The Perils of a #1 Seed

It’s been a while since I last updated this blog, so here’s a quick update.

  • I didn’t play much over the winter or spring due to some work commitments.
  • I made my comeback in June and actually played pretty well, winning one tournament and advancing to the finals of another one.
  • Then, all of the sudden, I was getting seeded #1 or #2 in almost every tournament I played

Which leads me to this: It’s not easy being the #1 seed.  People are gunning for you.  They have nothing to lose.  They can play loose and relaxed.  So the  bad thing is that I haven’t won ONE match since I started being seeded #1.  I’m not going to beat myself up too much as I’ve run into some good players.  I literally have not had one “pushover” match since being seeded #1.  In rec league tennis, that’s the way it works.  Just because you’re seeded only means that you’re not going to play the other players who play a lot of tournaments and get some good results.  There’s always a chance that you could play a good player that hasn’t played in a tournament and that’s happened to me.

In my match earlier today, I played a guy who I’ve never beaten and has typically been seeded in tournaments.  I lost 6-1, 7-6.  In the first set, I was really tight and was forcing myself to go for too many shots.  By the time I got things figured out, I had already dug a hole and couldn’t find my way out.

It would be easy to freak out right now and really start beating myself up, but I think all of this is going to be good for my game in the end.  It’s going to teach me how to play under pressure better.

Being seeded #1 is one of those classic “be careful what you wish for” scenarios.  Nothing I can do about it now, so I might as well embrace it.

Why I train: Because ONE point can decide a match

Up until last year, I wasn’t all that big on training for tennis.  I thought that I got more value out of being on the court, practicing my shots and “playing my way into shape”.  I changed my attitude on that last year when I wanted to exercise more in the off-season and make sure it didn’t take the whole season for me to get in shape.

I played my first tournament of the season earlier today and the little bit of training I have done this winter paid off.  At 6-6 in the 3rd set (10-point) tiebreaker, I had to chase down a lob and then chase down a drop shot to force and error on an easy put-away to win the point.  I went up 7-6 and then won the next three points to close the match.  I was sucking wind big time, but there is no way I would have been able to win that point unless I had been hitting the gym this Winter.

All of this came after starting incredibly slow and going down 4-0 in the first set.  After that, I won 10 out of the next 14 games to force the 3rd set breaker.  Here in Colorado, where the 3rd set tiebreaker is prevalent, one point can easily decide a match.  I saw it happen many times last year.

My reward for winning this match? A 6:30am start tomorrow morning.

Good weekend of Tennis

A couple good tennis things happened this weekend.

1) I finally won a singles tournament.  I made the finals of three tennis tournaments this year and a couple last year.  I wasn’t able to win any of them.  In fact, I played terrible in all of them because I was too focused on winning the tournament instead of playing my game.  It was nice to get over the hump so I don’t put as much pressure on myself when I get in these situations in the future.  This wasn’t a big tournament by any means, so I’m not going to make a big deal about it, but it was still good to win.  The guy I played in the finals was a solid player and I had to play well to beat him.

2) Even more encouraging was the match I lost.  I played in the Men’s Open division for the first time in a long time and ended up playing a college player from Colorado Mesa University.  He was a Senior on the team and had frequently played #1 on the team.  I lost 6-2. 6-2, but I didn’t embarrass myself – in fact I hung in there on a lot of points.  He dominated me on his serve out to my backhand.  I just haven’t seen many serves like that at the 4.0 level.

Overall, I’m happy with how I am playing right now and need to find ways to keep this up over the winter.  It was really fun to get out there and hit with a college kid who was fairly sharp and could hit the ball.  I need to find more hitting partners who are a few levels above me so that I can see different kinds of serves and shots.

Losing without being defeated

I saw a movie this weekend called “Knuckleball!” which is a documentary about the rare breed of Major League Baseball pitchers who throw the pitch of that name.  The journey to be a knuckleball pitcher is a long one.  Oftentimes, a knuckleballer doesn’t figure out their game until late in their career, usually somewhere in their 30′s.

