PLEASE NOTE: The medical opinions in USTA.com's Ask the High Performance Lab are responses intended for the average player. Please consult with your primary physician before beginning any new exercise program.
The answers to this week’s “Ask the Expert” column come from Suzie Riewald, PhD. Dr. Riewald is a sport psychologist who has worked for the US Olympic Committee as the Assistant Director of Coaching Education. She has worked with a number of sports, from tennis to equestrian, helping players to achieve their peak performances.
Q: I suffered an injury that has kept me off the court. I am really struggling mentally because I think I am losing valuable practice time and I am falling behind other players. Is there anything I can do to stay positive about my rehabilitation?
Dr. Riewald: Injuries are tough to deal with both physically and mentally, as you have realized. To help you stay positive during your rehabilitation, here are a few suggestions of things you can do:
1. When playing, you undoubtedly set goals regarding your performance. Now, you should be setting goals related to your rehabilitation performance. Goal setting will keep you focused on the task of injury rehabilitation and help you see improvements in your injury.
2. Use this time away from the court to develop other areas of your tennis such as flexibility, fitness, strength, mental skills, technique, proper nutrition and competition strategy.
3. Research has shown imagery (i.e., visualization) to be a powerful tool in developing and maintaining technical skills. Use mental imagery on a daily basis to see, feel, and refine the technical skills of tennis to help keep you on top of your game.
4. Focus on yourself instead of worrying about other players. What you can control is your rehabilitation and your approach to rehabilitation. You can’t control other players so don’t waste your time worrying about them.
Q: I am too hard on myself when I play the game. What simple thought or action can I focus on to move away from this negative thinking?
Dr. Riewald: In general, it is beneficial to think about replacing negative self talk with effective, productive thinking rather than putting your energy towards simply getting rid of negative thoughts. Some steps to take to make this happen include:
First, identify the situations where you tend to have negative or damaging thoughts (i.e., double fault, lose a game, make an error) and what specifically you say or think in these situations.
Next, identify the self-talk that would be more effective in such a situation – think about what has worked in the past or what works for you in practice. This self-talk should focus on things such as what you need to do (not what you didn’t do), words to build confidence or words to motivate.
Lastly, when you find yourself in challenging situations, replace your negative thoughts with the self-talk that you have identified as being helpful to your performance.
Q: I am a parent of a talented Junior player. I see how involved some other parents become in the child’s tennis and the amount of pressure they place on their kids. Are there any things I should think about or do to keep from putting my kids under too much pressure?
Dr. Riewald: Great question and the timing is perfect as the USTA recently funded research to address parental issues in tennis. Highlighted below are some findings that relate most directly to your question.
Coaches who were interviewed and surveyed as part of this research felt that parents should provide an optimal push. An “optimal push means that at times a parent needs to motivate a player because he or she is being lazy or is not doing what is needed to be successful, while at the same time not pressuring or inappropriately making the child do things against their well-being.” It is further suggested that an optimal push involves reinforcing preparation and hard work, making the child responsible and live up to the tennis commitment and pushing core values.
Coaches were also asked to identify behaviors of junior tennis parents that are most important for athlete success. The top 5 behaviors included:
1. Providing unconditional support for the child.
2. Modeling good sportsmanship.
3. Recognizing the importance of long-term goals.
4. Respecting other parents, coaches and players.
5. Communicating tennis concerns directly and privately to the coach.
For more information on this research, a full report can be found on this USTA High Performance Division website.
Also, download two presentations on this topic that came out of the research that highlight the role parents play in the development of junior tennis players.
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