I had heard and read all pro coaches focusing on mental side of things and arguing that at pro level generally that is the main difference between winners and rest.
I had always ignored that assuming that its not concerning at junior level at least, even it was all true (I did not really believe in that either).
Recently I was given a book (from 90s) ..”So you want to be a Tennis pro..” by a distinguished ex-pro and high level coach. The author pointed out that parents often make a mistake of focusing on physicality as a solution for kid’s under performance ( not able to play at their full potential) in matches. Parents think given kid is not fit enough and therefore he is under performing. They start giving kid more physical training (or more hrs of tennis practice) to solve the problem of under performance. The author, however, finds in his capacity of sports psychologist, that while that may be true in some cases but in most other cases, its the mental side of things which is not strong enough. Kids are no different than pros when playing matches. Their mental state on the day (or even for the match) factors most part of the outcome of match. The affect of skills level is almost negligent in case of pros.
On my first reading, I again ignored the main idea of book, assuming that author being a psychologist would obviously favor the perspective of his professional subject than any other perspectives. But more I analysed my son’s matches, closer I came to same conclusions.
My son’s game has improved a lot since last year and at time of writing he is #1 in the state for his age group. But his performance gap remains the same in my view. What I meant by performance gap is the difference in the level of play in training and in matches. If his level is 100 in training, his level in matches never goes above 80 in matches. Some times it even drops to 20-30. Even when he has won a given match, contribution of his trained skills towards his win is sometimes negligible.
That is baffling.
How hard can it be for some one to use something one already knows for one’s benefit !
Like other parents, I tried to put him through more physical training, while that helped him in general, the performance gap hasn’t changed. His base level has increased but he could still not play at 100%.
I don’t know yet how to work on his mental side of things. The strategies mentioned in the book are generally targeted towards 14+ year old kids.
One thing I have started, which has some noticeable impact, using scores in practice. For example, I ask him to count how many shots (or serves, or any combination, etc) he could do “properly” “in a row”. “In a row” is important here as if he makes a single mistake the score is reset to zero. “Properly” is important here as well , so that he does not revert to “just get the ball back” type of game. The idea here is to force a habit of “disciplined” shots for “longer” period of time. I noticed that he generally lost matches not because he was outplayed by other boy but rather due to large percentage of his own loose shots (the difference between a loose shot and an unforced error is that in case of latter he is at least trying to win a point while a loose shot is the one with no purpose i.e. a lazy shot).
It did have some positive effect as it helped him to focus longer while trying to increase his score but he is still very much affected by the score pressures. Higher the score he gets to, more pressure he puts on himself and he obviously does not enjoy that either.
What I am looking for is that he learns to ignore the score pressure and plays every point as his first point. Some day 🙂