At one point in the movie, Tim Wakefield, one of the pitchers that is documented, says, “You gotta learn to lose without being defeated.”  As a guy who is still trying to improve his tennis game in his late 30′s, I found this to be an extremely relevant comment.  The fact is that I’m going to lose Tennis matches.  I’m going to lose 3rd set tiebreaks and I’m going to get my doors blown off by better players.  But the goal here is to get better at tennis – not to win every single match.  If that was the case, I would go out and find inferior competition and win every single match.  How fun would that be?  Not very.

Lose without being defeated – that’s the key.

 

Trying to find my motivation again

Every morning I get an email from TimeHop that details what I did one year ago and posted through various social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram.  It is because of this email that I know that last year at this time, I was super motivated and working out at the gym 4-5 times a week.  I was hitting with my tennis coach every other week and I was documenting all of this via video and blog posts.

I’m not really doing any of that right now.  This is my first blog post in over a month.  I have only been to the gym once in the last month and I’m not currently hitting with any coaches.

I have lost my motivation and I’m not sure how I can get it back.

The weird thing is that I’m still playing ok, which is probably just perpetuating my excuses. I got out and played some doubles and was happy with the way I was striking the ball. Deep down, I know that this is mostly because I’ve come a long way on my mental game in the last 12 months and not because I’m in good shape or practicing solid footwork.

I know I can play at a much higher level, but I gotta find a way to get that fire back.  I’m making too many excuses why I don’t need to go to the gym.  I’m not holding myself accountable.  My goals for the coming year aren’t clear – or maybe I’m doubting whether I can attain them or not.

Any advice on how I can get the fire back?

Summer is Over. What Did I Learn?

Well, it wasn’t quite the Summer Tennis season that I dreamed of, but it wasn’t that bad either.  I made it to finals of three tournaments and ended up with a record well over .500.  Now that it’s officially Autumn, I should take inventory of what I learned as I move into the off-season and start preparing for next year.

Having fun while you play tennis can do wonders for your game.  Here in Colorado, we play a 10-point tiebreaker in lieu of a full 3rd set.  I ended up playing a ton of tiebreakers this year and lost most of them in the beginning of the year.  Once I figured out that having fun playing Tennis in these tight matches helps manage nerves, I started winning a lot more of them.  In fact, I think since June, I’ve probably won 90% of the tiebreakers I’ve played.

Balancing fitness, footwork and tennis is important – throughout the year.  I played on two teams and in a ton of tournaments this year and really neglected my fitness and footwork durning the season.  If I could do it again, I would have spent a little less time on the court playing matches and more time in the gym and on the court practicing footwork.

It’s hard to pick up Doubles again after not playing it competitively.  I used to be a good doubles player – probably better than Singles.  That’s not true anymore.  I played doubles for the first time in a couple years last month and wasn’t very good at all.  Doubles has a completely different rhythm and mental game and those muscles were weak.

It’s hard to balance work and Tennis.  I defaulted way too many matches this Summer.  A couple due to injury but most because of work obligations.  Personally, I hate these tournaments that are dragged out over the course of a week, but that’s how it’s done here in Colorado.

Worrying about your opponent ruins your game.  Early in the season, I was letting my opponents get me too worked up.  The fact of the matter is that there are some cheaters out there.  There are also some rude people and players that don’t know the rules and etiquette of the game.  When I finally started focusing on MY game and not theirs, I started playing a lot better.  I also enjoyed Tennis a lot more.

I’m actually looking forward to changing my approach to the game this off-season.  Last year, I was all about finding cheap ways to play Tennis in the Winter.  This year, I’m still going to get out and play Winter tournaments because I think they are a good bargain, but I am not going to beat myself up if I don’t get out to play too much.  I think there are plenty of things to do off the court that will maintain and improve my game.

 

The Gameification of Training

If you’re an athlete, you probably love competition – which means you probably love games – which probably means you like keeping score.  Whether its UNO, Yahtzee or Tennis, I like keeping score on everything I play.

