By Rob Castorri, Executive Director of Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy
The Greek philosopher, Socrates, was well known for his use of questions to engage in discussions, which he thought led to a greater understanding of a topic. He believed understanding the issue was a key to seeking true wisdom, as opposed to memorizing answers or facts.
At Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy (Ivan Lendl IJTA), we like to use questions when a student makes an error to stimulate the knowledge they already possess and arrive at a solution they already know, but are often too emotional to use. Asking questions can lead to a more efficient problem-solving process when you practice or play a match. Even more important, it can lead to a faster learning cycle for any new shot. In order to understand this methodology as it relates to tennis, one must accept certain premises.
- Everyone has the ability to correct their own errors.
If you burn your hand by putting it on something hot, you will instinctively know to avoid doing that again. It may take a few times before instinct overrides ignorance. Similarly in tennis, when a person hits a ball into the net and they are asked whether or not they should aim the ball higher or lower, they will say higher. With more experience, the easier it is to make the correction.
- Sometimes, the solution to problems is not as complicated as we make it seem.
A story to illustrate this is one about a young child who helped a truck driver when he was stuck under a highway overpass because it was too tall. While people stood around trying to figure out how to dismantle the truck or the bridge, the child recommended letting the air out of the tires. The truck shrunk in height and was able to roll out from its entrapment. The moral of the story is sometimes the solution to a problem is very simple.
As tennis coaches, we can spend too much time repeating commands to a student, keeping us from actually analyzing other aspects of performance. When a player is hitting a shot too low, telling them to bend their knees and get under the ball a hundred times may seem necessary, but it’s actually not. The player already knows that’s the solution. The coach needs to motivate the player to focus on the solution they’ve already trained.
- The conscience brain can only focus on one thing at a time (“Dominant Thought Theory”).
Rather than overload your brain with more than one task, stay with one until it becomes automatic. In the previous example of hitting a tennis ball, concern yourself with striking it with the center of the racquet strings. When a person is preoccupied with putting the ball in play and away from an opponent, they actually do a worse job of both because they often mishit the shot or strike it too low. Aim the ball higher until you find the right height for your swing speed.
- Trying to achieve rather than avoid, is an efficient method of accomplishing an objective.
When a person strives to become exceptional at something, they need incentives. These can be intrinsic and internal (own desire to excel) or external, (rewards and / or acknowledgement of success). For emotional stability, it’s better for a person to work towards a goal rather than away from one. When you avoid something, you can end up doing the exact thing you wanted not to do, leaving you in a worse psychological position than before. Striving towards a goal to reach, rather than avoiding failure, is more efficient. As a coach, it’s more important to tell your student to hit the shot higher or with more spin, rather than a negative circumstance such as to avoid hitting it into the net or out of bounds.
At Ivan Lendl IJTA, we often teach our students to become their own coach during their practice or in a match. When making mistakes, use this simple question and answer method to achieve a desired change in behavior.
Here are the challenges most common among tennis players and the solution you’ll find will help you meet those challenges:
- When you mishit a shot:
- Question (Q): Do I want to put the center of the racquet on the ball or not?
- Answer (A): Yes, now do it the way you know how to.
- Result (R): You start focusing on the putting the racquet on the ball instead of looking over to where you want to hit it.
- When you hit the ball into the net:
- Q: Do I need to hit the ball higher or lower?
- A: Higher, of course,
- R: You begin to get under the ball more so you can hit higher.
- When you hit the ball too long:
- Q: Do I want to hit the next shot to be longer or shorter?
- A: Shorter.
- R: You start hitting the ball with more spin or less speed so the ball lands in bounds.
- When you hit the ball too wide, either cross-court or down the line:
- Q: Do I need to hit the ball farther to the opposite side of where I just hit the ball?
- A: Yes, it needs to go to the opposite direction from where my shot just landed.
- R: You start hitting the ball earlier or later, depending on what you wanted in the first place.
These simple routines may seem too obvious to be considered effective. By going through the process, juniors will discover the key to eliminating errors is focusing on making the solution happen. It will help avoid getting mired down in minor technical details. Try it out and see if you become smarter and more consistent and successful with your efforts.
About Rob Castorri
A native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Rob Castorri has been involved in tennis for over 30 years as a professional player, coach, club manager and event promoter. He’s won numerous championships since turning pro in 1978, and achieved a No.1 ranking in Florida’s Men’s Open Division. Castorri has notable victories over players such as Boris Becker.
As Executive Director, Castorri oversees program development, instruction and operations for Ivan Lendl IJTA. The Academy exemplifies Ivan Lendl’s desire to give back to tennis and develop future champions through a new-era curriculum and holistic training approach. He believes in personalized programing for each student. Primary focuses include classic fundamentals, leading-edge biomechanics, strength training / fitness and mental preparation. The staff subscribes to a hands-on approach with students instilling dedication, focus, hard work, motivation and overall preparation.
For more information: www.LendlTennis.com/info, 888.936.5327.