Monthly Archives: October 2004

position-technique-self, Brad Gilbert is a genius

Do you write down your goals daily? I’ve talked to you about this before. Were you paying attention? The more you write down your goals, the more space they take up in your thinking. You start making plans with your goals in mind and think more about what you need to make them come true. Lanny Bassham suggests you have three types of goals: position – where you want to place, technique – a skill you want to improve, and self – something in your self-image you want to change. In my case they would look like this:
position: I am a level D player
technique: I maintain my service rythm throughout the match
self: I am a winner, I do whatever it takes to win
Well, I’ll do whatever it takes to win within reason. I’m not going to bite my opponent’s ear off any time soon.

Yes, Brad Gilbert is a genius. When he was on the pro tennis tour, he was called the giant-killer because of his uncanny ability to knock off the top rated players despite his fairly awkward looking shots and less than average second serve. He studiously analyzed his opponent’s game noting their strengths, weaknesses and patterns. Which stroke is their weakest? Where do they like to serve during a break point? Where do they like to hit their approach shot? What kind of mind games do they like to play if they are starting to lose control of the match? He used that information to maximize their weaknesses and minimize his. Most of the time he found a way to win and was extremely annoying to play against even if he didn’t.

I played the top player in my level today and came within a tiebreaker of beating him. I scouted his weaknesses and strengths and decided to hit everything to his backhand and lob him when he came to the net. Except for a bit of consistency in my serve, it would have been a win. This is noticeable improvement and is directly related to using Brad Gilbert’s techniques.

Practice and Competition:
played league today, one set of doubles and one set of singles: 5-7, 6-7(3-7)
Solutions Analysis:
looking for a solution to losing my service rhythm (Sean Brawley).
Success Analysys:
1. took the number one player in my level to a tie-breaker.
2. carried my planned strategy out throughout the match.
3. stayed calm and took my sweet time between points.

McEnroe, Connors, Serena and Seabiscuit

John McEnroe threw temper tantrums on the tennis court. He abused officials, he abused himself, he even abused a spectator on occasion. It wasn’t that McEnroe couldn’t control his temper, he knew very well what he was doing. McEnroe usually threw a fit when he was behind or when the momentum was slipping away from him. In the book Winning Ugly, Brad Gilbert describes a pivotal point in a match with McEnroe. Gilbert hit a winner that landed just inside the line and even though McEnroe likely knew that the ball was good, he threw a tantrum that lasted a full ten minutes. He wanted to unnerve his opponent and regain momentum. It was a night match, the temperature was 45 degrees, so Gilbert stood there getting stiffer and stiffer until McEnroe’s tirade stopped. On the next point, of course, McEnroe served an ace. During Gilbert’s next service game, the umpire gave him a delay of game warning!

Jimmy Connors did the same thing except that his tactic was to delay the match by clowning around and playing to the crowd. The umpires were intimidated, they weren’t willing to stand up to McEnroe and Connors because they were the stars of the show.

This worked well for McEnroe when he was on top but beware what comes back to bite you when you slip to a lower rung on the tennis ladder. McEnroe was disqualified during the 1990 Australian Open for an outburst. Look at Serena Williams’ loss to Jennifer Capriati in this year’s U.S. Open. The chair umpire overruled an obviously correct call to give Capriati a point. Serena and Venus have been so successful that one of their grand slam finals has been televised in prime time. Now that Serena and Venus are no longer at the top, they are likely to take more blows.

Also consider Seabiscuit’s trainer Tom Smith. While Smith was training Seabiscuit, he used to drive bettors and scribes crazy by using a Seabiscuit look-alike during workouts to throw them off. He obviously had immense success with Seabiscuit but later in his career when he was not so successful, someone used a nasal spray with ephedrine on a horse he was training. Even though the amount of ephedrine was not enough to “have affected the physical performance of a flea”, his license was suspended for a year.

Even if you haven’t behaved like John McEnroe and particularly if you have, be prepared for the vultures once you are past your prime.

Doug Blevins/Ken Caminiti

Doug Blevins has cerebral palsy and lives in a wheelchair. Doug Blevins is a coach in the NFL. His goal was always to work in football and he found a way to do it. When he was growing up he started paying close attention to kickers and realized that quarterbacks have coaches, defensive ends have coaches, linemen have coaches, hey, even the long snapper has coaching. But not the kicker. He’s on his own. So Doug started studying kicking in excruciating detail and became an expert at it. Kickers turned up at his house for individual coaching and he would ride his electric wheelchair around and around them suggesting a six inch adjustment here and a slightly different step there hoping that they could take his teaching into the last few minutes of a Super Bown and kick the winning field goal. At least one of them has, twice: Adam Vinatieri of the New England Patriots. Doug now coaches kickers for the Minnesota Vikings and coaches privately.

