This article is meant to be read by a tennis player who has big ambition. Adapt what is said to your situation: the principles are the same.
“He plays as if he doesn’t care sometimes.”
“He makes a drop shot, and then he stops moving, as if he’s going to have a coffee!”
This kind of comments is what I’ve heard in the last month coaching Arthur in ITF Junior. And it’s probably the best compliments I could receive.
When I started working with him 2 years ago, I told him: “Arthur, you’re different, and you play like everyone.”…
When you watch tennis nowadays, most players hit strong on the baseline…and this is it. Why? There is so much creativity, so many possibilities that are not explored.
3 weeks ago in Mohammedia I watched a 17 year old girl at the gym and what she was doing blew my mind: so much agility and coordination. Curious, I then went to see her playing in match: nothing! She was standing almost 2 m behind the baseline and all the creativity was gone!…
It took time to build Arthur’s game. First to help him creating the Vision. Then to believe he can do it. Finally, to stick to it no matter what. He had to lose matches…until he finally decided that no matter what, he will play his game, all-the-time.
If you read this article and you wonder how you, too, can develop your special-ness, welcome. You are going to be able to be as crazy or as fabulous (the line between these 2 can be very thin sometimes) as you wish!
And first thing first, let’s be very clear about why personalization is essential for you?
Personalization is king for both your performance and being in harmony with yourself. And this is the most essential part in training. By far.
Right now there is something I’d like you to be very aware, and I repeat it again and again to all the athletes I coach: you are the one in charge. You have ownership of your project.
You are in the driver’s seat. (choose your vehicle, for me, Triumph Bonneville or customized BMW R80T!)
If you don’t take the lead, and let your parents and coach choose for you, your end results will be limited. And probably not exactly what you would have liked.
When you do take the lead, you are responsible for your choices, you learn to make mistakes (very important), and you grow from them till you reach your goals and dream.
At the end of the day, you become a man, a real man, Confident, who knows he can achieve what he wants.
Not the small potatoes goals like being better than your friends at Fortnite or date the girl in your village.
I’m talking about being number 1 in the world of tennis or date the one nobody dares to approach: these goals require you to be uber strong and keep going for a long time without giving up.
So, with this article YOU are going to learn how to take the lead and then how to personalize your training so you become the best player that you can be.
Alright, driver’s seat, ok?!
Now, why why why do I insist that you are personalizing your training.
First, a truism: You are different.
You have your personality.
You have your specific strengths, things you like and you’re good at…and things you don’t like much.
In other words, you are weird in your own way (and so am I!).
Which means what’s good for you is very often not good for me or anyone else. And therefore you have your priorities to focus on!
For instance, even though having a good forehand is important for everyone, maybe for you it’s to be able to play high on the backhand of your opponent, maybe for me it’s to hit strong flat after I run (not maybe actually), maybe for someone else is to do variations with slices (yes, it’s possible to slice in forehand, too!).
What it does mean here is that everything you train needs to have a specific reason to be trained right now, because it corresponds to your needs at this particular moment.
Alright then, the first reason to personalize your training is to individualize it for you, so that you enjoy it, you develop these strengths, these specific shots and sequences that make you amazing (and even more weird for others!).
You want to be a Champion –> become a-ma-zing.
You want to become amazing –> personalize your training.
Secondly, your Confidence
When you dare to be yourself (driver’s seat, remember?!), to express who you really are, then you become more and more Confident.
It’s this simple: express who you are, what you got inside, dare to say no to what is not you, and you’ll become unstoppable.
The opposite is true: the more you do things you don’t want to do, the more you accept others to “educate” you, “teach” you, or “ask” you to do something, “because you have to”, the more you are placing yourself in trouble (and no, it doesn’t mean you to stop helping your mam cleaning the dishes!).
It’s one thing to do what you’re asked for if you think and feel this is good for you, it’s a very different thing to accept to do things when you know this is not good for you!
After all, part of being a teenager is to be rebel. Rebel is not necessarily a bad thing. It depends on what you do rebel against. Just to say.
The Issue with most tennis academies
Now, the consequence of what I’m saying is: please, do not make the same mistake most academies around the world are making: they do their best to impose a model and shape you the way it “should” be.
