What To Do When Your Life Is Turned Upside Down: Tennis Edition

With the coronavirus pandemic hitting the United States competitions have been suspended around the world. It can be an anxiety-provoking time as life changes with the unknown of the impact of the virus, increased social distancing and a loss in opportunities to compete. The team discusses different ways to manage this major lifestyle change, especially for tennis players who will not be playing a tournament for some time. Ideas for how to continue working and getting better as a tennis athlete are discussed as Coach Johnny and Dr. L emphasize being creative, flexible and understanding. Parents and coaches are also encouraged to listen, since we discuss ways to work from home and how to deal with this tragic time period.


J: Welcome to compete like a champion. You're here with Dr. Larry Lauer, mental skills specialist, and coach Johnny Parkes of USTA Player Development. Today, with everything going on, we're going to be discussing what to do when your life is turned upside down. Dr. Larry, strange times, crazy times we are we're living in.

L: Yeah crazy times. Certainly everybody is getting used to kind of a new normal and a different world and as we engage in the, from my understanding, the first mass social distancing project or initiative, so and that affects us as well as we are doing this podcast actually on an online platform and we're not together so we're like miles apart right now, Johnny, for the first time. It's sad.

J: A lot of a lot of people are and it's it's pretty scary. What's going on. Hoping that everyone's able to stay safe and healthy as much as they can, and following the guidelines that are set forth from the higher ups. We can do that and maybe we can curtail this thing sooner rather than later. But you know, I think as we look into this, as you saaid, I mean, we're doing this over over Google Hangout and recording it and and trying to get creative with being able to keep doing these and and providing some good information hopefully. So but how are you dealing with it Larry? Like what are you doing? And you know, you're a family man and got some kids at home and all that. How are they handling it? And how are you managing that as a parent and a husband?

L: Oh, yeah. No, it's been okay. You know, it was Spring Break anyway, so I think for the kids, they kind of expected more of a time at home. So typically we'd be out and doing things with them, but we're not doing that at this point, going to amusement parks, that kind of stuff. So, more so at home and so then it's, you know, family time together and, you know, this time I would have been traveling a lot. So, you know, it's an unfortunate situation, obviously, it's tragic. But at the same time, you know, finding the silver lining, and that is I get to spend more time with my family and reengage with them at a time where I would have been gone for most of the month of March. So from that sense, I'm at least appreciative of the time that I get with them and then trying to make the most of it. You know, with my kids being ages 12 to 7, you know, they're pretty self sufficient, but nonetheless, we want them to engage in things other than you know, being on their iPads and on their Nintendo's and stuff like that. So but yeah, doing all right. Doing all right. How about you? How are things on the Parkes home front?

J: Yeah, all good here. I mean, I'm set up in my dining room, much to my missus' dismay. I've got a screen set up on the dining room table. She's not enjoying it very much. And, actually my mom was able to come out a few days ago, before the travel ban from the UK was put in place so she came loaded with about 20 pounds of Cadbury's chocolate, so if there is an isolation period we won't be going hungry.

L: You'll be eating lots of chocolate, huh?

J: We might be gaining a few pounds, but we won't be going hungry. But, yeah, no, all good. And obviously my kids are so young, they have no idea what's going on. I'm setting up obstacle courses for them in the backyard and doing stuff inside staying active as much as we can. So yeah, just dealing with it how we can, and yeah, just taking this time actually to spend with the family's nice. Obviously, we're working on some things that hopefully some resources things that we can get out there. We'll talk more about that later. But either way, I mean, yeah, it's a very unfortunate situation. But I think somehow we have to see some opportunity in it with spending some more time with the family and go from there, you know?

L: Yeah, I agree, Johnny. I mean, I think this is where we apply what we talk about with the athletes and the coaches every day and reframing situations, you know. This is, again, not to belittle it Not at all. It's a very unfortunate situation that we'll see how it goes in the next few weeks. But to reframe it and look for the opportunities from a standpoint of self growth, of family growth, investing in your family, engaging with your family, with your friends. So I think that, you know, we can find ways to better ourselves during this time, while we continue to try to distance ourselves from, from groups of people. I think it also brings to bear the whole idea that we are connected still. I know in terms of our work, we're still connected and I'm trying to talk with our staff pretty regularly throughout the day. So you know, doing things like video chats helps a lot or FaceTime, to be able to see the person's face and just joke around a little bit and talk I think helps a lot. But understand that this is an anxiety, stress provoking and stressful time for people and you don't know how people are going to respond to it, for sure. But one thing I was reading and it's very important, Johnny is that this movement to try to curb the coronavirus pandemic is not isolation, it's distancing. Human connection with others is very important for our mental health. It's a buffer from depression and anxiety and many of these health concerns, so we have to find ways to stay connected. We need to keep communicating, be creative. You know, there are six weeks here without tournaments for players and who knows...