The problem with being competitive is that it’s hard to keep score in practice.  Back when most of my Tennis training was jumping rope, I used to keep a spreadsheet where I would log how many jumps I did in a training session – that’s how far I went just to “keep score” and make my training a little more interesting.

It’s a good time to be an athlete because companies like Nike and Babolat have figured out that athletes like to keep score – on everything and are literally making games out of training.  Check out what Babolat is doing with their new racquet that tracks your performance:

This could be a real game-changer as we keep track of variables like racquet speed, spin, etc.

Nike has been on the cutting edge of this concept for the past few years.  They’ve led the way by innovating new ways of tracking your performance via iPhone apps.  More recently, they launched the Nike+ Fuel Band (which I use).  Their new innovation is merrging these two concepts in what they’re primarily known for: shoes.  Check out this video where the shoes are tracking measurables like vertical jump and “hustle”.

Blog post inspired by a tweet from @markphilip who made me aware of the Babolat racquet.

The Agassi Forehand Return

I don’t know if I added much value to this video other standing there and telling Jeff that my service return needs some help, but there is some good advice in here.  Have a look at how the return of serve is different than regular tennis groundstrokes.

And for what it’s worth, here is the man himself hitting some service returns.  With the mullet and old school neon too.

The Dreaded Overhead

Do you panic when you get an overhead? I do.  Not sure why.  My overhead isn’t terrible, but I miss my fair share too.  The overhead is weird because it’s usually a reward for a nicely played point, yet we panic when the tennis ball goes up in the air because it’s supposed to be easy.

The fact of the matter is that it’s not that easy of a shot for us rec tennis players, so Jeff shares a good tip on the overhead in this video.  I will warn you, he goes into a lot more detail on his Total Tennis Training website, which requires a paid membership – but it’s only $10 a month.  A steal if you ask me.

The Switch Pattern

Here’s another tennis lesson that Jeff and I filmed a couple weeks ago.  This one is going over the “switch” footwork pattern that Jeff teaches for balls hit deep into the court.  I find this happening a when I encounter a player who is good at getting a lot of “air” underneath the ball.

Having watched this video a couple times, I’m noticing how I feel like I am jumping or switching in this case, a lot more than I really am.  This is a great footwork pattern and really effective when executed properly.

Learning the Drop Shot

From time to time, Jeff Salzenstein invites me out to help him film some instructional videos for his Total Tennis Training.  If you’re not familiar, Total Tennis Training is an incredible library of instructional Tennis videos that you can watch from the comfort of your own computer.

In this week’s video, Jeff drops some knowledge on hitting an aggressive, offensive-minded dropshot and I was lucky enough to help him out.  Check out this week’s video (featuring me) for a peek into what’s going down over at Total Tennis Solution:

In case you’re wondering, the hardest part about filming these videos with Jeff is feeding him the ball when he’s showing the right way to hit the shot.  It sucks when Jeff has a great “take” on explaining how to hit the shot only for me to guff the feed and we have to do the whole thing over again.

It’s not supposed to be easy.

I just watched the San Antonio Spurs make a nice comeback in the 4th quarter to beat the OKC Thunder in Game 1 of the 2012 Western Conference Finals.  They were down nine heading into the last quarter, but that’s no big deal to them.  Instead of panicing, they turned it on and got the job done.

A big reason the Spurs don’t panic is because their coach, Gregg Popovich (who I think is the best in the league) proactively prepares them for battle.  The guys calling the game kept talking about a quote Popovich said going into the series:

This isn’t supposed to be easy.

A million people have said this a million times before.  It’s nothing new, but it was a good reminder for me.

In the last few weeks, I’ve gone into matches hoping it would be easy.  I’ve been hoping I’m way better than my opponent and I’m going to get nice easy win.  That’s a really bad habit and the completely wrong mindset.  Take my match earlier this week for example: I got on the court and noticed right away that my opponent had some game.  That’s an automatic letdown and the match hasn’t even started.