The thing is: there is no should, no have to, no must that are worth doing when your opinions, preferences and specific needs are not taken into discussion and consideration!
You and your parents might think that with all the hours trained, students of those academies become “good” players.
Yes, exactly! The kind of good when we say “good boy” or “good dog”.
They might decide to obey (for some time). They will learn to hit strong on the baseline, and when in trouble, they will continue to do the same… if (if!) they don’t get depressed, injured nor simply give up before!
Dangerous. And boring!
My point: these young athletes won’t become Champions.
The kind of Champions we admire.
A Champion, or, any kind of leader, is someone who says NO. No, I’m not going to play like this. Here is what I’m doing instead, BING!
So please, please, stop training like everybody else. Develop your BING! instead.
This is what we’re going to develop now with the following steps.
STEP 1: The 1 to 1 Relationship with your coach
The first step is a positioning.
In general in the education system, teachers should teach kids what to do. They are at the top. They are the ones who know. And students, well, they have to follow.
I hated it when I was a kid.
And thinking of it now, I find this model so harmful and outdated because:
- it kills creativity, innovation, risk taking.
- it doesn’t allow you to become Confident of who you are. Maybe Confident to be good at school, maybe…
- in a world where decision making has become a rarity, this system perpetuates this same tendency: you don’t become a decision maker by obeying. Taking responsibilities is what’s required (the driver’s seat, again!)
- it does create sheep (ok, no dog, no sheep today!). Beeeehhhhheeee! Seth Godin (famous marketing teacher) explains this way of educating has been created purposely in the industrial era, so we have employees that are good to follow the orders. If this is what you’d like for your yourself, go ahead and stop reading this my friend, because the following will give you ideas you don’t want to follow!
- it feeds power issues. When you learn that you are less than adults, what do you think when you finally become one? More than others. Same than in politics in most places.
- nobody knows what’s good for someone else. Your coach can have ideas. He can guess, suggest or intuit. This doesn’t mean that he is right. The person who will know, once he becomes aware, is ultimately yourself.
- finally, on a soul level, noone is better than others. We are all equals. All of the same value.
Back to you, if the positioning with your current coach is not correct, then what’s a better one then?
For you as an athlete this is to dare to express your opinions. Your coach can’t know everything, and the less you tell your truth, the less he will.
This means you suggest your preferences. Tell him you specifically would like to improve (especially if we talk about your strengths). Maybe your top spinned serve followed by a big forehand on the other side of the court.
Then, if your coach does take into account what you’re saying, great: you have started to rebalance your relationship with him.
And if doesn’t listen to you?
If this is the case, I suggest you change coach. A good coach listens, period. And the influence of your coach on your career is too big to think you can do it despite of him.
Now, one warning. What I’m saying does not mean that you know better than your coach either. Both need to have what they call in the Eastern World the Beginner’s Mind.
In other words:
You don’t know (yet).
Your coach doesn’t know either (yet).
The relationship is going to know (soon or later).
STEP 2: Assess your Personality
I’ve used many personality tests along the years, in many fields.
Each of them gave me some clues.
The goal is to help you understand a bit better who you are. Here are the top 3 tests you can do:
–> you do something because you’ve been asked to do it.
–> you do it because when you decide something, no matter who told you to do it, you just do it.
–> you need to question and understand all the logic before taking action. You can be an unstoppable machine…once and only once you have questioned enough the purpose and why for doing what you’re asked to do.
–> you will likely do the opposite! (guess which one I tend to be!)
Again, once you got the result, send it to your coach, and he will know better how to talk with you.
- knowing what’s important for you: your Values.
In my first book, Ta Réelle Victoire (only in French), I’ve explained why and how to do this exercise.
Basically, when you become aware of what’s really important in your life, and what to place more focus on, then you are happier. And when you are happier in your life, this has an effect on everything you do, including on the tennis court.
I’ve translated the exercise here so you can do it now.
There are many other personality tests (you’ll find more in step 4). Take what’s useful. Disregard what does not make sense.
Then go to the next step, this is going to be the most important one.
STEP 3: Ask Yourself some powerful questions
This step will dictate what you need to train.
First, get your Vision very clear with these questions (write down your answers):
- When I imagine myself at my best in the future, what are my strengths?
- More specifically, how do I dominate the game? What kind of sequences of shots? What’s my best shot?
