-half inch course - the space between your ears." Bobby Jones, legendary golfer [Quote adapted for tennis]

Every sport - indeed every business, career, school track and life path - carries a mental component. Overthinking or mis-thinking can lead to under-performance and even failure.

We've all been told often that these mental states help - remaining cool, calm and deliberate; staying in "the present"; and focusing only the next topic or next point at hand.

Mental coaches have even offered practical tips to help develop these states, and push out our continuous internal dialogue and stream of thoughts.

Among these: Focus on your breathing, count off even numbers, think about your feet touching and feeling the ground.

Best results, they say, are achieved by NOT focusing on results.

So what do we do?

Let's look at GOLF.

Maybe it can teach us something about tennis and life.

First, we observe that the big key to winning in golf appears to be consistency - meaning avoiding mistakes and errors.

And the big key to that seems to be good and early preparation.

And that means focusing on the process of preparation.

"Process" over "results" is what your mind must be drawn to for better winning margins.

  • *Accept that you and everyone will make some errors.
  • *Focus on the process of your pre-shot preparation routine. (In tennis, that's early and smooth take-back of the racket.)
  • *See and feel your shot though visualization.
  • *Hold a single thought as you strike the ball on any shot: either ball contact, spin, tempo, balance, target, trajectory and so on.
  • *When you make a mistake or are frustrated, just deliberately slow down, forgive yourself and reset.
Doing some or all of these tasks will surely advance our game - in tennis, golf and life. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Friday, May 13, 2022

The Twelve Core Principles of Tennis

After five decades of tennis: watching, playing, taking lessons from coaches and teaching pros, and studying the sport closely -- including analyzing players at the highest level both in the present and in past history -- here's my take on this topic: The Twelve Core Principles of Tennis. 

I'll set them forth in bullet-point format with only the briefest of explanations.

I have tried to condense things down to just these twelve, avoiding information-overload and mindful that attention spans are short.

I think that it's better for the reader to simply think about each of these principles, as they might apply to their own game.

*My great thanks and gratitude to all the coaches, teaching pros and players whom I have learned from over the years.

All the best with your tennis.

The Twelve Core Principles of Tennis

1. Tactics: Always change a losing game, and never change a winning game. (Bill Tilden)

2. Weakness: You are only as good as your weakest stroke. (Bill Tilden)

3. Mental: In tennis, you are never really playing an opponent, you are playing yourself - your own highest standards. (Arthur Ashe)

4. Mental: Stay in the present moment, and play only the next point.  (Rod Laver)

5. Improvement: The deadliest opponent is the one who keeps getting better - all the time. (Blake Griffin)

6. Practice and Play: Practice like you play, and play like you practice.

7. Tennis Movements: Speed and quickness kills. Spin is king. Timing and Rhythm is vital. Loose, relaxed, fluid and whip-like court movements win. Always move forward into the court, and step into the shot with full follow through.

8. Bottom-Up Tennis: Tennis is NOT an racket and arm sport. It is a game played from the ground up with your lower body (legs and feet) - a rotational game from your core, hips and shoulder.

9. Error-Free Tennis means Early Preparation: Strong Low Ready Position, Split-Step-And-Go-to-the-Ball, Getting a smooth, early and full turn, Racket back, Crisp footwork creating premium spacing to the ball.

10. The Heart of Tennis is Ball Contact Point: Strong, solid, consistent and out-front Ball Contact Point.

11. Tennis Intentionality: Strong intention behind every shot - where and how you are hitting it.

12. Above All: Have Fun and Enjoy!

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Tennis and Implicit Bias

"Sometimes, we don't even know our blind spots,
until we first start seeing."

I. Introduction
The science of Implicit Bias is a developing and growing field of study in society. Implicit Bias often surreptitiously affects people and their behaviors, sometimes for good but more often for ill. Many people operate with Implicit Bias in different activities in life, sometimes without even knowing it. We as fallible humans probably can never escape it altogether. But recognizing it, and finding ways to overcome it, offers us the promise of more productive, improved and happier lives.

