Egg Your Way to Better Tennis

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Tennis legend Martina Navratalova talked about the importance of “soft hands” in becoming a good player. Since tennis is a game of “feel”, the ability to create softness in the hands translates to improved shot control. 

As a sports psychologist who works a lot with tennis players, I am constantly looking to create effective ways to teach mental skills to my students and those who participate in my mental toughness training seminars. I recently found that holding a raw egg automatically creates a sense for holding the racket lightly. Too much pressure and the egg breaks. 

Practice holding an egg in your hand for a few minutes each day for a week. Once you get a good feel for the degree of pressure, try to bring up the same feeling in your hand and racket grip when playing and notice the impact it makes on your shots.

For more infromation on this topic, go to www.mentalskillstennis.com or email info@robertheller.net.

How to Select a Coach

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

As a sports psychologist who works with a lot of kids and parents I am often asked about how to pick a coach, when to change a coach and how to talk with coaches.

In team sports, it is the coach who selects the player. In individual sports, expecially tennis and golf, it is the students and in most cases the parents who selects the coach. Since parents are investing time and money, they naturally are looking to see results. Unfortunately, parents are too eager to see results in terms of winning games and matches, rather than improvement in skills, attitudes and behaviors. At the youth level, it is often easy  to produce wins early on. For example, in tennis, a player with a weak backhand may be taught to run around it and hit a forehand. This short term fix won’t last very long as better players will find the backhand anyway or hit rather easily to the open court on the next shot. Parents need to be patient and not switch coaches too quickly based largely on results.Over time, the athlete who patiently and systmatically works on improving their underling fundamentals will overcome the athlete who puts wins and results ahead of improvements. Consider these questions: Is your child enjoying the training? Has the coach outlined a specific developmental plan based on the needs, goals and abilities of you child? Does the plan and methods to achieve it make sense to you?

Sports parents need to keep in mind that to develop in a sport to compete effectively at a high level takes upwards of 10 years of training. So, it is most important to enjoy the  journey!

Mental Skills Toughness for Tennis

Monday, November 8th, 2010

When sports announcers talk about mental toughness in individual players, they usually speak in generalities as if mental skills was a single attribute or skill, which it is not. Mental skills refer to a variety of attitudes, behaviors and coping skills which are usually taught and not inherent to the individual. Just as tennis skills consists of various shots along with strategy, foot speed and endurance, mental skills consists of techniques like relaxation and emotional regulation, concentration and imagery training and a host of other skills and training methods which might borrow from hypnosis, cognitive therapy and counseling.

Sports psychologists help athletes to identify their mental strengths and weaknesses and develop a systematic plan to strengthen skills essential to success in competition. In this way the sports psychologist is like a mental coach or mental trainer and can support the work of the individual or team coach. In today’s highly competitive athletic arena, mental toughness often determines the outcome more than raw skills. Working with a competent mental conditioning coach give the player and the team, “the winning edge” when it counts most.

For more information on this topic, please go to www.mentalskillstennis.com.

SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY IN TENNIS: GETTING “HOT” ISN’T COOL

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Basketball great, Bob McAdoo recently shared his anxiety about watching his 15 year old daughter compete in tennis. Apparently, the 15 year old nationally ranked daughter at times fights herself rather than her opponent. The on-court outbursts interrupt her concentration and hurts her performance. McAdoo claims she inherited her temper from her mother. As a sports psychologist I don’t buy it. The greater likelihood is it is learned behavior that she has either observed in others or comes from her own overly perfectionist standards and unrealistic expectations of herself. It is also possible that she puts tremendous pressure on herself by demanding that she compete at the highest level as her father did. I have worked with a number of children of famous and successful parents that feel that way. Hopefully, she will learn how to channel her desire to win and become a pro one day, focusing more on “one day at a time” and “improving rather than winning”.

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