J: At least.

L: Yeah, how long everybody's going to be distancing themselves. I think, you know, week one, which is really truly what we're in, is sort of a it's new and it's, it's weird, but you're not, you know, it's scary, but it's not monotonous yet. We'll take a look at people week three, week four, and how are they doing? Are they still connecting with others? Are they staying engaged with their goals and trying to move forward? You know, as we get into five and six, it's really important to look out for people who may not have many connections with others, maybe the elderly or, you know, people who aren't online, for example, and really trying to make that effort by calling people and, you know, doing what you can. So, I do think that, again, it's very important, whether you're a high performer, as an athlete, or you're just trying to make your way through this kind of crazy new world, that you have goals, you have things you're working towards, you have hope of a better time and, and certainly, that's something that we'll be relaying to the athletes and the people that we work with.

J: Yeah, for sure. And yeah, that's a good example of just information there of you know, staying connected to people but we're gonna have a lot of athletes, tennis players out there that obviously they're very unsure on when they're going to be able to get back on court next for matches, but maybe they're in a case where they don't know when they're gonna be able to get back out on the practice court. Maybe they have capability of being able to do things at home. So what advice would you would you give to the players right now, you know, given the situation that they may not have access to courts or obviously, you know, access to their teams of people, and it's a very testing time for everyone for the coaches of those players. But you know, what, what advice would you give to the players on how they can keep improving and occupying their time to keep improving and moving forward?

L: Yeah, certainly, it's not an easy time. And as we said, worlds labs are being turned upside down, and being ready to play a tennis tournament whenever the calendar restarts is minor compared to what's happening to many people across the world. But nonetheless, we do need to move forward and we have to find ways to continue to stay motivated, to keep working. I think you've got to be creative. Whether it goes into your physical training, or your mental training, be creative. You may not have all the resources you normally would have, because places are closing down. So what resources do you have at home? I think from the same standpoint, you got to be creative mentally as well, and find things that interest you. Find other projects, books you want to read, things you want to know about, things you want to learn about. You know, one of the things I've been saying to players that I've been chatting with over the past few days is, you know, how do you want to be different or change when we go back to playing tournaments, right, and trying to, you know, get them focused forward thinking about ways to improve using the time. And that's very important, using the time not only to reconnect with family and friends, but to make yourself better. So if you have hobbies that you're not able to typically engage with, engage with them, for sure. And I think you're going to have to be flexible as well. And with the understanding that you may not have everything that you normally want or need and that is the way of things right now and we have to accept that, that you may not have all the normal amenities. So you make due with what you have. And it's not like anyone else is in a better situation. I think as this thing grows and expands, a pandemic, most countries are going to be dealing with this. So I think the question is not, you know, that some people have more than I have, it's a matter of what can I do with what I have? And yeah, making the most of it from a mental side as well. One of the things that we're trying to do is just encourage our players to watch more matches and spend time talking with their coach, or their mental coach, or strength coach about what they're seeing in the match. And so I think that's a great learning opportunity that we can take advantage of, I also think of visualization, you want to stay connected with your identity as a player and your identity with your games, so spending time creating different visualizations, your favorite moments from when you were playing very well in the past few months, to times you were dealing with adversity and how you dealt with it in a good way, and then maybe times you didn't, but then how you would do it in the future. So I think, you know, there's many different things that we can be doing during this time. I think you need to be creative. And then and then set your routine. Don't get too far off from your normal routine. You know, if on a normal training day you would be up at seven, and then do some mindfulness and have breakfast and get up and go to the gym, well, you might not be going to the gym but get up do your mindfulness, have your breakfast, train, do it, you know, however you can, and get your day started. I think that's really, really important. And that becomes even more important as this thing kind of wanes along into week two, week three, and so forth.

J: I think that's a great point. I mean, sticking to the routines, I think is going to be essential to keeping your body to a rhythm knowing that this will pass at some point and when it does pass, and you start ramping it back up again within what you would consider your normal routine. you don't want a massive shock to the system. I think that probably the worst thing we can do is do something that's completely different, and then when we want to come back to normalcy, we actually then shock the system even though we're coming back to an old routine, we're still shocking the system and we're shocking the system both mentally and physically. You know, if we shot the system too much physically, then, you know, we fizzle out quite quick in practices and all that. And then if we, you know, if we have to get back into our mental routine and we're not used to it, then, you know, we're gonna burn out a little bit quicker, you know, upstairs when we do have to start thinking a lot more and making more decisions and all that. So I think it's a really good point you bring up there. And, you know, I know for me, my alarm clock is still going off at the same time every day. I'm still getting up...