Two things come to mind about Doug Blevins. I told you before, I’m only an E level tennis player and it’s obnoxious of me to tell you how I think you should play your game but if Doug Blevins can tell kickers how to kick, then I feel better about the possibility that you could learn something from me.

The other thing that comes to mind is the contrast in lives between Doug Blevins and Ken Caminiti. Ken had a distinguished career in Major League Baseball including an MVP year by unanimous vote in 1996. He battled alcoholism and cocaine addiction for much of his life and died at age 41 of a drug overdose two days ago. One man can’t even take a shower by himself and the other was one of the most physically talented athletes on earth. Everybody has their own way of getting through life, their own way of dealing with the bruising kicks life throws at you, the strings of disappointments that come your way.

I remember a Phil Donahue show long ago with couples as guests where one member of each couple was a transexual. One guest received a fair amount of fury from the audience because she had abandoned her son from a previous marriage. It was interesting to see that the members of the audience who were older and had suffered the most adversity in their life were the most accepting. Some of the younger audience members were outrageously angry and intolerant.

I’m sad about Ken Caminiti, I’m also angry about the endless number of people with addictive problems with far fewer resources that our country fails every day, but how can I judge any of them? I’m even struggling with great disappointment in myself at the moment so I can hardly say what Ken Caminiti or anyone else should have done with their life. I’m just sad, that’s all.

Becker’s butt, monkey serve

Did you ever watch Boris Becker serve? He didn’t move his feet all that much but he did stick his big butt out there before pushing off to unleash a brutally hard serve. Look at Andy Roddick also. Again, not much foot movement but he sticks his butt out, bends his knees and launches the fastest serve ever recorded. We all know we should bend our knees when we serve but many of us take our butt out of the serve.

I don’t know about you but my butt is one of my biggest attributes and I’m sure it’s good for something so try this instead. As you bend your knees during the serve, stick your butt out. In Alexander Technique we call this the monkey. You use the monkey position all day long, every time you sit down in a chair you get into the monkey position. The muscles in your butt and legs are some of the biggest and strongest in your body so use them to increase the power in your serve.

Do you actually see your racket hit the ball when you serve or do you move your head forward thus taking your eye off the ball and blindly wish it into the other court like most of us? One of the reasons this happens is that we think we should move forward in space and so we bend our head forward. The way it should work is that our head and spine should be moving up towards the ball to allow our spine to extend and give maximum freedom and power to our arms and legs. Think about your head moving up next time you serve and see if it helps you keep your eye on the ball.

Practice and Competition Report: played in the league today, one set of doubles and one set of singles: 6-1, 6-1.
Solutions Analysis: it helps a lot to aim for the baseline and beyond during practice and warmup – my groundstrokes are getting deeper.
Success Analysis: I beat someone I should beat.

confidence of a lab rat in training

I’m ill this week and cannot play tennis so let me ramble a bit. I am beginning to understand the difference between confidence and my general state of mind. Remember here that I have decided that I need to be a winner in order to win so whenever I get frustrated or discouraged, I remind myself that I am the winner; that I can rise to any challenge thrown my way whether it’s beating the junkball hitting, slice and dice artist across the tennis net from me or saying no to the very demanding guilt-tripping friend who wants to borrow money.

I play tennis because I love to hit things and I like nothing better than running around the court for three or four hours doing just that but I don’t need to spend hours practicing and, probably, more hours blogging to do that, I only need a racket, a few balls and a willing opponent. I do all these things because I’m fascinated by the competitive process and I use tennis to work out self image issues – I’m a lab rat on the tennis court.

I have a problem. If I want to make a film, I get obssessed by the techniques of editing and shooting, I find filmmaker’s groups to join, I subscribe to magazines, I go to large film expos but I don’t complete films. If I want to learn how to win at tennis, I practice my strokes endlessly, take lessons, study books, write a blog about everything I do but I don’t win that many tennis games.

My friend B. describes it this way: there is a goal and a path to get there. Your job is to get to the goal and deal with anything that gets in your way. Your job is not to get sidetracked or distracted by anything you encounter along the way. To that end, if I want to win tennis matches, my obsession should be winning, not the latest blogging software or blogging search engines or sports blog websites.

So back to the focus here: if I remind myself that I am the winner when I encounter frustration, my state of mind changes from frustration (ever notice how blaming often seems to accompany frustration?) to engagement with the situation at hand. A necessary first step to completing a goal.

You know how an opera singer can sing a note that will break a crystal glass? Do you think a turntable could play a note that would shatter the turntable? Should I be writing a blog that says that you should spend all your time focusing on your goal instead of writing a blog?