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Groaning & Inappropriate Behavior

Q. I have a talented high school player, who obviously is a spoiled brat…his court behavior is inappropriate when losing...he expects his father to help pick-up balls, while he sits....He yells at his father to "shut up" when offering help...How do you motivate this type of person ?

A. It isn’t easy for coaches… Try patting him on the back occasionally. If that doesn’t work, try kicking him hard a little below his back.

At the end of the day, it sounds like this boy’s father is the one with the problem. Most reasonable men would not allow their children to yell at them, to boss them around, and to act like jerks. Try to set a good example for this young player, because he is not getting ideal guidance at home. This will be a tricky one for you, and there is no magic formula. Good luck!

Q. I don't understand why a coach has not confronted Roddick to change/tone down his confrontational attitude when he gets interviewed? When his shortcomings are pointed out he gets crass! We don't need that type of American player attitude and I wish coaches would have the guts to tell him! Explain to me why coaches are not doing their job with him? I had hoped Jimbo would have been the one finally to do so but no!

A. Paging Mr. Connors… paging Mr. Connors… is Jimmy Connors here to answer this question?

If James Scott Connors were to suggest that Andy Roddick become less confrontational and combative, and more cooperative and polite… well, let’s just say, that Roddick’s coach would lose a little credibility. Connors absolutely thrived on the me-against-the-world mentality. Helping to manufacture some of that intensity is probably considered a major part of his current role.

Q. I am a 16-year-old 5.5-6.0 player who plays with a significant amount of emotion and passion. I grunt when I hit the ball, I yell "Come on" when I hit a great shot or when my opponent hits a bad one and moan when I hit a bad one. My father says that it isn’t good to show that much emotion in these junior and amateur tournaments because it shows that you are not out there to have fun. I am the type of player who thinks winning is everything and I am extremely competitive.

At a recent tournament my shots were not going in and I couldn’t seem to "find my range" during that match. I never threw my racquet down, but I did moan and yell quite a lot. I even gave up two points on my serve because I took my anger out on the ball. And my serves went errant. That is the kind of player I am. I play with a tremendous amount of noise. What should I do? My dad says its poor sportsmanship but I say it is part of the competition. So, should I keep the emotion in check until I take a shot at the pro tour or continue to wear my emotions and passion on my sleeve? Thanks in advance for the advice.

A. Well… you obviously are passionate about tennis, so I respect that about you already. I must say that I would side more with your Dad regarding this issue however.

In a match that you win convincingly (for example: 6-3, 6-3), you will probably win only slightly more than half the points. In fact, you might actually lose more points, even when you ultimately win certain matches. Given this, you need to have some emotional stability. You describe yourself as getting really excited when you win a point and really aggravated when you lose a point. If that is accurate, then you must be on an emotional roller coaster during every match. There is nothing wrong with allowing your personality to come out during competition, but you do NOT want your emotions to distract you from having success. Nor, for that matter, do you want to be perceived as an obnoxious jerk who must rely on gamesmanship to distract opponents.

So… pick your spots more wisely to show your excitement or to vent your frustration. Keep entering tournaments until you find the style that most ideally suits your personality and allows you the greatest chance for success. Good luck!

Q. I recently played a match against a team in a very large tennis club. My team was distracted by cell phones that were ringing, shots that were called out from matches on adjacent courts, and noise from the gallery. As a new captain and someone fairly new to tennis I asked the offender to discontinue the behavior. I was ignored. How can I deal with this situation in the future? My team won the match so there was no reason for an appeal. Thanks for your help.

A. Well, first of all, I am glad that you did not “appeal the match.” I believe there are too many grievances filed. It is simply a game and a recreational activity, so maintaining perspective is important. Players should really learn to solve their own problems on court. From afar, it is surprising how many minor disputes become major issues in league matches.

Regarding the distractions that you write about, I urge you- and your teammates- to learn to concentrate entirely on what is happening on your court. Experts say that champions learn to become unaware of what occurs outside the confines of the court during competition. While this may not always be entirely the case, it is a good lesson nonetheless. Besides, you really don’t have much control over the noise level on surrounding courts. It could be worse… have you ever tried playing on public park courts in New York City? Sometimes this experience can be as noisy as a construction site and as crazy as a Seinfeld episode. Keep your sense of humor!

In terms of learning coping skills for tennis, I would recommend watching 2004 Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova play. She has the most thorough in-between point rituals since Ivan Lendl. Before every point on serve, Sharapova adjusts her strings, touches her hair twice, takes a deep breath while drawing her shoulders back, bounces the ball twice, and then rocks back and into her service motion. She goes through this ritual before every single point, and it enables her to become settled and completely focused. Find your own ritual and stick with it the way Sharapova does, and you will find that outside distractions might hinder your opponents but that you will be well prepared for every point.

Q. Why are players allowed to screech so when the ball is going away from them?

A. Typically screeching or grunting is related to a players desire to exhale while striking the ball. This technique relaxes the body. Try for yourself to focus on the difference between holding your breath and hitting versus saying the word yes each time you hit a ball. Unfortunately some players take it to the extreme causing an audible distraction for their opponents and those other players on adjacent courts. In some pro matches umpires have warned players to tone it down and at the recreational level players might be reminded by the host pro or court monitors to be courteous of others.

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