L: Cause you don't know how to change it or?

J: Yeah, I don't know how to work my clock. Yeah. No, still trying to do the same thing. It's just the difference is I can't get up, do my thing, and go to the gym, but instead, I can figure out some other things that I want to get accomplished and get done, but staying to that same routine. I think that's a that's a really good point you bring up there, Larry.

L: Yeah, you know, our routines help us to feel comfortable. They help us to feel normal. And this is by no means a normal time, but we can have some comfort in continuing to do some things that make us feel healthy, and energetic and happy. So I do think, you know, if that's getting up early and walking the dog and then training, I think you keep doing those things as best as you can. You have to keep in mind that during times like this, and not that any of us have lived through anything like this, but like post 9/11, for example, there is going to be just a residual anxiety that's across the nation, and really a level of anxiety that's just there, you can feel it and this is normal. And you got to keep in mind that some stress and anxiety is not a bad thing. It can be good for your system, but you just don't want to get overwhelmed with it. I know for example, with my family, I really want to manage any sort of doomsday sort of talk around them.

J: Yeah, so I've got a little, one of our producers who's on air made all this happen, we got Amy.

L: Her eyes just got really big.

J: And we got Jieke on as well, who's another one of our producers that's helping us with the podcast. Amy sent us this quote I guess that was from maybe a tweet from Sara Blakely. I'm just going to read it out as it pertains this next part that we'll talk about, but uh, when the great plague of London was going around in 1665, Cambridge University shut down and Isaac Newton was forced to stay at home. During this time, he invented calculus parts of the optic theory, and allegedly while sitting in his garden, he saw an apple fall from a tree that inspired his understanding of gravity and the laws of motion. So, leading into this next part, whether players, or now talking maybe a bit more about coaches and parents, how do we keep how do we keep learning? How do we keep learning and getting better as coaches and, you know, maybe parents looking after our kids, but as coaches how do we keep learning through this period of time where we've got maybe more time on our hands than we're used to?

L: I love the Isaac Newton Newton story there. I think that at first Amy made me feel like I wasn't doing much during this time. I try not to make it too personal. So

J: Yeah, you guys are not doing anything. Look at Isaac Newton. Get on his level.

L: Come on, guys. I need like the new laws of sports psychology to come out of this break. So, but anyway, I think I'll go back to what I was saying before about the anxiety and the stress. When you get overwhelmed by those things, you can't have an open mind to explore new ideas, can you? You get consumed by fear and anxiety and how you're feeling. You're just surviving at that point. Isaac Newton was thriving. I wasn't there, obviously, I'm not that old. But he must have had an open mind to experience and be thinking creatively with curiosity about what's going on in the world, and what can we learn about it? So, to me, you know, the first thing is doing the things we've been talking about, so you're not consumed by anxiety and stress and those things. I think that from there, there's many different ways to learn. I was saying I mentioned video before. I think the use of video is very important during this time, like it is at any time. Be curious. Pick up new things, you know. You know, again, I think it's a time to do some things you wouldn't normally do but then, look, we've got a ton of resources here at player development, so for players and coaches who are looking to, you know, learn. Obviously, how many podcasts we have now, Johnny, you were telling me earlier? How many episodes?

J: Yeah, 57. And you bring up a good point. I mean, I think reading is one thing that's great. I'm sure everybody has a reading list of things that they want to get to at some point, whether it's stuff that helps them within their profession or just overall, you know, just books on life, whatever it may be that drive, you know, their interests. But also, I mean, these podcasts, we got 57 podcasts now, and we've had, I mean, I don't know how many but well, exactly, but we've had 10s and 10s of thousands of downloads and, and all that and for those that have not had a chance. I mean, it's a great opportunity to go back through some of the previous episodes and maybe read through them. I mean, one other great thing, Larry, obviously apart from looking at your face in a studio every day..

L: It's a beautiful face.