- What is the personality trait that I have that helps me imposing my style?
- What mental and physical skills do I possess?
If envisioning yourself in the future is difficult, look at your favorite players with this question:
- who are the players that I admire and what do I like in them?
Note: What you dis-cover is the mirror of the qualities you aim to develop (consciously or not).
Then, some more questions to build the bridge towards your action plan:
Based on your previous answers, keep going in your exploration with these ones:
- Based on my previous answers, what shot do I need to train first and foremost?
Remember my article about your strengths, knowing and developing them is essential for your Confidence!
- What sequence(s) do I need to train again and again?
- What mental state do I need to train and be able to maintain?
example: “I envision I dominate the game by using the power of my forehand from any position.
My favorite sequence is serve then big forehand on the other side of the court.
I know I impress people with my posture, attitude and focus. Also, with all the strength that I possess.
My favorite player is Del Potro.
What I need to focus on in my training is simple: forehand, serve then footwork and big forehand!
In my physical training, I focus mostly on my strength and power.
In my mental training, on my posture, on taking healthy risks in my life going outside my comfort zone, talking to people, asking difficult questions, and arguing so my points of views are heard.
Other examples I have encountered:
“I take time away from my opponent” –> training to play early, to see the ball very well, and to react very fast.
“I work the guy around the court” –> training to play high on the backhand, then bing! to the other side. Mental training using grunting to release tension.
“I impose my forehand and serve and volley”. Obvious training. Work on strength and speed to get the fast twitch fibers ready baby!
“I play early with my backhand, make variations with my forehand” –> focus training on footwork for the backhand down the line.
In Conclusion for this most important step:
YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS DOING rallyes and cross courts drills like everybody else.
The only reason to do them would be to use these drills in order to help you in your game. Most of the time, they are done just because everybody else is doing them, or to “feel” the ball.
Instead, I invite you to use each time you step on the court to become closer to your vision.
As Melchior’s dad recently reminded us: “you have the Vision of your Goal, and then you have the means to do it”.
The Goal is your game to develop with your favorite shots and sequences. The means could be breathing, relaxation, grunting, footwork…etc.
Once you’ve done the work on this step and trained accordingly, matches arrive and you can assess how much did you play your game.
Arthur for instance had to lose several matches before he stopped attempting to “save the score” and not playing a full match with his strengths. Once he was fully convinced, like really really clear he was going to use his strengths no matter what and when, then results came up naturally.
Oh, and by the way, if you are concerned your weaknesses won’t be developed, think differently, you have a fantastic partner for this: your opponent! (as Fabrice Santoro wrote in his book, thanks to Nicolas Stanajic for sending me the quote).
STEP 4: Useful links between your personality and your body
“Absorb what is useful. discard what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”Bruce Lee
This step is to be taken cautiously, not necessarily literally. Having said this, you can get some game changers that will transform your training:
- your laterality. My coach Ronan Lafaix introduced me to this concept almost 20 years ago. Laterality and eyes have been assessed and optimized in many precision sports like archery, fencing, shooting or snooker. Somehow in tennis this has been skipped by most.
The most simple and big conclusion is that you don’t hit the ball in front of you on both sides (forehand and backhand). There is one side where you need to turn more your head, and therefore hit the ball more on the side.
If you do many double faults or hit the frame very often, check this out!
- Action Types. This one goes further. Based on neuroscience, it explores our whole motricity preferences and personality, based on physical tests.
Note that I’m not (yet) a certified coach in this methodology. Having said this, the idea that for some people, they have more strength when their stance is wider, others shorter, some when they hit the ball far away from their body, others when it’s close, makes a lot of sense.
The goal to me as a coach is to figure out with the player where the best plays at his best.
A solution that fits everyone does not exist. This methodology helps to polish the personalization in your sport.
- neuro types : this system, I believe once started by the late Charles Polliquin, then further developed by Christian Thibaudeau is, again, intellectually interesting. If you are curious, spend time to discover which of the types you tend to be. This will help to shape your fitness training.
It seems to me that his description of type 1B corresponds quite well to me. This means it’s important I train with intensity most days, and not for too long.