I gotta change this stat.  If I want easy matches, I should go find beginners.   If I want to improve my tennis game, gotta start looking forward to the battles out on the court.

Hitting with Feeling vs. Hitting with Thinking

I was watching ESPN this morning and they were covering Tiger Woods’ first win on the PGA Tour in over two years. They interviewed former PGA Tour Pro, Paul Azinger and he made a really interesting comment:

Tiger was hitting with feeling instead of hitting with thinking.

This was a perfect summation of what I’m trying to get to with my tennis game. After learning a lot of new shots and footwork patterns over the last few months, I know that playing tennis with a lot of thinking just doesn’t work. When I hit with Jeff a couple days ago, he was talking about creating pictures of the shots you want to hit in your mind. He used the word “snapshot” to describe the vision of each shot and it was more than just visualizing success or winning a match – it is literally a vision of what each shot is going to look like.

I started to do this when I went out and hit yesterday. It took me a little while to get the hang of it, but when things started to click, I was hitting the ball a lot better. It’s hard to explain, but by creating a snapshot of what shot I wanted to hit, it relieved some of the pressure I was putting on myself. It was almost like, “I want to hit that shot, so I might as well try it.”. That probably sounds counter-intuitive, but it seemed to work for me.

Confidence vs. Pressure: There’s a fine line between them

I’m heading up to Vail, CO tomorrow afternoon for a tournament.  Tennis at high altitude (8000 ft) is going to be interesting.  I played in Breckenridge (9600 ft) several years ago and remember the ball really flying on me, but that was when my game was an absolute mess and I really can’t blame the altitude.

When I met up with my coach, Jeff earlier today, I wanted to brush up on the basics.  I haven’t been out on a court for a couple weeks now and it doesn’t make sense to try and learn something new when I haven’t mastered some of the basics yet.  We spent our time together doing a refresher on all of the shots and footwork we’ve covered in the last few months.

We also talked about the mental side of the game.  I’m in a weird place now mentally because I go into tournaments knowing that I have put in a fair amount of work over the winter and should be winning more matches.  Thinking about all of that work and time spent on fitness, nutrition, learning new shots and footwork comes to life in two ways: 1) confidence that I have a shot at winning matches and tournaments and 2) added pressure that if I don’t win, I’m not living up to my expectations.

In this video, Jeff and I talk about the mindset I need to take into these kinds of matches.  Let me know how you mentally prepare for your tennis matches when you expect a lot out of yourself by leaving a comment below.  I’d love to hear from you.

The Backhand Slice

A update from the tournament I played last week…

I won a couple rounds and played ok in the matches I won.  The funny thing is that I played my best tennis in the third round and lost the match.  In the first set, I was absolutely on fire – I was seeing where I wanted to hit the ball and I was hitting it there.  It was a great feeling.

I ended up winning the first set 6-2 and was up 2-0 in the second and some blisters started to set in.  I tried to tighten up my shoes and try win the third set tiebreaker, but I just couldn’t rally.

After evaluating what has brought on this blister problem in the last couple months, I narrowed it down to socks.  I think the socks I was wearing were simply too thin and the moisture was causing friction.

I walked away from the match telling myself that if I had worn better socks, I would have put this guy away.  It’s not an excuse because I’m still happy with the way I played and I think I can build off of the experience – mostly by investing some money into better socks.

Later on in the week, I got together with Jeff and we talked about a couple things that I thought I could do better.  Here’s a video on the backhand slice, a shot I have always had problems with, mostly because I’ve never really learned how to hit it.  I’m primarily a two-handed backhand kind of guy, but the slice is a good shot to have as a change of pace and to bail you out of a shot where you’re out of position.  Here’s a great lesson from Jeff that dispels yet another myth of Tennis.

Lesson #05: Stalking the Ball

When I’m hitting with Jeff and getting his instruction, I rarely ask why he is teaching me to do something a certain way.   There just isn’t enough time and honestly, I really just don’t have reason to doubt him.

