It’s Easy as 3-2-1!

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3-2-1

The key in coaching or teaching someone or having someone learn or teach themselves is to control the controllables. What’s important is not doing everything right but focusing on the right things. What are the right things in tennis? If someone isn’t aware of something, then it doesn’t exist. Just like a magician uses misdirection or a decoy to set the audience up for their trick, we as tennis coaches must have our players avoid the pitfalls of focusing on the wrong things (i.e. the result only, technique only).

I developed the 3-2-1 method out of a need to create more drastic improvement with the players that I coach without having to change technique. I wanted them to “try less and achieve more.” Just let it happen. This method was originally born from my interest in W. Timothy Gallwey’s Inner Game of Tennis and recently inspired by Sean Brawley and his Five Pillars to Massive Consistency™.

Point of contact awareness. When you hit the ball on the sweet spot call out “3”. When you hit the ball just off of the center or sweet spot call out “2”. When you hit the ball on any part of the frame then call out “1”. I make the players promise that they won’t use the result (whether the ball was hit in the net or out) as a bias for their number. A solid 3 hit into the bottom of the net is still a 3. The two goals: accuracy of awareness and improvement of point of contact (P.O.C.) hits. If you hit the frame and call out “3” then something needs to be adjusted and if you hit the sweet spot and call out “1” something was awry as well. Over time you want to get more 3s and 2s and less 2s and 1s.

Once you have buy-in from your students then they are in the right mindset to begin this method of teaching. A matter of fact, all future tennis teaching can be based around this 3-2-1 mindset. You are removing opinion and replacing it with fact and perception. A “1” shot isn’t bad, it just is a “1” or it just is what it is. Almost like a chair umpire was calling out the number.

Feed the ball to their forehand and guide them along the way. They hit and call out “3”. Have them call it out as soon as they know. This is helpful because the sooner you know the quality of your shot in competition the earlier your anticipation and therefore preparation for your next shot. So they aren’t calling it out too earlier (i.e. guessing) but they aren’t calling it out too late (i.e. being late with their awareness). Start with just forehands and ask to generally hit cross court but not focus on hitting cross court. Generally aim over the net but only focus on your point of contact or sweet spot.

After feeding and hitting a few balls then ask your student the following questions:

  1. What that easy or difficult to call out the number?
  2. How were you able to call out the number? (visual, auditory or kinesthetic awareness)
  3. Were the numbers increasing over time? (i.e. did you hit better)

Repeat the same method for the backhand. Keep in mind that you are the “guide”. You are not correcting them if the number is incorrect as this is not about “fixing” anything as nothing is broken. It is about a sense of being, mindfulness and fine tuning, refining or honing your awareness. Not correcting, refining. Not fixing, fine tuning.  Remove “good”, “bad”, “wrong” or “right.” It just is what it is.

Balance awareness. Have the player hit a forehand focusing on their balance. If they are off-balance they call out “1”, if almost on-balance a “2” and if they are on balance, “3”. This one happens a bit after the point of contact I’ve observed because they could regain their balance during the stroke and therefore end up with a “3” when they started at a “2” or a “1”. The goal again is accuracy of their awareness (i.e. calling out 3, 2 or 1) and improvement of their balance (i.e. more 3s than 2s and more 2s than 1s).

Point of contact and awareness and balance are controllables. Other factors that are important controllables are: height (or arc over the net)), speed (or power), direction (or placement), and spin (a lot of spin or no spin/flat).

Keep in mind that in the P.O.C. drill players may confuse 2s with 3s if they hit with a lot of spin. It might not have sounded or felt solid but it was a 3 with a lot of topspin so just be mindful of this and explain it as needed.

Direction or placement. Direction comes in two components: depth and width. Divide the length of the court into thirds. The back third is the back court and would call out a “3”. The mid-third of the court is the mid court and they would call out “2.” Finally, the ball in the front third of the court represents the front court and they would call out “1.”

When hitting for direction it doesn’t matter what their balance or point of contact is. They are to hone in on their awareness of the depth component of direction. It’s deep then it is a “3” even if it wasn’t hit cleanly. You can only focus in on one thing at a time.

Net clearance. When applying the 3-2-1 method to height over the net you would assign “3” for 3 feet over the net, “2” for 2 feet over the net and “1” for 1 foot over the net. To take it even further, you can assign a “2” for slightly too high and a “1” for much too high.

Spin. When applying the 3-2-1 method to spin you would give a “3” for a lot of topspin or underspin and a “1” for a flat ball with “no” spin.