- DNA Testing: you can know the type of diet is supposedly the most adequate for you, your slow twitch/ fast twitch fibers ratio, and other cool infos on how your body works (some people can handle alcohol or coffee better than others for instance).
- Nutrition. Precision Nutrition, with the Dr Berardi behind, help athletes to personalize their diets.
- ayurveda, chinese elements and astrology (from a professional, not the one in the magazines) could also be useful to know you better. They all helped me on my personal journey.
Is it worth it? Is it 100% accurate?
Like all the tests in this step, the most important, again, is to take for you what’s necessary, and really leave the rest. Remember Bruce Lee!
Personally as a coach, your laterality and motor preferences are essential knowledge to me. The other ones are more optional and things I enjoy to play with.
STEP 5: TEST your body and mind!
By now you have re-balanced the relationship with your coach, know about your personality, your vision, goals, and got some information about some potentially useful spices that specifically work for you.
Now we need to assess then sharpen the instrument with which you are going to perform: your body and mind.
No matter what your goal is, you need, in this order:
1. To be focused and relaxed:
These essential skills, relaxation and focus, are not easy to assess.
The ultimate test is your matches:
- can you remain calm under pressure?
- Can you relax your muscles so that your shots flow no matter what the score is?
- Can you remain focused on your game plan even when ideas about the score, what others are going to think of you, and comparisons pop to your mind?
You can rate yourself on these questions after each match, and see the evolution. What you measure gets improved, so this is a great place to start.
Having said this, here are two other possibilities for testing these so essential qualities, and to train them as well:
– the focus on your breath exercise: sit comfortably, close your eyes and focus on your breath while you inhale and exhale. Count how many cycles (forward, backward, 3 by 3…etc) you can remain focused until your brain goes somewhere else. “1..2…3 oh I start to think about Federer!” Ok then, you can focus on 3 breathes, maybe one day you’ll be able to go to 4!
Welcome to the world of meditation! (to go further, I can recommend you my wife Elena, who’s a top notch meditation instructor. And like me, she does personalize the meditation training so it fits your preferences.)
– Muse headset. Tu use this method, you need to invest in the product (about 200USD). It can track when you are focused, or when you drift away. It’s fun…and not easy at all!
2. To be strong:
“Strength is the foundation for developing the rest of physical qualities”Prof. Leonid Matveev
Strength is a mother skill. Once you are strong, you can develop any quality much more easily.
Following are some benchmarks to achieve if you aim to be strong.
– Deadlift: 1 repetition at 2 times your bodyweight
– Squat: 5 repetitions at your bodyweight
– Bench Press: 1 rep @ 1.25 times your bodyweight
– 1 arm push up
– 5 repetitions @ 24kg kettlebell press
– 1 Turkish Get Up @ 32 Kg, repeated 5 times on each arm (from Simple and Sinister)
Warning: don’t attempt any of these if you have not learned the proper technique. Find a great coach, ideally a Strongfirst SFL or SFG coach.
3. To have mobility:
If you are strong and cannot move well, then your strength is almost useless.
If you can, find a certified FMS or Gray Institute instructor. They will test your mobiliy and you will know where and how you can place your focus on. This will help you to avoid injuries and move better.
For tennis, if you could master cosack and wheels (see videos below), two rather challenging mobility exercises, then you’re probably good to go. And again, nothing can replace a good testing.
Finally, if you have some pains, limitations in your movements, or just a posture that is not aligned, I recommend you 2 kinds of therapists:
- see a great osteopath: choose one that doesn’t use the “cracking” technique. Even though it could be useful at times to resolve some pains, this is not what we are looking for: what we want is someone that works on your joints and muscles slowly, to liberate them. If you live in France and in the Annecy area, my sister Aude has been officially elected (by me) the best osteopath of the planet!
- Rolfing: this is a very powerful technique to readjust your body. In 10 sessions of less, your posture will be straight again, and your movements free. Again, if you live in France in the Annecy area, contact Laurent Cavanna. He’s a former professional dancer and definitely can help you with your Confidence as well.
4. To be able to last:
For Endurance and the ability to repeat your efforts, you have many possible tests .
- For the sake of simplicity, I suggest you do the Cooper test, run as fast as you can for 12 min on a track: 2.8km (7 laps) is considered to be excellent. Enjoy!
