The other day I had a practice with one of my full time junior players.
He is a hard worker, very dedicated and passionate player who always loves to do extra work. I love practices with him because it’s always all in. Oh, maybe I will take that back just for a second.
That day he was not happy the way he was playing (even though I personally thought he was close to where he needed to be). He has a tournament coming up soon so he was showing some emotions because he didn’t feel on court as good as he wanted.
Lately he’s been putting in a lot of hard work, doing longer practices, doing more planned fitness and mental sessions, making him more aware of what’s actually going on there on court. He started picking up many things related to the mental game which really made me excited, but that day he just completely lost it again.
“I can’t put a freaking ball in the court! I just can’t!”, he was yelling, full of frustration and negative energy. He continued: “I’m not even trying to hit a winner, just trying to put the ball in the court!”
He made these comments after a very fast and risky forehand that went few inches long. Still the truth is, he was lacking a bit of consistency on forehand that day, but being so obsessed with the errors he was making, his footwork completely lost that minimum intensity needed for proper play.
“Okay I see, not your best day”, I said. “But is this the right thing to do now? Show emotions and get upset on something you can’t completely control while giving up the control of some most fundamental things? Do you think your movement was at your high standard level?”, I asked him.
“Of course it wasn’t!”, I didn’t let him talk. “Yet you know that footwork is the number one priority on court. And guess what? This you can always control! So yes, you will have some days where you don’t “feel the ball”, or you can’t find your rhythm, but this is completely normal thing. Your perfect match or performance will happen only few times a year, if that many. So remember that well. On all other days you have to work with what you got. Intense footwork and clear, steady mind. Laser focus and that positive vibe.”
He was looking at me and just nodding. Then he asked: “But what should I do now, when I can’t get the ball in the court?”
At this point I could not blame him because I know exactly how that feels. Been there, done that. Struggled through that. But after you go through it many times, you eventually realize what’s happening and you come up with solutions.
On one hand, he might be feeling a bit intense because of the tournament coming. On the other hand, after putting in all that hard work and then not playing your best? Feels like crap.
I told him: “You have to raise above all those feelings. You look more long term and believe that your game is improving with every practice, just the incremental progress is sometimes too small to be noticed. And for the tournament? You get proactively confident because you know you did your homework. You are ready.”
He started jumping in one spot, like Nadal when waiting for the umpire’s coin toss.
“And what can you do now?”, I continued. “First, control what you can control! Move your feet like you have never moved on court before. Second, get over it! You make some mistakes? So what? Roger does it too! So does everybody! You can’t play perfect tennis, all the time. Not in this world. Third, find a way to win a point! On days when you don’t feel it, you find a way, you make the ball in, you run, you jump, you dive, you slice, you go to the net. You fight for every damn point, and you do it gracefully. You don’t start getting all emotional, showing how you are becoming weak and giving your opponent a signal for his final nock down punch.”
He put a determined smile on his face and went on with a practice.
It’s that simple. On your “rainy” day, you move the best you can. You don’t judge your game based on your mistakes, you let them go. You find a way to win one point at the time.
So next time when you have a bad day on court, what will you do?