The role of the guide/coach. If someone hits an amazingly clean shot in your opinion and calls out “2” then you can say sarcastically “that was the best 2 in the world!” It is a lighthearted way of letting your student know that it was a better shot than they thought. This will help with their awareness improvement.

The other component of direction is width. This can vary for singles and doubles. Doubles is mainly a down the middle game and singles is a side to side game for the most part. Knowing that, a “3” for training singles would be in either corner, a “2” would be almost in the corner and a “1” is right back to your opponent.

Doubles “3”s would be up the middle, “2” in the alleys and “1”s right to the net player.  This can vary based on the level of doubles you are teaching.

A diagram would look like this:

3-2-1-CourtDiagram-TM-2

Now each of these can create strategy. A “3” in the deep left corner should be followed by a “3” in the short right corner. If it was followed by a deep right corner that would only be a “2”.

P.O.C. and balance awareness can be done on the volley. “3” for a solid POC and so on.

The serve you can also do direction/placement (out wide is a “3” for singles and down the middle/T would be a “3” for doubles). You can apply the 3-2-1 concept to the service toss. A “3” if it was slightly out in front and over your right shoulder (for a flat serve, for righties) and so on.

The beautiful thing about this method is that you can apply 3-2-1 onto any shot, strategy or circumstance in tennis to improve and refine it. The more you apply and fine tune your awareness the better your strokes will get without focusing on technique. What’s more is that you aren’t focusing on the 99 things that would be negative distractions like who is watching you, what the score is, how poorly your doubles partner is playing, etc. In other words, if you focus on 3-2-1 you aren’t able to focus on the negative things that would deteriorate your game. This slowly removes the emotions and replaces it with logical thinking and fact.

You can then add up the numbers and have a comparison over time. Today I hit 10 forehands in a row with a total score of 26 while last week I only had 20 for the same number of forehands. Improvement without emphasis on technique but rather on awareness and mindset.

Positive outcomes from using this method have been that the player:

Rarely judged their shots

Was more engaged

Had more fun

Didn’t look up into the window for parent approval (when a junior)

Felt more relaxed due to control over controllables

Had a coach who was more engaged

Had better results

So, remember, improvement in tennis is as easy as 3-2-1!

I always welcome feedback at angeloarossetti @ gmail .com. The above content is proprietary. Please ask me for permission to reference or use in any way.

You can learn more about a couple of tennis GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ that I have been a part of:

Our Inspiration – 2 World Records 2 Minute Video

 

FOX News Story

Inspirational Tennis Story: Tennis Begins with Love

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It’s Easy as 3-2-1!

Support vs. Scrutiny

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Nick Bollettieri encouraging Monica Puig in Prague. Photo Ezra/Fanshare

When we coach we look for things that are wrong. We look for things that aren’t perfect.

Athletes usually coach themselves in the same way. They tell themselves ” No! Don’t do that.”

When analyzing video tape, they look for mistakes to correct.

Good coaches and players do this….but great ones emphasize what’s right, what feels good and just letting it happen. They find their flow.

Andre Agassi watched video clips of himself before matches. Not of what to improve but he watched a highlight reel of himself making great shots. It gave him confidence and reminded him of the fact that if he can do it once he can do it again.

Rickey Henderson, arguably the best lead-off batter in Major League Baseball history, had his batting coaches tell him when he hit correctly rather than point out when he needed to “fix” something. By nature, people don’t like to be judged or criticized. They want assistance and support.

This may be a bit counter intuitive. If the person never does it correctly when do you coach them?

Coaching is more like guiding. It comes from within the player – inside out, not outside in. Coach from the inside out and you’ll bring out the best in your students.

It takes patience to not say something until it’s right. I remember Nick Bollettieri coaching a young tennis player and when he hit the right forehand he exclaimed ‘Now that’s the way. That’s it!’ The way he exclaimed so energetically and enthusiastically I can guarantee you that that player remembered that moment.

That’s what you want. Reinforce the positive. Celebrate the small successes. Care more, critique less. 

Parents who support their children in sports rather than critique or scrutinize them get it. Wayne Bryan used to say the only question you should ask your children after a match is “do you want water or Gatorade?” He did pretty well with Bob & Mike Bryan, the best doubles team of all time.

Care more. Critique less. Support often. Scrutinize less. Smile more. Celebrate more. 

I always welcome feedback at angeloarossetti @ gmail .com.

