Earlier in the month, I had the pleasure of talking to one hundred of our best young tennis players. The kids were from all around the country and had arrived in Auckland for the 12 and 14 & Under National Teams event.
As we were driving to the talk, Steph asked me what I was going to say?! I thought back to when I was 13 years old and I had just won the 18 & under nationals. I was fiercely driven and competitive. I had a temper on the court and I found it hard to accept losing. I wondered to myself, "What would I tell myself if I could go back and change a few things...?" The answers came pretty clearly!
1. Learn from your mistakes
As Serena Williams says, "I really think a champion is defined, not by their wins, but how they recover when they fail." The best players in the world do a great job of learning from their mistakes. They don't dwell on errors for too long, and instead, they consider how to correct themselves and stay in the present moment. I wish I realised this when I was younger! Instead of getting angry about a forehand that flew long, try asking yourself the question; "Why did I miss that shot? What do I have to correct for the next time." If your coach is available ask him or her too. The more you learn from your mistakes, the better player you can become.
2. Be committed and professional
Whether your goal is to be the best inter-club player you can be, make a school team, get a college scholarship or be on the WTA/ATP tour one day - practice being professional. I know, I know, it's easy to get a little lazy with warm ups and cool downs. But the smaller things, such as preparing your bag and racquets, or doing work on your mental game, add up!
3. Focus on YOU!
Man, when I was just starting out as a tennis player, I was so concerned about what others thought of me! I wanted to impress people so badly. I had to have the right gear and clothes and I went for glory shots when I knew people were watching. But it was so distracting and it didn't help me to improve one bit! Eventually, I decided to be less focused on what others thought about me and play tennis for myself. My performance improved so much! At the end of the day, you can only play for yourself and trying to impress others takes you away from the task at hand. Do what you can to keep your focus inside the lines and play for only one person - you!
I try to be myself and not focus on what others think of me, but on what I think of myself. That’s when I feel the most confident.
- Caroline Wozniacki
I used to get very nervous if my parents or friends came to watch me. Today it’s not a problem anymore because I enjoy tennis. I know they respect me with or without tennis. I don’t need to impress them.
- Roger Federer
4. Relax and trust yourself!
Sometimes the pressure of a match does a funny thing to us. The fear of making a mistake, or of losing, makes us revert to old habits and not play in the way we really want to. When you step out onto the court for a match, trust that you've done all the work you needed to do in practice and believe in yourself! Maybe for you, this will mean that in a big moment you really go for your forehand and don't revert to being timid or pushing. Or maybe it means allowing yourself to relax and not over think things when you're nervous. Be clear about what your game plan is and believe in it!
5. Set an intention
This is something my coaches encouraged me to do when I was growing up. Set an intention for every practice and match, such as "Today I am going to be positive when I make a mistake". I asked each young player whom I was speaking to, to set an intention for their match the following day. A few of them were brave enough to share what they chose in front of the group. What they came up with was AWESOME! One girl said, "I am going to hit my forehand in pressure situations and not push it tomorrow". Another said, "I am going to keep fighting until the last point and not give up." I loved hearing what they had to say and I think being clear about your intention can really help you, especially when practice gets challenging or when you are in the big moments of a match.
Steph and I handed out flyers to each of the kids which included quotes, notes as well as pictures of some top tennis players when they were younger! Can you guess who they are?!
It was so great meeting these rising stars and we are looking forward to working with many more athletes in 2017!
With love and happy tennis-ing!
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