This week, while we were doing some drills, I wasn’t getting the right spacing as I approached the ball.  This was an occasion where knowing why I was supposed to do something really helped me improve my stroke.  When Jeff explained his “holding the ball” technique, it helped me understand the cause and effect: If I “hold the ball” or as we call it in this video “stalk the ball” then I get better spacing as I strike the ball.

Although you can’t see where the balls went when I stalked the ball, I can assure you that the shots when I had the right spacing were considerably better.

Big thanks to Jeff – again.  Be sure to visit him at JeffSalzensteinTennis.com for more great tips.  And if you really want to take your game to the next level – check out his Forehand Solution.

Mythbusting on the Tennis Court

The thing I love about working with my tennis coach, Jeff Salzenstein, is that he is constantly busting myths on the tennis court.  The thing I hate about it is that I was taught how to play tennis by practicing most of these myths.  Better late than never, right?

As we have covered in previous videos, footwork and the approach the to ball is critical – and it can be much more efficient than the typical series of little shuffles to the ball.  In this video, Jeff cracks another huge myth:

It’s not about getting to the ball early, it’s about getting there at the right time.

I don’t know about you, but I was taught to play tennis by getting the racquet back early and getting to where the ball is going to be as fast as possible.  As you’ll see in this video, that’s just not right.

You might have noticed jeff referencing some of the pros that hit the ball like this.  I went on YouTube and found this video of Djokovic hitting a variety of backhands and found that he hits most of his “great shots” with this footwork pattern.  Check it out:

Forehand Footwork

This simple footwork pattern is a game changer.  Seriously.  After my tennis lesson with Jeff last week, I tried out out and it just felt so much easier, efficient and smooth.  I know I don’t have Roger Federer’s forehand, but when I did everything the right way, it literally felt like I was hitting the ball like Roger.  I know that sounds stupid, but that’s how good it felt.

Check out the video:

[tags] tennis, forehand, footwork, usta, instruction, lesson [/tags]

Richard Branson is worried about the future of tennis and has an idea to fix it.

Richard Branson is a tennis player and is worried about the future of the sport.  His take is that there aren’t enough people playing at the “grassroots” level and he blames it on the fact that Tennis hasn’t followed Golf in adopting a handicap system that allows people of all levels play against each other.  His solution is interesting.  Check it out here.

In my opinion, his system sounds kind of fun, but I’m not sure it will solve his issue.  Based on what I’ve seen in Denver and previously in Texas, there is not shortage of opportunities to find your level of competition if you play within the USTA NTRP framework.  The problem is that not all cities offer this.  My hometown of St. Louis falls in this category.  They offer USTA NTRP leagues, but very few tournaments.

The other issue is that kids aren’t playing tennis and therefore aren’t playing as adults.  It’s expensive and the equipment isn’t always accessible.

I applaud Branson for contributing to the solution and I’m sure it makes his games against Novak more enjoyable, but Tennis needs more than a handicap system.

Getting the Fire Back

I haven’t been playing much tennis lately.  After playing quite a bit this past spring and summer, I was a bit crispy and lost a lot of motivation to get out on the court.  It had become a chore.

So as I’m sure you could understand, I was a bit apprehensive about a tournament I signed up to play in this past weekend.  Even though I didn’t think my prospects of winning were all that good, I wanted to play because it’s a good tournament.  It’s close to home, it’s indoors and it’s on clay, which is always fun.

The good news is that I think the break did me some good.  It took me a couple matches to get my game back to a respectable level and in the third match (which I lost) I actually played alright.  More importantly, I walked away from the tournament wanting to play more.  I found myself looking at the tournament schedule and planning out how I can get on the court more in the next few weeks.

I think I had only been on the court once or twice in the past five weeks and don’t think I could have gone much longer without picking up a racquet without really losing my game.  I’m just not the kind of player that can go a long time without playing.  But I am encouraged with this result and have a bit more confidence that I don’t have to always be on the court to improve my game.

How do you manage your motivation?  Do you take time off?  How do you get back in the groove and how long does it take you?

 

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