You can learn more about a couple of tennis GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ that I have been a part of:

Our Inspiration – 2 World Records 2 Minute Video
FOX News Story
Inspirational Tennis Story: Tennis Begins with Love
If you found this article of value please consider making a donation to Save the Children. Otherwise, please share this article so that we can educate, inform and inspire others.
Make a Donation

Support vs. Scrutiny

Train Your Brain

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Train Your Brain. Photo Credit: ISTOCK/AGSANDREW

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” 
― Archilochus

Most athletes berate themselves for not being mentally strong during competition, either at the critical moments or the most important contests. What they fail to realize is that they “expect” to be mentally tough during the most important moments but they fail to “train” for those moments.

Although by definition being mentally tough is a trait. Being mentally strong, mentally resilient or mentally mature can be improved like a muscle. The brain is a muscle that needs repetition to become stronger.

Nature vs. Nurture. How much of your mindset is inborn versus learned? I’d say that it is a combination of both. Just like confidence comes in two types: static and dynamic, so does mental strength. One part you are born with and the other part you learn and earn through experience and training. Here are questions that athletes should ask themselves:

How much do you exercise versus how much time do you exercise your mind?

How often do you go to the gym versus how often do you work out your mind?

How often do you take lessons or work on your technique or skill versus how many lessons do you take on the mental game?

In other words, preparation is much more important than the actual performance. I’ve always said whoever prepares better wins not whoever performs better wins. This applies to the mental game as well. Of course preparation will lead to optimal playing and bring you closer to the by-product of winning but the sense of urgency should be BEFORE the contest not DURING. During the contest just let things happen. Let your preparation shine. If you are not practicing and training your mind then you cannot expect to be mentally strong when it counts. Just because you expect to be aware of the right things and focus on the right moments doesn’t mean it will just happen.

Sport-specific training is important for the mind game but so is general mental training. When driving to work or class and there is an accident on the other side of the road, train yourself to ignore it – don’t rubber neck. You are training your brain to focus on what’s important (the road right in front of you) and not on distractions that make you lose your focus. Whenever you think of something negative pretend to cross it off or erase it from your mind’s eye and toss it to the side – blank slate it – clear the white board.

When reading a book, are you processing each word or is your mind wandering to something else? Whenever your to do list or grocery list pops into your mind then stop and go back to when you last remember the words that you were reading.

Mind control is the first step to success in sports. The next step is to train your mind. The third step is to implement your training when it counts, in competition. The final step is to evaluate your mental performance to learn for the next time.

Rise to the level of your training rather than fall to the level of your lack of training.

I always welcome feedback at angeloarossetti @ gmail .com.

You can learn more about a couple of tennis GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ that I have been a part of:

Our Inspiration – 2 World Records 2 Minute Video
FOX News Story
Inspirational Tennis Story: Tennis Begins with Love
If you found this article of value please consider making a donation to Save the Children. Otherwise, please share this article so that we can educate, inform and inspire others.
Make a Donation

Train Your Brain

Focus on Playing Well not on the Score

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Roger Federer serving. Photo courtesy Michael Dodge, Pinterest. 

Blog article by Angelo A. Rossetti, USPTA Elite/PTR Professional, USTA HP & Mental Skills Certified & 2X Guinness World Records™ holder.

The level of play rather than the score will determine the outcome and the winner. The score can change immediately but someone’s playing level usually doesn’t. Think of the score in two ways. It gives you an indication of what tactics you should be using before you start the point. It is also what is recorded after the match. The latter has nothing to do with the process. Knowing that, try not to dwell on the score. Focus on playing the best that you can in any given situation given the circumstances.

In professional tennis, it’s not a matter of time. In other sports, you can run the clock out when you have a lead. You can be done with your zone and be playing horribly now while the opponent is finding their flow.

Time runs out. You win. You didn’t play better but you win.

Tennis is not like that (except in league tennis where there is a time limit). Evidence of that is in the 5th set of the ATP men’s final at the 2017 Australian Open between Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal.

Rafa was up a break 3-1 in the 5th and deciding set. But at 3-2, after holding serve, most would analyze the score and say that all Rafa has to do is hold serve three more times and he’ll be the champion. However, if you look closely at the level of play, Fed had the same number of points won and was actually holding serve easier the last two games.

The score can be misleading. At 3-3 in the 5th Fed had more total points but more importantly made the decision to go for his shots win or lose rather than just keep the ball in play.

“I told myself to play free,” Federer said. “You play the ball. You don’t play the opponent. Be free in your head. Be free in your shots. Go for it. The brave will be rewarded here. I didn’t want to go down just making shots, seeing forehands rain down on me from Rafa.”

Sure enough it worked with Fed winning the majority of the last points, serving aces and hitting winners.