II. What is Implicit Bias?
Implicit Bias is an preconceived attitude about something based on past experience -- and it's often something we are not even aware of. Implicit Bias refers specifically to an unconscious preference or aversion to a person, group, culture, trait, idea or thing.

Our human brains operate everyday on both the conscious and unconscious levels. Think about it. Do you make your daily coffee or tea without thinking much about it? Have you driven to your favorite local store or lunch spot without remembering the drive or the directions? We thus cannot help but spend a lot of our waking hours engaged in actions on an unconscious stealth platform.

Indeed, our senses are continuously flooded with information from our world which can never be fully processed. Did you know that the human brain intakes about 11 billion bits of incoming data every second? But that only about 40 to 50 bits of data are actually processed logically and rationally. In fact, it's widely known that we only use about 5% of our brain's grey matter.

Therefore, brain scientists say that we intuitively use what are called "Cognitive Shortcuts" to process data -- a preconceived psychological framework to understand things quickly based on our past experiences. Sometimes, these shortcuts are driven simply by our own fears and laziness.

Still don't believe it? Try taking the Project Implicit test, offered by Harvard University. 


It's free. You may be surprised at what you find out about yourself. Most of us have pre-formed attitudes of one sort or another about a range of things: including for example gender, race, culture, language, sexual orientation, single parents, unemployed people, handicapped persons, and many other topics.

III. How does Implicit Bias show in tennis?
So how does all this apply to tennis?

As a sporting activity in life, tennis is not immune from Implicit Bias.

Let's take three (3) simple examples from the practice and match courts.

1. Tennis is a racket sport played by swinging the arm with a racket at the ball.
For most non-tennis lay people, this is the way the game looks - arm-y and racket-y. But high-level players know the real truth: Tennis is a game of body and core rotation, and footwork. At its best, it's actually played in the lower half of your body, and from the ground up.

2. I'm a baseliner, not a volleyer.
Many players learn the baseline game first. And when they enjoy some success with it, they stick to it and don't bother with the net game.

3. I'm not a good server (or I'm not a good returner).
Some players know, even before tennis, they never had a very good throwing (or serving) motion in baseball, football or other school sports. Others never has much success returning a tennis ball served by a high-level server, and the image sticks.

IV. How do you overcome Implicit Bias?
The good news is that the human brain is malleable and not hard wired, say brain scientists. In other words, we can become aware of our biases and then re-program our brain. Often, Implicit Bias is based on certain past experiences. By engaging in new experiences, we can form a basis to alter our biases. 

Ways to De-Bias ourselves:
*Educate yourself about Implicit Bias, and take the Project Implicit test
*Be on guard for any possible biases in your thought processes
*Slow down, and write out what your biases might be
*Expose yourself to different and diverse experiences, events and people
*Try Micro-messaging: this refers to surrounding yourself with messages, symbols and objects to remind yourself about overcoming bias (In one example, the U.S. Congress began to display statues of women leaders of color such as Rosa Parks to remind legislators of the important contributions of American women in history)

Let's take our tennis examples.

Bias: Tennis is an arm and racket sport.
False. Be on guard, aware and observe closely every time you see players in action that the game is actually one of body & core rotation and footwork.

Bias: I'm a baseliner. No need to volley.
False. Learn, drill and experience the power and success of volleys, and re-program your self-image. Bring along in your tennis bag small pictures of top players executing a successful volley to glance at between sets.

Bias: I'm not a good server.
False. It's only limiting yourself. Learn , drill and experience new and different types and styles of serving. Keep watching videos of favorite top servers serving aces to build confidence and develop role models.

V. Conclusion
Implicit Bias presents itself in many activities in life, including even tennis. In tennis, Implicit Bias can hinder our play level and results by limiting our self-image. But we can be on guard and re-program our brains to overcome it, and reach higher performance levels. 

1. Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice that Shapes What We See, Think and Do, By Jennifer L. Eberhardt, Ph.D., (Viking: New York, NY, 2019)
2. Project Implicit, Harvard University at
3. Implicit Bias in Law and Lawyers, Geeta N. Kapur, Esq. (Video Lecture: 2019)