Tennis Congress

An idea sprouts. What all events led upto it, why this point in time, what sparks it to take root and burgeon and take a certain form is as enigmatic as the dawn & rise of life. Life is an idea.  Time cloaks the attributes of the idea – whose, why, how, where it is headed …. But to nourish the idea and let it grow towards its destiny, it requires energy.

pj

Tennis Congress is the idea of one man, PJ Simmons, which is nourished every year by the passion of 80 professionals and 200+ amateurs who bring the energy it takes to keep it headed towards its destiny – enriching and empowering the life of adults globally.

The adults are not fadeouts, escaping the drudgery of life nor washouts seeking to play out a fantasy. The adults are serious athletes seeking to empower themselves to reach higher.

What did I go for … ,
I had a notion…, fed by the internet, of what Tennis Congress is  – “A watering hole where birds of the same feather flock to learn & improve, not prove.”  A place where new friendships and symbiotic linkages may be established. An excitement about the possibilities of new experiences and knowledge in a familiar domain that defines my identity.

What did I find …,
I found Tennis Congress to edify 3 core ideas, ideas that matter more than the “other stuff”,

  1. Reach higher
  2. It is never too late to be an athlete
  3. Make the most and the best of yourself.

Wait….I found “other stuff” as well…In subsequent posts, I will write about my personal experiences applying the concepts about the “other stuff”  that I imbibed. Here is my top 10 takeaway areas from the event, that I intend to explore, try out and write about in the near future.

  1. First strike tennis
  2. Practice like the pros
  3. Is consistency over-rated
  4. Injury free Tennis
  5. Targeting, positioning & dynamic strategy in Doubles
  6. Transforming the serve
  7. Transforming the serve return
  8. Transforming the 2 hand backhand
  9. Transforming the forehand
  10. Soft hands, touch & putaway volleys

Stay tuned …collage-2016-10-24-19_00_47

http://www.tenniscongress.com/

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Learning the ropes of captaining a USTA League Team

It was a hot afternoon in July, the climax of the 2015 USTA Spring/Summer League. Our team had done well in the regular season to qualify for the Qualifying Tournament(QT) for the City Championship. With the conclusion of the games today, all 3 teams in our round robin group had won 1 game respectively and all were 3-2 wins!!  The numbers had spoken…  as we had gotten edged out of the championship round due to the stat for ‘# of sets won’.

To celebrate the successful season and douse the tinge of disappointment at the loss, we headed out to drench ourselves at the bar at Fox and Hound. As the afternoon waned, thoughts and talk meandered into the next season (Fall 2015). Our captain expressed the intent to hand over the reigns to me for the Fall 2015 season, due to a busy work schedule in the Fall. As all the eyes turned to me….the ‘yes sure’ that came out, seemed to me to be laced with self doubt and shaky from the weight of the responsibility. The guys were encouraging and expressed support, which was comforting and I left the pub that day, with a score of thoughts racing in my mind like,  “how will I …

  • live up to the confidence placed in me,
  • make the off-season productive and bring about changes to take us to the next level,
  • not screw up the lineups during the season”

and many such more …

To break the short lived suspense, we did end up with a successful 2015 Fall season where we again made the playoffs, but couldn’t make the City Championship Finals (for different reasons this time, those learnings for a different time!). During the season, there were many learnings along the way and I hope My Top 10 List  may help you,  if you are an aspiring USTA  league captain or a leader of any team in general.

#10. Avoid having Co-Captains if you can: I initially toyed with the idea of co-captaincy for the season, but  decided against it, due to my belief that difference of opinions, methods and vision can lead to confusion within the team. As the time tested military model has shown, the chain of command must be clear and well defined. The other aspect which influenced my decision was to know for myself, how I will handle this responsibility.

There may be teams where there is an excellent chemistry between the co-captains and there are very well defined roles and responsibilities that are adhered to. If you can make this work, then more power to you !!

Cap Co Cap

#9. Organize drills tailored to the team’s specific needs for tactics, as well as personalized coaching sessions with a smaller and focused group for “Quick Wins” on technique:  Work with 1 or at the max 2 coaches and stick with them. From my experience,  working with more coaches is good to get perspectives but too many cooks can spoil the broth too. So find good coaches and stick with them.

