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May 1, 2003
The making of a champion


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Remember the basic principles for learning tennis with my system is to develop a 'feel' for different strokes along with developing mental skills through REPETITION.  Repetition of simple procedures create that 'feel' NOT an over emphasis on the technical skills and mechanics.  Click here for an article that I wrote on 'feel' vs 'mechanics' in April 2001

Tom's Online Tennis Lesson
The making of a champion

Welcome to Tom's Online Tennis Lesson, sponsored by TennisWarrior.com, "Where you can learn to think like a pro!"

This last month in Houston we had the Coca Cola Open, a USTA tournament. Todd Whitley, a 28-year-old pro I have been coaching, played in the open division. It was his first tournament since he played in the juniors over ten years ago. Two months before the tournament, after careful analysis, we decided to abandon his two-handed backhand for a one-handed backhand which would feel and look more natural. Figuring he only had about two months to prepare for the tournament, we began immediately practicing the one-hander and planned to use the tournament as a training ground to become familiar with tournament play. 

Before the tourney began, I instructed him to hit the one-hander no matter what happens, but to be prepared for some of them to sail out! He said okay, he was up for it. Actually in two months, after he had hit close to 8,000 backhands, the one-handed backhand had improved tremendously, yet it was not ready for the level of competition in this tournament.

I was on the sideline watching his first match. That was an experience in itself! You should have heard all the comments every time he sailed a backhand out! "What in the world is he doing, he should use his two-handed backhand!" "Why the one-hander, it looks too weak?" "Why did he change, it's not very good?" Meanwhile Todd is on the court having a blast going for his shots, once again becoming familiar with tournament play and dealing with the misses fantastically. A true Tennis Warrior mentality! And I was having a blast watching him. 

This situation reminded me of the fact that most people are externally oriented. Everyone seemed to be focused on Todd's failures and not on the tremendous display of internal mental muscle! He was in a building stage of his game. Todd lost the match 6-1, 6-0, but he fought to the end and WON THE MENTAL BATTLE! Let me repeat that...Todd WON THE MENTAL BATTLE! Will this help him in his future matches and tournaments? Absolutely!

Surprisingly, the benefits became evident sooner than I thought. That night in the tournament, in a mixed doubles match, he won 6-2, 6-3 while continuing to use his one-handed backhand. The next day he played a singles consolation match and lost 7-5, 6-4. Some backhands still sailed, but he kept plugging away and almost pulled out the match! 

That night again he played mixed doubles and won 6-4, 6-4. Todd and his partner were now in the mixed doubles quarter finals of the Coca Cola Open! All this with a new one-handed backhand and a dynamic mental attitude. There was a difference in his game already, but it was not physical, it was mental. Todd had used the first match to set the mental stage for future mental momentum, despite the fact that he had a new one-handed backhand. He was determined to do the best he could with the skills he possessed on that day. He succeeded! 

I often wonder why some players can handle negatives and failures on the tennis court better than others? It really is just a game! Why should a negative, mistake or a loss make you miserable and affect your partner, your team, and even your life?

Maybe it's just a matter of perspective. And I suppose in this area Todd had an unfair advantage. You see 10 years ago at the age of 18 Todd broke his neck in a swimming accident diving in shallow water and was laid up for months followed by years of rehabilitation. Fortunately he did not lose all of his functions, but whether he would play tennis ever again was a big question mark. Somehow, call it determination, call it the grace of God, call it fate, Todd slowly after many years regained use of his crippled motor skills and through sheer determination became an accomplished tennis player again. His hands and legs are still not 100 percent...but you would never know! 

Yes, Todd is one mentally tough individual who has been told many times that he cannot do this or that. Recently, he was told he could not master his new one-handed backhand. Once again Todd is proving the naysayers wrong. He has the Heart of a Champion and continues to focus on his dream of becoming the best tennis player he can be. 

I challenge you to continue focusing on your dream and to become the best tennis player you can be. Whether you would like to move from a 2.5 to a 3.0 player or from a junior to a pro, you can develop the Heart of a Champion. But beware, many will tell you that what you are attempting to accomplish cannot be done. Many will tell you, as in Todd's case, that a new stroke will not work. And many will tell you, when you fail, to give up the fight. Champions focus within themselves, ignore the critic's words and move undaunted toward their goals. 

Todd and his partner eventually lost in the quarter final match, but not before Todd proved that in the future he will be giving it his all and silencing the critics with actions that speak louder than words. 

Your tennis pro,

Tom Veneziano

APPENDUM:  I teach a total system of thinking in regard to stroke production and mental attitude which I cannot explain in one email.  Although each lesson can stand alone you will derive tremendous physical and mental benefit by understanding the total philosophy.  These emails, my web site, books, and tapes are part of a course in tennis, not just isolated tennis tips.  They all fit together into a system.  A system that once understood can help you not only learn tennis at a faster rate, and develop mental toughness, but also give you the knowledge necessary to help guide you and your children to a better understanding of the developmental process.
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