“He did not surprise me,” Nadal said. “He was playing aggressively, and I understand that in a match against me. I don’t think it would have been intelligent to try to get into too many long rallies from the baseline. I don’t think he would have won. He went for it, and it was the right thing for him to do.”

By defeating Nadal, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, to win the 2017 Australian Open for the fifth time, Roger Federer became the oldest man to win a Grand Slam singles title in over forty-five years.

Age is just a number and so is the score.

Remember play to play well. Avoid using the score as the only gauge of your level of play.

I always welcome feedback at angeloarossetti @ gmail .com.

You can learn more about a couple of tennis GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ that I have been a part of:
Our Inspiration – 2 World Records 2 Minute Video
FOX News Story
Inspirational Tennis Story: Tennis Begins with Love
If you found this article of value please consider making a donation to Save the Children. Otherwise, please share this article so that we can educate, inform and inspire others.
Make a Donation

Focus on Playing Well not on the Score

Fun. Enjoyment. Joy

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Blog article by Angelo A. Rossetti, USPTA Elite/PTR Professional, USTA HP & Mental Skills Certified & 2X Guinness World Records™ holder. Getty Images photo.

“Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.” Michael Jordan

When you are a child and first play sports these are the reasons. You have fun. Yet we can lose sight of these basics. As we get older it gets more complicated.

What are my parents going to think if I lose? They’ve paid a lot of money for lessons. What is my coach going to say? I was supposed to win. What are my friends going to think? Maybe they won’t ask me to play a much. What are my sponsors going to think? Maybe they’ll drop me. What am I you going to do with less prize money? I won’t be able to afford my lifestyle.
If you think of the Bob Marley song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” then it starts to put things into perspective. At the 2017 Australian Open, that song was played in Rod Laver Arena quite often during change overs. The perspective gained from that may have helped the epic comeback story of Mirjana-Lucic Baroni. After her win over the world #3 Agneska Radwanska “I said to myself on the court don’t worry, be happy.” When that song came on during a change over she said to herself “that’s right.”
Not only is it right for her but right for any competitor. Put in perspective why you play. Play for the right reasons. Find your way. Remove worry, be happy. You’ll play your best and enjoy it more. 

I always welcome feedback at angeloarossetti @ gmail .com.

You can learn more about a couple of tennis GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ that I have been a part of:
Our Inspiration – 2 World Records 2 Minute Video
FOX News Story
Inspirational Tennis Story: Tennis Begins with Love
If you found this article of value please consider making a donation to Save the Children. Otherwise, please share this article so that we can educate, inform and inspire others.
Make a Donation

Fun. Enjoyment. Joy

Skill Acquisition vs. Skill Retention

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Roger Federer at the Australian Open displaying a high level of skill. (c) Pintrest Michael Dodge

“The right kind of practice is not a matter of hours. Practice should represent the utmost concentration of brain. It is better to play with concentration for two hours than to practice eight without.” ~Leopold Auer

The amount of learning versus the duration of your learning is different depending upon the way that you learn. 

As it relates to imagery and visualization in skill attainment, you can’t argue with that fact that imagery helps athletic performance but specifically, what is the best way to conduct imagery. Using all of your senses to Imagine your performance, rather than just use your eyes to see your performance is more effective. There are two types of imagery: Imagining what the task physically feels like when performing it (kinesthetic imagery) and seeing yourself performing the task (visual imagery).

So imagery (rather than just visualization) is the best method but what specifically do you imagine. See yourself doing the entire performance the way that you intend it to be. Rather than focus on only one skill set, focus on imagining the entire performance. Make sure to add in obstacles and distractions. In preparing for our 2015 Guinness World Record™ on Roger Federer’s birthday, I would tell my brother and anyone who interviewed me about my training that “if Elvis walked into the room I would calmly say to myself …. ‘there’s Elvis…that’s nice…stay focused.” In other words, imagining distractions and how I would handle them was part of my visualization. Another one was, if we were a couple of shots away from winning the 1$ million for charity, ‘that’s nice…keep going…stay focused.’

Noa Kageyama, performance psychologist, Julliard alumnus and faculty member, who teaches how to beat performance anxiety and play music best under pressure, references a March 2015 study from Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

If you do the same skill over and over in a short period of time you will pick it up faster. But, like the expression “easy come, easy go”, this type of learning disappears the quickest. However, if you mentally rehearse multiple segments of your performance, a truer representation of real competition, practice becomes more difficult and takes longer to learn but ultimately will stick with you longer.

Kageyama says “We know from research on physical practice, that there are ways of structuring our practice (like blocked practice) that lead to faster skill acquisition – or a faster rate of improvement during the practice session itself. But at a cost to how much of our improvements we retain from one practice session to the next.

