Keen to evolve his knowledge of high performance coaching, Andy Knibbs an LTA tutor and coach invited U.S master coach Sean Brawley to present a 3 day workshop on ‘Coaching Mastery’. Sean, a former 150 ATP tennis player had been mentored by Tim Gallwey the author of the Inner Game series for 20 years. For the past year, Sean had been exploring effortless tennis, including the neuroscience behind relaxed focus and how this can be integrated with the Inner Game to optimise learning and performance.
Sean’s coaching approach resonated with me because it integrated both non directive and directive coaching (including the expertise of the coach), allowing for fluidity between the two, rather than pursuing a purist approach of one or the other. It became more about learning the ‘Art of Coaching’, and using frameworks for movement and consistency in order to diagnose and help a player to accelerate their learning in a progressive way.
In a drill designed to help with relaxation and focus I had an amazing experience whilst focusing on breathing. To start with we were asked to put a floor marker down inside the service line and to use this as a reference for our intention. We were then instructed to inhale when our partner hit the ball and to exhale when we hit the ball and to pay attention to the level of relaxation in our bodies. With our primary focus on breathing and to notice our state of relaxation, we were encouraged to move our makers back only when we were consistent, and accurate. If we got ‘tight’ when hitting from the back we had to come back to the service line again. After 5-10 minutes I noticed that I had entered ‘the zone’, where I could feel the rhythm of my body hitting the ball, with minimal conscious effort. So what you may be thinking!
Well the end result was a rally from the back of the court of more than 100 shots, something I don’t normally experience, plus a level of focus that was definitely distinguishable from normal. Peter Cook (my hitting partner for this task), and I both agreed that the level of consistency and focus was at a different level than we had previously experienced during our many years of playing.
One rally could be a fluke, right?! Well, we soon did another rally of over 100 and the ‘new norm’ was keeping the ball seemingly going forever…
We switched partners and within a few minutes my new partner and I experienced another rally of 100 plus! So what was the secret? Focused attention on breathing, using targets to create an intention, and allowing the body to perform naturally.
A couple of years ago I began to realise, that despite my best efforts, a great deal of my coaching achieved mixed results. This was frustrating for me and I began to wonder if too much instruction and over telling was producing these negative results.
Looking for some answers, I booked onto a one day ‘Introduction to the Inner Game and performer-centred coaching course’, run by LTA tutor, Andy Knibbs. Andy described how our potential can be blocked by mental interference, thus limiting our performance. By using awareness raising questions and helping players to focus their attention on what’s critical, I could see how it is possible to help players reduce their interferences and improve their performance.
Keen to learn more on the subject, I then booked onto the LTA approved ‘ Coaching Mastery’ programme with U.S Master Coach, Sean Brawley which I found really insightful.
I learnt a great deal about how to help players focus and experienced at first hand the zone quality of relaxation whilst playing. I also learnt other ways to help players to learn more naturally without having to necessarily give any technical instruction.
I’ve been using these methods since attending the course and have noticed how they can have a positive impact on a player’s confidence and self-belief. One example is of a young woman, who came to me saying she’d always wanted to hit a topspin forehand. We started hitting some balls in the service boxes and straight away I could see about four obvious technical things I could have worked on. Instead on this occasion, I merely asked her to tell me on a scale of zero to five (five being the most) after she’d hit the ball, how much topspin was on each shot. I asked her to ignore for a moment where the ball ended up and to stay focussed on noticing the amount of spin she was producing. After the first shot she said ‘one’. After the next she said ‘zero’, then ‘two…zero…one…two…three…four…’
After about twenty balls I could see something magical happening. She started to hit mainly fours and fives! I could see her initial anxiety fading away as she became more and more relaxed. We gradually moved further back on the court as she became more confident. The most significant thing I noticed as a coach, was that the other issues I’d originally noticed, had simply corrected themselves. Using non-directive coaching I had helped her to achieve this goal. I believe she had been trying too hard to control her shots previously which had been inhibiting her natural game to come out. This experience was a pivotal point in my coaching career.
Pete Cook is an ambitious LTA Licensed coach always looking for ways to enhance his coaching. In 2005 Peter Cook began assisting with 8U groups at his local club (Chichester Racquets & Fitness Club); he then took the Development Coach Award (DCA) before going on to coach full-time in 2007. In 2008 Peter obtained his Club Coach Award and soon after upgraded his qualification to the Senior Performance Coach (Level 4).
Rob Rave is a licensed LTA coach level 5 having taught for over 20 years… Currently, he works as a coach and facilitator in business and his clients include partners and directors in a top 4 global professional services company services plus FTSE 100 companies in Construction, Retail, Telecommunications, Private Equity, and Banking . He also works with tennis and sports coaches on creating more effective and focused conversations. www.progresstalk.co.uk