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Journal's end in tennis.

A mental journey that leads to a higher level of performance

The tennis coach's greatest task from practice to practice is to keep the players focused on the game. Every player has good days and bad days - physically, mentally, or both. On the bad days, coaches have to resist the impulse to rip out their hair, throw balls, and snarl, "You're on your own!"

I suspect that even the pros have days on which their mental game isn't in synch with their physical game. We see this in matches all the time. For no apparent reason, a player will become erratic and let it ruin his/her discipline.

To minimize these off-days, I make my players responsible for a consistent level of efficiency in both practices and matches. I start by requiring all of them to keep a daily journal, and the results have been rewarding. Over the past 15 years, we have amassed a 212-17 record, made the state final 14 times, and won the state championship 10 times.

Every player is given a three-leaf binder journal that includes forms for every practice and match during the season.

PRACTICE PLAN

The Practice Form lets me know what the players hope to accomplish during the week. They are asked to list three goals, how they expect to accomplish them, and their assessment of the week's practice - which is filled out on Friday or Saturday.

I will read all these comments at the beginning of the week and make written comments and suggestions about what I think each player needs. A wonderful conversational bridge is thus created.

This avenue of approach, based on the goals the players have created for themselves, enables us to avoid the rough waters that can be created by less-than-enthusiastic practices or games.

The forms, with my comments on them, are returned to the players for permanent filing. By emphasizing so much individual responsibility, we have the journal, rather than the coach, assume the role of critic.

My first question usually is: "Do you feel you are fulfilling the goals you indicated in your journal?" From this point on, it becomes easy to ask "Why?" and "Why not?" or "How can we improve things for you?"

This leads to the very best kind of self-examination. The more we emphasize the "we" approach, the more receptive the player becomes. After all, a good athlete is his or her own toughest critic.

At least three times a week, we give each player 20 minutes of individual time (with a partner) in which we work on specific areas of concern. The players can then lay out a specific strategy in their journals and really control their work on their weaknesses.

This concentrated time on their individual problems make them eager to improve and motivate themselves.

If the players continue to exhibit inattentiveness, we will confront them again with what is actually happening in practice. The essence of the journal is to have the players themselves create a feeling of personalized instruction. Personalized instruction leads to personalized motivation, which is the best way I have found to minimize the inevitable physical and mental lapses in practice.

MATCH RECORD

The next major aspect of the journal addresses the match itself. Writing about the match immediately after it is played can be cathartic in that it enables the player to let off steam and also learn from his mistakes and successes.

Right after the match, I have each player fill out his Match Form, which asks the following questions:

1. What kind of opponent did you play? What did he do well and what did he do poorly?

2. What worked well in your match plan? What did not work well?

3. What would you do differently the next time you faced this opponent?

4. If you were scouting this individual, what would you tell your teammates about him/her?

(A space in included for my - the coach's - comments.)

Doubles teams may work together on their journals.

As we go along, I will tell the players (in writing) what I have noticed in their performance. My individual criticism is strictly between the players and myself.

The timing - my getting the journal right after a match - may not always be the best, especially when the player or the team loses. But with encouragement and a gentle pat on the back, I can get the players to respond.

I try to make sure they understand the value of "journaling" immediately after a game by my own example. I always respond to their journal in writing that evening and return the journals at practice the next day.

All this information becomes doubly valuable in our second encounter with the opponents or in the playoffs. Before the match, we review the specific opponent to brush up on our conception of his/her strengths and weaknesses.

I will even repair to the journal during a match to discern why my players are having trouble and what we can do about it. I may find something that can enable us to make an adjustment.

We realize that even our well-motivated players may initially resist "journaling" immediately after a match. We always warn them never to wait more than a half hour before doing it - "strike while the iron is hot."

By explaining how the "journaling" process and our combined effort can produce almost magical improvement, we can persuade even the most dubious players to give it a try.

Finally, the journal serves as an excellent "look back" in our preparation for the next season. The journal will even show up at awards banquets to illustrate, in an athlete's own words, how much growth was achieved. It will forever remind your players how much you cared about them as individuals rather than just players.

On the lighter side, several of my players have submitted their journals to their English teachers as examples of impromptu writing, and have received great grades from them! To their teachers' expression of gratitude, I respond: "It was always my intention to foster interdisciplinary learning."

The "journaling" process has been responsible in great measure for stimulating our attitude, work ethic, and team spirit. Those three characteristics have significantly contributed to the success of my teams at both schools.

THREE CAUTIONS:

First the journals can be time-consuming for coach and players. But once the routine is established and you start doing a good job of explaining the usefulness of the journals, the time factor will be far outweighed by the good produced.

Second the comments must be privileged, both ways. You must not share your comment with anyone except the player for whom they were intended. As previously stated, we will share information about opponents and strategy, but never about a player. Note: Players may share with parents.

Third writing immediately after a match may sometimes evoke emotion - charged feelings that no one really means. A cooling-off period should restore the objectivity of both coaches and players.

Stephan LaTulippe, Tennis Coach, South Burlington HS (VT), Boys, St. Michael' College (VT), Women
COPYRIGHT 1996 Scholastic, Inc.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:LaTulippe, Stephan
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Apr 1, 1996
Words:1174
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