- Another one from Strongfirst is the Snatch test: 100 Snatches in less than 5 min with the 24kg Kettlebell. Don’t complain, at the Russian army they do the test for 10min with the bucket ready (just in case)!
If you haven’t touched a kettlebell in your life, forget about it for the time being, you need to learn and practice Kettlebell Swings and Presses for a year before going for the Snatches.
Having said this, once you master this move, your serve will be very powerful, and you’ll be able to maintain your efforts at max power during your whole match.
5. To Be explosive:
For your explosive power, many possible tests as well. For tennis I recommend:
- 5 m sprint: aim for less than 2 sec
- 10 m sprint: aim for less than 3 sec
- T Test sprint: on the tennis court, sprint from middle of the baseline to the middle of the service line, then sprint to a tram line, sprint back to the other tram line, come back to the middle and then go back to the middle of the baseline: aim for less than 8 sec.
Important: one of the best investments you can make is to learn how to run properly. No, it’s not natural, quite the opposite. A sprint coach would be ideal, and this training would serve you for the rest of your career.
- Finally, 1 classic explosive power test that don’t require much technique: your Vertical Jump. 90cm would be fantastic! Let’s aim high!
STEP 6: YOUR PLAN & TRAINING= ACTION!
Once you have gathered the information necessary for you, let’s go!
With the step 1 (relationship with your coach), step 2 (personality tests), and potentially step 4 (links between personality and body), you understand how it works for you.
With step 3 (powerful questions), you have the what= what to focus on.
With step 5 (test your body), you got an idea of where you are with your physical instrument, and where you’d like to be. This is to help you achieve what you set to achieve in step 3.
How to Train Well?
Now, in terms of results with your training, there are 3 possibilities, and only one gets consistent positive ones:
1: you don’t have any intention, go and hit some balls. If you don’t have a target with something specific you’d like to improve, no wonder if you don’t make progress.
2: you have 1 specific goal, for instance improving your sequence kick serve then forehand to the other side of the court. As long as you remain focused on your specific goal, you will make improvements.
3: you have more than 1 specific goals. Your brain cannot focus on more than one new program at a time. If you give him 2+ instructions, you will end up frustrated and without the sense you have improved at anything.
Once you have achieved your goal, rinse and repeat.
Keep focusing on primarily developing your strengths and Confidence, your Vision in mind.
Improve something specific each time you train and your dreams will be manifested soon or later.
Bonus: Personalize Your Recovery
In a perfect world, we would have the perfect training plan and follow everything it says and tada! Great results come automatically.
The the real world, having a plan is great, being able to adapt your plan depending on your recovery level, is, well, necessary.
Even though I’ll probably write an article on the topic of recovery in the future, for the sake of personalization I’d like to introduce to you this tool I’ve been using: Morpheus.
Each day I run the test and then know where I am with my recovery level.
Days where my body is at the top, I know I can go full speed, train volume, intensity, repeat, anything!
And days when I’m not recovered, then my options are much more limited: working hard at that times is a good recipe to get even more tired or injured!
To illustrate this point, here is my recovery result from May 2, 2019. The day before I played an intense tennis match, and had the good idea to drink wine and eat pasta (I don’t digest well pasta). This day was a little bit challenging I have to admit!
A few days later, I was scheduled to play 2 other matches. My recovery level was similarly low (for other reasons, too much stress to deal with). Even though I played very well (no excuse, if you don’t feel good, the brain can still get you motivated!), and won the 2 matches, at the end of the second one I tweaked something behind my right knee.
One week later, I still limp and I’ve been seeing Aude and Laurent (the osteo and rolfer practitioner quoted above) to help my body recover.
If you are not taking care of your recovery very well, soon or later you pay the price!
The Big Conclusion for Personalization
Personalization is essential for peak performance. And the better you become in your sport, the more you need it.
Follow the steps in this article.
Get into the habit to at least asking yourself the questions about your Vision and what you choose to develop in your training each time you step on the court.
Every session you focus on something specific is a victory.
Any session you don’t have a goal is not only a waste of your time, if done regularly, it trains your mind to not being focused.
(Really not a good idea when we know that what does make the difference between winners and losers is this specific ability to remain concentrated on what you can control!)
Enjoy. I know this article contains a lot to digest, so email me if you have more questions about your personalization!