Use the off season to focus on major changes to technique and only aim for “Quick Wins” during the season itself. During the off season and into the season, thanks to the doubles drills, our team did a great job to transition from a team comprising primarily of singles players to a team who can bank on the doubles lines as well.

racquet take back

#8. Be a facilitator, stay in the shadows:  The goal I set for myself was to do everything in my ability to facilitate the team to focus entirely on tennis and not be dragged down by the drudgery of organization and co-ordination. I used the messaging app called whatsapp to coordinate practice and send updates to team, had setup a ‘group’ for the team in same. We also had a google group for email communication and used it for sharing match lineup and match results (though the whatsapp group was used interchangeably sometimes). Also used Google drive to share videos or any documents. Used a excel spreadsheet on Google drive to keep track of team member availability that everyone could update and I referred every week to call the lines.

Give importance to being dependable, punctual, involved and a keen observer in practice and during competition.

The season affirmed a notion that a non-playing captain may be better than a playing captain for 2 key reasons,

  • it gives you an opportunity to observe all the 5 lines in competition and get to know what is working and what is not
  • remain dispassionate and carry on with business since losses when playing can cloud emotions and judgement sometimes (losses are always personal and take time to get over !!)

coming to practice

#7. Know your Opponents: Before every game,  size up your opponent by,

  • going through their current and past seasons and seeing how they have played the lines specifically in the first game, against teams similar to yours in strength and the lineups tried in the last 2 to 3 games.
  • as you see this,  make note of  any specific strategies used (order of strength vs. stacked), which lines are typically strong, which players have good records etc..
  • reach out to your teammates to know if they have played any of the opponent’s strong players
  • scout players if opportunity presents on game day when they practice or at tournaments, other league matches etc.  (‘Information is Power’)

I usually print out multiple match sheets and have my lineup alternatives ready on game day.  I make the final call on game day, before heading out to the match site but keep it flexible for any last minute changes before exchanging the match sheet with the opponent’s captain.

opponents

#6. Make practice fun:  One of my teammates said that the sign of a good captain is by the number of people who turn up for practice regularly. Building “team chemistry” is key to making this happen. (for more on what”chemistry” is about, read my previous post).

Build traditions – we have a tradition in our team to cap off the practice sessions by hanging out at ‘Twin Peaks’ pub where we analyze the practice session, strategize for the upcoming weekend game, celebrate ‘fake’ B’days:-) and of course down a few rounds of drinks and appetizers 🙂Practice

#5. Plan your roster well: I went with a team size of 14 but ended up lacking depth in the playoffs, had 3-4 team members down with injury for good part of the season. But still believe a core group of 10 and a total of 14 is a good team size to have.

For realizing championship dreams, it is important to have,

  • sufficient depth with players who are strong in singles and doubles
  • lines who will be dependable to deliver against the best at your level since you are bound to err when stacking (90 % luck and 10% analysis), unless you are Professor Charles Xavier of the X-men !
  • consistent singles players
  • consistent doubles lines with good chemistry (with each player having a primary and secondary partner)

Roster

#4. Create a culture around learning and not winning: It is important for the captain to nurture a culture where each team member can give their best without worrying and being pressurized about letting down the team. The approach to competitive play should be “No sorries, no apologies, do what you got to do with what you have while enjoying the process”. When in the face of a tough loss, share positive , encouraging, yet honest feedback for improvement.

winning

#3. Get to know your team-mates on the court and off the court: Turn up for as many practices, scrimmages and season games as you can. Have a genuine interest in your team-mates’ game and their development as players.

#2. Be a Leader: In my opinion, leading by example is the best form of leadership.It is key to,

  • create an environment of mutual trust and respect, where there is no penalty for mistakes
  • challenge each person to get to their next level
  • make sure the goals of each team member for playing team tennis is met
  • drum roll……which leads to my #1 point

cgc13

#1. Exude Warmth and Competence: Your team is bound to have diverse team members of varying age, culture, experience level etc. But irrespective of these differences among people, everyone forms their impression of the captain (or for that matter any person) through 2 key questions – Can I trust this person ? Can I respect this person ? A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong (as a player and leader) is the best recipe for a captain.
http://www.aol.com/article/2016/01/16/a-harvard-psychologist-says-people-judge-you-based-on-2-criteria/21298315/

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“Strong legs, Steady hands, Relaxed mind, can’t Lose !”