J: When we do the podcast is, we've had some incredible guests on. I mean, we're talking about guests like Dr. Dan Gould and we've had Dr. Neeru Jayanthi. We've had, you know, if you want to learn about how to develop a high performance program culture, we've had Dave Licker on who, you know, won the Team USA program of the year. We've had WTA players on in Irina Falconi and CiCi Bellis. I mean, just so many topics that we dive into. You know, we've had Mackie McDonald on looking back here. Yeah, I mean, and his journey from the beginning to now and it's an incredible one, you know, listening to all their stories and learning from so many different coaches and experts in their fields. I mean, I feel very fortunate that I get to do this because as a young coach myself, I'm, you know, I'm constantly trying to learn and understand how to get better, and understand these different concepts that we bring up. And, you know, the topics that we set forth challenge me because it forces me to learn more about certain topics when we dive into them, and obviously, you hit us with with the knowledge that you've been able to gain through your career and through all the connections that you've made. And so, anyway, I mean, I know this sounds a bit like a plug, but it really truly is a good opportunity. I mean, personally for me, you know, there's other podcasts that I listen to, that I have an opportunity now to go back and listen to that have been tabled for a while. And so I'm going to go and listen to those podcasts, you know, over the next few weeks and do all that. I mean, again, I mean, it's wherever you feel that you're going to get information that's going to help you learn and grow and keep getting better. And again, you either take this as you know, okay, life is turned upside down, or I take it as, yeah, okay, it's not an ideal situation, a lot of people are in the same boat, but what am I going to do today? What opportunities am I going to take advantage of? Am I gonna sit and watch TV all day or am I gonna find some things that are going to help me be better? You know? So the suggestions that you've made on the tennis front with the players I think are incredible. I mean, you know, talking about even just watching matches, watching matches with a purpose, like tag your own matches, watch the locations, watch one of your players. For any of our pro players, go and watch some players that you've competed against. Watch reruns on them on TV or YouTube. And then start pinpointing where their to go to plays, what their to go to plays are, and their to go to shots are in certain situations. For our juniors, you know, watch the pros, watch the type of patterns that they're doing, watch what they're doing in between points, see how they're optimizing routines, see how that they sit down at a change ends and what they do when they do all that. These are times to actually start paying attention to details as opposed to not paying attention at all. That's just some thoughts from my end.

L: Nice rant Johnny. I like it.

J: Was that a rant?

L: It was a bit of a rant. Usually it's me that's ranting and you're you're trying to cut me off. I think that you're spot on and look, I mean, high performanc is detailed and the reality of the situation right now is no one's playing a match for at least six weeks. So, like a preseason, it's time to dig deep on some things you typically wouldn't dig into. You have the time, you don't have to compete anytime soon. So I think that's that is an opportunity. I think for coaches it's an opportunity maybe to study in areas that you're maybe not studying now or maybe you don't feel like you have as much knowledge. Keep in mind that there's many great professionals out there. So I mean, reaching out to people and having these kinds of formats where you call somebody and virtually and talk, you know, tell it telecommunication, you know, we can see each other a great again, we talk about making connections versus staying isolated. So I think that there's a lot of opportunity to learn. Certainly, I think our, our goal is to be better because of this six weeks, not to stay the same or get worse by being inert and doing nothing. So yeah, I think that would be our big, I guess, challenge out to everybody is how can you get better during this time? That's personal and that's individual to you. But find some ways. That might require you to sit down and think about it for a while, maybe do some searching and some resource hunting. Like I said, we have a lot of resources here and on the website, but also just relative our podcast. But I think that there's more than enough opportunity out there and now you have the time to actually, hopefully, spend some time looking through things. sifting through things and learning more.

J: Yeah, absolutely. And you just touched upon it there. I mean, we do, we got some great resources here. And, you know, over the next couple weeks, just stay tuned as we start to optimize different areas that we can keep trying to reach you as coaches and players and parents out there, whether it's webinars or information that we're sending out, just stay tuned over the next couple weeks, because we will be coming out with some resources that you can take advantage of, so that's definitely, look for that to come as we move forward here in this uncertainty. So, you know, Larry, I think, you know, that's really all we got this week, I think is is good to talk through these things and good to be connected still. I mean, again, I mean, being able to go over Google Hangout or Skype or whatever it may be, and be able to keep working and moving forwards is important and, you know, appreciate your time and everything that you're doing for all of our players and coaches and parents out there because I know that your days are starting to get slammed and booked up pretty quickly here. So just appreciate everything you're doing to to reach out to people and keep moving them forward. So

L: Appreciate that, Johnny. It certainly, you know, is a time where there's more time to talk as well. So someone like me, a mental coach, we get quite a bit busier. So it's an opportunity, I think, to reach out to people, and you don't have to be a mental coach to do that, just to check in on people and see how they are. And I think that's for all of us. So...

J: Yeah, for sure. Well, Larry, I mean, that's all we got this week and, you know, just message for everyone out there or the listeners is, you know, stay healthy, stay safe, listen to all the recommended guidelines and, you know, keep checking back in. You'll be able to see some of the resources we'll come out with and that's until next week, Larry.


J: You know, we are checking out.