Though a righteous man fall seven times, seven times he shall rise up. ~ King Solomon
What you will see here are some outcomes of the creation of an atmosphere where players can rise to the occasion. You will see that there was history between player and coach. Trust had been established. A mutual problem solving approach based in a collaborative relationship was key, leading to the empowerment of the player. At its root, was a growth mentality, a process orientation toward success. Enjoy.
Preston Was Tight, Did He Rise Up?
Preston was tight. In fact, he was nearly incapacitated. The moment had gotten to him, and he was nearly frozen on the court. He was a team captain and he cared a lot about our match as a #9 seed going up against the #1 seed. Preston was not rising to the occasion. He and his doubles partner lost their first set. Varun was playing a bit better than he normally does. On a changeover we discussed that I did not expect Preston to play a lot better, but any shot he hits should be to a certain location to allow more balls for Varun, and to try to set Varun up as much as possible. “Now Varun, feel free to go completely nuts, you get to carry Preston today.” Or some such nonsense is what I said. Varun stepped into that space and it happened. What transpired was inspiring. Varun for the first time in his high school career played to his full potential. He had almost always held back, but now he knew he needed to play his best for the team. This team of two juniors was playing a very experienced team of two seniors who had an amazing record over a couple years, no one would have bet on Varun and Preston, especially with Preston playing so tightly. There was very little in the way of coaching from then on, but Varun stole the show, and the match as they won that 7-5 in the third set. I had a nice talk with Varun as I admired how well he had played. A lot of work had gone into creating this atmosphere, and I can assure you it never happens in one day, it takes many weeks for teenagers to learn to trust an adult in a way that will allow them to let loose with their full powers. The following season in the sectional championship match Preston’s partner froze up, and he was the one who rose to the occasion in the pivotal match that won the match, equivalent to a state championship in many states.
Rising to the Occasion Competitively
Shreyas was the #1 player in the league. His opponent, Daniel was a very hungry and rapidly improving #2 player in league. Shreyas was not playing well, on a few changeovers we tried to figure out how he could unlock his game. He also was a bit tight, feeling the pressure from the challenger. As the match progressed and he was down a set and break, the overall team match was becoming very close, toward the end of the second set, in a very tightly contested match, the overall team score was knotted at 3-all, with Shreyas’ match being the decider. It became apparent that his play was not going to be top notch. We discussed having him run faster, dig harder, eliminate errors, and compete harder than he ever had before. Shreyas dug his way out of the second set 7-5, and fell behind a break again in the third set. He was a break point away from going down 4-1 with two breaks, but managed to hold and then excavate his way through the match getting into a tiebreaker in the final set. He then played well in the tiebreaker winning 7-1. It was the most tense, nerve wracking match I think I have ever coached. Shreyas rose to the occasion in a different way. At one point in the middle of the third set, I made a huge withdrawal on the bank account of our four year relationship. I asked Shreyas to “Take personal responsibility for the outcome of the match. Carry this team on your strong shoulders.” Shreyas is an incredibly responsible person, and he had become an amazing athlete, putting in a lot of time in the gym, boxing lessons, and other activities to help his tennis. On changeovers and periodically between points I would say “Responsibility”. He carried it, because he could, I said that because I knew he had the capacity, it resonated, because I understood him from four years of seeing him play.
Chloe Trusts Styrling
Chloe was engaged in a single’s battle to clinch the Conference Championship, after winning the first set 6-4, her opponent began to hit moon balls big time. Chloe went down 0-3 in the second. Coming to the fence to chat, I asked her if she was willing to come to the net more, she agreed. So I asked her to look to play a two-shot sequence, a high moon ball approach to her opponent’s backhand and then rush the net in a controlled way as to look for a lob or high loop ball to come back. At first Chloe struggled a bit to find her rhythm and timing, down 1-4 on the change-over, she seemed a bit hesitant. I encouraged her and said, “You are starting to find your timing, your opponent is very nervous about you doing this because she knows her lobs and loops are two short, you just need to take your time at the net.” Chloe smiled and said, “I can do this!”
Chloe Overcomes Fear, and Rises!
Chloe went out and won the next 4 games in a row making it 5-4, after a battle back and forth 5-5, 6-5, 6-6 they go into a tiebreaker set. Chloe maintained her cool demeanor and won 7-4 in the tiebreaker clinching the Conference Championship. This story is about Chloe being able to overcome her fears and believe in the game plan that would work against this game style. She had the tools and just needed to believe in herself to face the adversity of executing in that moment. As coaches, if we can give calm and clear suggestions and advise in these time of great adversity and pressure facing our players, it goes a long way to teaching them that overcoming their fears assist them to higher levels of play.
Dean Used Practical Mental Skills to Overcome!
Dean was facing a tough opponent, he knew he had to stick to his game plan no matter what happened on his opponent’s side of the court. He had struggled in the past, with giving up, when he began missing shots, plagued by thoughts of ‘it’s not my day today’. I had been encouraging him to push through the adversity and pressure, to find a way to play the ball with more spin on his serve and groundstrokes instead of just ‘hitting’ the ball with little intention other than trying to blast it past his opponent’s racquet. That day would be different has Dean collected himself, remembered on training of playing the ball with more intention, setting up his patterns to force his opponent in difficult and defensive positions. As Dean began to execute his strategy, he saw his opponent begin to weaken in confidence. His opponent also seemed to be a little shocked at how Dean was not losing his temper as in the past when he missed shots. We had been working together on keeping his cool and rituals of breathing between points, taking a little extra time to collect his thoughts and execute the next pattern. So the training with practical actions helped him manage his own internal struggle. Dean succeeded that day in winning against an opponent he’d not beaten before, this was a great confidence booster for him in knowing that pushing through the pressure, following his plan and execute fearlessly throughout the entire match.
Styrling Strother’s Book 7 On Court Strategies to Enter Your Play State was released July, 2017