My inspiration to write this blog post is thanks to PJ at http://www.roadto45tennis.com
http://www.roadto45tennis.com/lessons-from-a-first-time-usta-captain/

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Chemistry – you either have it or you don’t!

Based on my observations of tennis doubles pairs that have had and are having success, a common underlying theme is the mysterious Chemistry – you either have it or you don’t!

Chemistry

This is the mysterious ingredient that,

  • fuels the anticipation of having fun and camaraderie on the court, learning something new and constantly keep improving,
  • makes a team look forward to and turn up for practice (at the end of a long work day or during a brief respite on a rainy day !! ),
  • brings success in crunch situations, off days and the big points during competitive play
  • gives the confidence and belief that you can take down a team of individuals who may be a notch or two above you in experience, physical and shot making abilities

As a kid and into my teens, I don’t know how many endless hours I have spent reading and re-reading the innovative genius of Goscinny and Uderzo – “The Adventures of Asterix and Obelix”. What is most glaring of course is the difference in their sizes (emphasized further by the choice of their names) and the need for the “Magic Potion” brewed by the cranky Getafix (Oh, how much I used to love and still love the play with the names by Goscinny and Uderzo !!!). The chemistry they shared during their adventures, while bashing the Romans and Pirates along the way, is what makes them such endearing characters and proves that “chemistry” means much more than just complementary skills,

  • They really respect and enjoy each other’s company. (Obelix is funny and dependable while Asterix is serious and sometimes nutty)
  • They complement each other amazingly well.(Obelix is super-human while Asterix has the smarts)
  • They are both focused (In every adventure they have their fights, but always know and support each other against the common enemy and are back to being old friends again)

Here are a few quotes from real life successful doubles pairs which echoes these qualities,

The Bryan brothers:

  • “Bob and I have totally different personalities, I’m more conservative, Bob, on the other hand, he’s a little flashier; he likes to go big or go home.”
  • “If I said the same things I say to Mike to any other individual, the partnership would be done in five minutes, it’s why we’re able to keep our level so high, because we cut through the crap.”

The Bryan twins’ personalities complement each other on the court. Mike, who is right-handed and perhaps the best serve returner in doubles, plays the percentages. He makes few mistakes and doesn’t go for broke at the net. Bob, a lefty, gambles on aces and winners and loves to sneak over to Mike’s side of the court to poach volleys.

Martina & Leander:

  • “Leander is a very giving person and is always worried about me being fine. It’s most important to have chemistry on court. We complement each other on court very well and I feel with him on court, nothing can go wrong. He is a great human being. As a woman, it’s important to feel safe on the court. He will protect my serve if I am not feeling well. Be it in a relationship or in life in general or on court, you need to feel protected. Last few years, we have come to know each other and I know that he can read my mind. With Leander, I know that I have won a great friend for life and that’s important. We are both very straight and he believes more in me than I do in myself sometimes. Also, we have respect for each other that is sometimes missing in the new generation of tennis players and that way, we are old school.”
  • “One thing I do have is the guts. I will go for it. It’s been part of — my whole life is about perseverance, just trying to find a way to succeed. Sometimes the chips are against you; sometimes they fool you.What I love about this teamwork, to answer your question, is that in any partnership there’s got to be one person who brings the energy to the team. There’s got to be one person who takes all the pressure on their shoulder and drives the team forward. I know if I can keep Martina happy, if I can keep her relaxed, the tennis I don’t even have to worry about. This young girl is phenomenal on the tennis court and off of it. We actually have our best times when we are on the practice court.”

Martina Hingis, who ruled the top of the Women’s Pro tour has amazing groundstrokes and return of serves, better than most players of the modern era. Leander Paes on the other hand is a master doubles strategist with a great volley and court positioning skills, who can make his partner feel super comfortable and protected playing their natural game.

