Coaching Emotion

There are three main “parts” you have to coach: Physical, Mental and Emotional. The emotional part is the toughest to deal with. However, there are really only two villainous emotions; fear and anger. And they are both self-directed.

Macky Carden, our Elon football coach, told me, “When they get that old sinking feeling, you’ve got to change their minds.”

That “old sinking feeling” exists in a lot of places, one is on the tennis court. “Frozen elbows” cause practice to be worthless. Few people can play when angry at themselves. Maybe McEnroe was “actually nervous” when he created those incidences. Angry, maybe, was better than scared for Mac. Only he knows.

One freshman player’s father accompanied him to my office upon reporting to Elon. He brought a bag that contained thirteen broken racquets. The father wanted to know if I would appeal to Wilson Sporting Goods to replace the “faulty” $100.00 racquets.

The fault wasn’t the racquet, it was the anger with which they were being thrown or banged. I attempted to fix the real flaw, the self-directed anger that ruled the boy’s game.

No one would practice harder. But to no avail. Within moments this young man would go into a tantrum, chastising himself in a hopelessly damaging tirade. He didn’t get angry much with others. It was self-directed and a killer. It took a long time to change this attitude, but without changing, I wouldn’t allow him to represent us. It took a lot of patience for him to learn to quit “beating yourself up.”

Here are several comments about the emotional part of coaching:

  1. Some players don’t have the “nervous system” of a tennis player. Sorry.
  2. The only ones that do you any good as a team player are those who can handle pressure. It’s in college tennis. Either you can handle it or lose. You can learn to deal with it.
  3. Blood flow, more specifically “venous return,” causes “butterflies.” Proper warm up can help get rid of the “jitters”. For many they go away once you exercise.
  4. There is a psychological “proper level of arousal” for athletes. Not too “torqued-up” but you do need your game face. Different strokes for different folks.
  5. Psychologically tough people make the best college tennis players.
  6. What pressure does to the “one piston” player is amazing. I saw a lot of #1 seeds lose in the National tournament due to early round “nerves”.
  7. If you “hang in there” it is truly amazing what can happen. Some call it “momentum” but “pressure” is a more influencing variable. Tennis is truly unique in that “one point can turn the match around.” This is a “core” belief.

Perhaps one of my premier coaching attempts centered around pressure and playing “ahead”. You are either Tied, Ahead or Behind. Behind and tied are motivators enough. Playing while ahead is a critical emotional moment.

I don’t know how many matches I saw unfold like this:

Player A is ahead 5-3 in the third set. His opponent is serving. In the back of Player A’s head drifts this dangerous thought: “Even if I lose this game, I can serve out the match.”

All this results in a lackluster effort at another, and match winning, service break. The opponent breaks for 5-5 and the “momentum” has reversed itself. Now the pressure, and it’s power, has shifted dramatically.

Teaching “killer instinct” is key. Ahead a service break? Get a second.

I think that the most vulnerable points are “ahead points”, 40-15 and 30-0. These are the ones that twenty year olds lose concentration on, thus allowing that “old sinking feeling” to re-enter.

When ahead, keep the pressure off yourself by staying ahead.

Borg taught a magnificent lesson one day on TV. Having just beaten McEnroe in “the greatest match ever,” I watched commentator Bud Collins interview the Wimbledon Champ.

Collins asked Borg, “How did you do it?”

Borg, stoic as ever, said simply, “Legs.” Nothing more.

Collins had several minutes on his hands and rambled on in a commentary I don’t remember.

Then, Borg, having thought some, took the mic from Bud. His comments were:

1. I was very nervous inside…
2. I thought, surely I will lose…
3. I told myself, I must put these thoughts out of my mind.
4. I will not quit under any circumstances!

End of clinic. Pretty good advice for a lot of areas.

Young coaches-Reread ten times.

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