Habits for Tennis Success: Enhance self-awareness and learning

January 13, 2017 04:40 PM

By Dr. Larry Lauer, special to USTA.com

The best tennis players separate themselves from the rest not solely because of talent, but because they have excellent habits that lead to their success. World-class tennis players have a number of habits that they do in their own individual ways but are similar to the 10 Habits for Tennis Success.

The previous three habits were: Connect to Why You Play Tennis; Have a Clear Vision of Your Game and Yourself; and Set Goals Every Day Based on Your Vision.

The fourth habit serves to accelerate learning and self-awareness via the learning cycle.

Habit 4: Enhance Self-Awareness and Learning Using Goal Setting, Feedback and Reflection

To enhance awareness of what is happening in practices and matches, players must set an intention for the day, execute a plan to achieve the goal and reflect on how it went after the practice or match.

Goal Setting: At the beginning of the day, the player takes time to prepare mentally for practice by thinking about his or her goals and what he or she will do in practice or a match. This may happen in the car ride to the site or even during the warm-up, but there is a clear understanding of what is being worked on. Players should intentionally set a time to “dial in” to their goals for the day so that they arrive at tennis with purpose.

Feedback: Once mentally prepared, the player shows engagement by being open and listening to feedback, and also coaching himself or herself toward the goals for the practice or match. Thus, during execution of the performance, the player is looking for ways to work on the process goals that were set prior to practice/match. The engaged player listens intently to his or her coach’s feedback and gives it a try. If he or she does not understand what the coach is saying, he or she respectfully asks the coach to clarify. This is being engaged.

A player is also giving himself or herself feedback during execution. Only the player truly knows how the execution of the shot feels, so he/she needs to pay attention and coach herself/himself through the performance. This feedback must be honest and yet productive. Hiding from the truth about how you are performing or beating yourself up are not productive. The goal is to get better, so the approach needs to be productive. The player should think about being objective just as the coach would be, and not make it personal.

Reflection: Finally, the greatest learning and self-awareness occurs when players are reflecting on action. This means to think back to practices and matches and specific goals they are trying to attain, and how it went.

This reflection improves the accuracy of a player’s perceptions as well enhances accountability for goal striving and achievement. Following the last session of the day, players should spend 10-15 minutes quietly thinking about the day, their goals, and how they performed. Journaling is an excellent method for enhancing introspection and clarifying inner thoughts.

Coach Action

Review the learning cycle with players and ask them to be engaged every day by following this cycle. Specifically, have players set a time in the morning to write about goals for the day in their journal. Teach them how to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Timely). Effective goal setting fuels motivation, ineffective goal setting reduces motivation.

Furthermore, spend time coaching your players on being open to feedback as well as asking questions to improve the quality of feedback the player is coming up with on his or her own. Finally, at the end of the day quality, journaling includes reflective thinking and visualizing that leads to goals for the next practice or match.