For the Love of Doubles and Tennis thumbs up

http://www.wsj.com/articles/tennis-bryan-brothers-the-secret-power-of-twins-1432663278
http://www.usopen.org/en_US/news/interviews/2015-09-11/an_interview_with_martina_hingis_and_leander_paes_final.html
http://bestengagingcommunities.com/2012/04/19/the-perfect-startup-team-asterix-and-obelix/
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The ‘Ultimate Tennis’ League Super Division – Find your Tennis Identity!

Imagine an ‘Ultimate Tennis’ league division with who else but the Republican candidates 2016. What do you think their playing styles will be if they play tennis….

Republicans

Historically tennis has had four primary game styles: counterpuncher, aggressive baseliner, all-court player and serve-and volleyer (ITF, 1998; USTA, 1996).

USTA Newsletter for Coaches Vol. 7, No. 2 / 2005

But, personally after watching the pro circuit and USTA level 4.5 and above, I truly agree with the observation in the article shared above that there exists countless individual variations within these four broad categories. As you develop and acquire solid fundamentals and skills, it is important to develop styles of play that are consistent with, and that best use, your personalities as well as your mental, physical, technical and tactical skills and abilities.  The task of establishing a clear, consistent game style is not an easy one. There are many variables that influence the establishment of a unique game style and these change as you evolve.

In a nutshell, in tennis, like in life, size yourself up, determine your strengths and weaknesses, build a tennis identity that is centered around your strengths and then learn how to do it better than anyone else.

So, have you found your tennis identity ?

TrumpPower 2

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Wimbledon 2015 – Had to use this moment :-)

Two of the cricket players, whom I admire and respect for their skills and who they are as a person…but me being me, had to take a jab!

Wimbledon 2015 - 1

While in the audience …

Wimbledon 2015 - 2

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Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end. (My “Tennis Elbow” Experience)

This is not a post that claims to cure your “Tennis Elbow” through 5 simple home based techniques, nor a medical treatise on the history, causes, symptoms and solutions for it. What you will learn from this post is about my own experience and personal learnings with this injury. You will have to make your own analytical decisions for yourself.


#1 : The cause, duration and solution varies from person to person, since there are many variables involved – stage of injury, age of person, technique, physical conditioning etc.

tennis elbow timeline

Rest, anti-inflammatory, cold packs and cortisone didn’t work for me, surgery did. But that doesn’t mean this is the case for everyone.  Still the best treatment approach is to review the facts and data of your case with an expert and make an analytical decision on your treatment plan.

But one thing is for sure – prevention, spotting & treating it early will save you a lot of time, pain and frustration.


#2 : Practice makes perfect, but not if you are doing it wrong.
Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end. Work and train harder , but under the watch of a good coach until you nail down the technique correctly and completely. Avoid trying to master it by yourself by practicing with a bucket of balls every day, after 1 or 2 sessions with a coach, because bad habits are easy to pickup and they stick.


#3 : When you are tired, sore and can’t do more, STOP (period).  That’s when injury happens.
Knowing when to say “No” to yourself and others is important. Be judicious about competitive play, especially when playing an equal or someone younger, faster and stronger than you, since that’s when you demand more of your body and don’t bother about technique.


#4 : Give equal importance to things you do before, during and after you hit the ball.
Before – warm-up stretching, hydration, physical conditioning
During – relaxation, hydration, technique
After – cool-down stretching

Respect the science that there is to these things, get educated and practice it. If you are going to try and do it like the pros on the court, you may as well do it like them before and after you get on the court as well !!


Here is a great explanation from “Essential Tennis” , brought to my attention by a friend,  which highlights the importance of,

  • Good Technique
  • Relaxation
  • Good Physical conditioning

Tennis Elbow Causes – Ask Ian #15 – Essential Tennis Lesson and Instruction

Tennis Elbow Treatment – Stretches:

Tennis Elbow Treatment – Strengthening:

Tennis Elbow Treatment – Further Rehabilitation:

How to relax while playing tennis:


Godspeed !

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Fond Memories – Summer of Tennis in Bangalore

12_Tennis

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