Conversely, there are other ways of practicing (like variable practice, or interleaved practice) that slow down our rate of skill acquisition during practice – but lead to far less forgetting or skill decay from one practice session to the next. And ultimately, more durable learning .”

In training for both of our records, we orchestrated practices much more demanding than the actual records. In our 2008 record, we practiced over a higher net – double the height in fact. That way when the day came to do the actual rally it seemed easier. When fatigue set in our ball height lowered but we still cleared the net. In the 2016 record, we trained without eating or drinking and rallied throughout the middle of the night. We also trained at a higher rate of speed and broke our previous record in practice purposely to gain the confidence of knowing we can do it not just thinking we can.

Remember to make your practice more difficult than reality while also doing the same with your imagery and mental preparation and you will increase the retention of your learning. Knowing why you are practicing a certain way rather than practicing without a purpose is the equivalent to teaching a starving person to fish for a lifetime rather than giving that person a fish for the moment.

Make practices harder, make achievements easier.

I always welcome feedback at angeloarossetti @ gmail .com.

You can learn more about a couple of tennis GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ that I have been a part of:
Our Inspiration – 2 World Records 2 Minute Video
FOX News Story
Inspirational Tennis Story: Tennis Begins with Love
If you found this article of value please consider making a donation to Save the Children. Otherwise, please share this article so that we can educate, inform and inspire others.
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Skill Acquisition vs. Skill Retention

DEVELOP THE “WILL TO LEARN” NOT THE “WILL TO WIN”

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Blog article by Angelo A. Rossetti, USPTA Elite/PTR Professional, USTA HP & Mental Skills Certified & 2X Guinness World Records™ holder

As coaches, athletes, leaders and mentors we have all fallen into the trap of trying to emphasize or develop the “will to win.” It sounds good and seems to make sense. It implies giving your best effort, not giving up and trying to become victorious. If you look more closely at developing the will to win, you are actually focusing on things you can’t control. You aren’t controlling the controllables. Your learning, attitude, preparation and effort level are things you can control.

How well your opponent plays on any given day is something you cannot control. Play to play well rather than play to win is what I’ve been emphasizing with the players and teams that I coach. Even with that you can’t always control how you play. In tennis, some days you don’t hit the ball as well as you’d like to. You can, however, control your level of learning. If you open yourself up to learning by controlling what you can control and not focusing on outcomes, but on the process, you will be a better athlete.

This isn’t easy. In life people judge us, whether we like it or not, on our results or what you have done lately. To increase your chances of having an optimal result or performance you need to shift your mindset to one of learning rather than winning. In tennis, on a big point, against a formidable opponent, do you secretly hope that they double fault or make an error? If you are, then you are focusing on the outcome. Focus on playing the best you play can based on what you are given. Have the ‘bring it on’ attitude. Compete with a sense of ‘here is what I am going to do so try to stop me’.

The football coach Jim Harbaugh said “If you’re an individual who’s looking for more work and less fun, you can be a champion.” I’d rephrase that to say that you look for fun in working hard, learning and improving to be the best you can be.

The Urban dictionary definition of the will to win is “the ability to do whatever is necessary in life to achieve your goals in life, sports, or any endeavor you undertake. The will to win is a phrase held by only those who truly believe in the will to do something that others believe one cannot do.”

Interestingly, according to Rob Polishook, a mental training coach, “in martial arts, they don’t differentiate between matches and practice. It’s all called practice. There is an implicit understanding of the process and matches are an environment where players can continually learn, grow, and improve, rather than serving as ‘“judgment day.’” 

Vince Lombardi touched on this concept when he said “the will to win is not nearly so important as the will to prepare to win.” Most athletes enjoy winning and therefore have some type of will to win. But the will to prepare or the will to learn – now those athletes are much more rare. If you put your urgency into the preparation and let the performance just happen you’ll be on a better road to success.

It’s not how well you compete but how well you prepare. It’s not how often you win but how often you learn, improve and grow.

Be prepared. Enjoy the process. Don’t let the score or outcome cap your learning potential.

I always welcome feedback at angeloarossetti @ gmail .com.

You can learn more about a couple of tennis GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ that I have been a part of:

Our Inspiration – 2 World Records 2 Minute Video
FOX News Story
Inspirational Tennis Story: Tennis Begins with Love
If you found this article of value please consider making a donation to Save the Children. Otherwise, please share this article so that we can educate, inform and inspire others.
Make a Donation

DEVELOP THE “WILL TO LEARN” NOT THE “WILL TO WIN”