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2017 Reflections at SotoTennis Academy (January 2018)

I am writing this blog a few days into 2018, but the short break over Christmas has given me some time to reflect on 2017 and as ever there has been lots to reflect on here at SotoTennis Academy.
One of the words I use the most at the Academy with the players is the word ‘accept’. I truly believe the ability to accept situations that are thrown our way is a real sign of mental ‘fitness’. This is another saying we use for players to understand that developing a fit mind isn’t too different to developing a fit body- it takes time and work and the prescribed programme doesn’t do the work for you, the day in day out application to it does, but maybe I’ll blog on that another day!
I accepted a long time ago that as an Academy owner I have signed up to many things and that with 16 staff members, 45 players (double the parents), 250 Access Players visiting us each year, not everything will always go to plan! I guess the point I’m about to make before I wax lyrical about my amazing staff, players and parents for all they achieved in 2017 is that it doesn’t always go to plan, it doesn’t always go the way we want and sometimes it absolutely goes a way we never saw coming, not too dissimilar to a tennis match, or even a tennis career. It won’t all be plane sailing and you will have some adversity and many a challenge to over come, but this is the beauty of tennis (and of life). You wouldn’t want it easy, would you?
Onto the year gone by.. Things I am extremely proud of the team for…
  1.  We have players at the Academy from 16 different nations
  2. The team travelling to 34 different countries this year
  3. The 23 Professional Titles STA Players won in 2017 including our first ever WTA title
  4. The 10 ITF Junior Finals that were made and 2 players who have broken inside the top 200 ITF in 2017
  5. The other 33 tournaments won by STA Players
  6. The representation of STA Players in the Davis Cup
  7. The 4 US Scholarships that were given to STA Players in 2017
  8. The 2 ex STA Players that graduated from US Colleges with excellent degrees and prospects for the future.
  9. The UK scholarships that were awarded to STA players.
  10. The ex STA Player that now plays pro basketball.
  11. The team have designed and written a fantastic new website, which is a brilliant resource for the Academy
  12. The new ACES Programme with Sotogrande International School- More info on our website.
  13. The new Mini Van we have, we now have 2. Both with big logos on them! It was always a dream of mine to have that, so gotta mention it!
  14. The new office we have- the creative juices now flow, as does the tea and coffee!
  15. The new STA baby- congrats to STA Director, Nick Morgan and his partner Amy on the birth of Baby Martha!
  16. A big one I’m proud of; in 2017 we covered 108 weeks of International tournaments as a team. Dedication in abundance from our staff, players and parents.
  17. We have opened our door to 250 players who wanted to access our environment, I hope we have 250 happy players leaving who have taken a little bit from what we do at the Academy to help them on their journey.
  18. We have made many new friends. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing the friendships blossom between STA Players, staff and families with the blend of nationalities and cultures and the bonds that last a life time- this is special. And it’s something we should be very proud of our sport for.
  19. We have 30+ different goals and pathways that want to be explored..
  20. We have 1 team! #teamsoto
Thank you to each and every person who has contributed to these fantastic achievements in 2017.
As for 2018, we are ready for anything. We ‘accept’ what we have signed up to, the good, the bad and the ugly albeit we will be doing everything we can to replicate and surpass the above on and off the court!
Happy New Year to you all. Wishing you a year full of health and happiness and hope to bump into some of you throughout 2018.
Control the Controllables.
Dan Kiernan
Director, SotoTennis Academy
Inspiring Excellence | Tennis Academy Spain

There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team’ (November 2017)

So, it has been over a year since my last blog with all the excitement and developments at the Academy taking up most of my time! In order to gain some inspiration I have been asking players at SotoTennis Academy over the last few days what they would like to read about. What is interesting? Why is the point of these blogs? I think we all agree it is a nice medium to be able to share thoughts and opinions and maybe ask some thought-provoking questions. One of the topics which came out loud and clear is a bit of a taboo subject in tennis…PARENTS.

Lots has been written on this and, in general, these articles tend to tell a parent how to be a parent. Well, I am a parent, and we don’t like that!

I believe tennis is a team sport more than we realise. It is only one person performing on the court, but I think we all know by now that the strength of the team around the player leads to a much greater chance of success, than a player who is on their own, or worse still, a player that has a ‘toxic team’ behind them.

I would like to talk about the ’team’ (players-parents-coaches) . I want to start by sharing some of the common statements I have heard over the years and if you read until the end, you will find out whose side I am on with this…

Common statements: about parents (from players/coaches)

  • ‘I wish they would just trust me and let me get on with my job’
  • ‘They are always asking me about tennis, tennis, tennis, do they not realise I don’t want to talk about it all the time?’
  • ‘They are happy when I win, but annoyed when I lose’
  • ‘It is the worst part of the job, I try and avoid them if I can’

Common statements: about players (from parents/coaches)

  • ‘We have sacrificed so much to give them this opportunity and they waste it playing rubbish like that’
  • ‘They don’t know how lucky they are, we never had this opportunity when we were younger’
  • ‘Why can’t they just do what (insert name) does’
  • ‘If they really want it then they will always make the sacrifices needed’

Common statements: about coaches (from parents/players)

  • ‘They always spend more time with (insert name) than my child/me’
  • ‘They are only in it for the money’
  • ‘They haven’t been to watch me/my child play for a few weeks now (over the weekend)’
  • ‘We are really struggling financially, if you believe in (insert name) will you not be able to help us out?’

I think you get the idea by now and I am sure you have all heard these said or maybe even been partial to one of these comments over the years. All sound a bit negative? Why?

Because we all care!

Yes, all of us. I know, I have been in each position, as a player, as a coach and now as a parent. When we care so much and have such a passion for anything, it brings emotion – real, raw emotion. This emotion when misguided turns into negativity, the negativity can be toxic and in turn this is what ruins relationships whether this is between coaches and players or coaches and parents, or the worst of all, players and parents.

So my question is: how do we take this raw emotion, this care, this love and translate this into a positive situation for everyone in the team?

Direction

When you get the whole team on the same page, with the player having a clear understanding of the direction they are going with their games and for some, their careers, life becomes a little clearer for everyone involved. In simple terms: where are we? Where are we going? How and what are we going to do to get there? For us at STA this means Road Map, Goal Setting, Annual Planning, Weekly Programme.

If we add objective measures to these plans, which all the team agree and sign off over a given time period, this removes some of the emotion attached to the development of the player. The little things become clearer and we can measure processes instead of the only measurement we used to know: winning or losing.

In my experience, if this is done well, it goes a long way to calming the emotions within the team and allows the player to work in a clear manner with the support from the key people around them (coaches and parents).

Communication

This is often the downfall of any relationship, but can also be the making of any relationship. Clear, honest, consistent communication is the key.

At the Academy, we send parents weekly reports. At first my coaches used to grumble, as it was seen as additional work, but they soon realised it was saving them work, as the communication became more efficient and consistent, which naturally reassures parents and helps build trust in the coach.

Respect and Understanding

Parents

  • The player is a parent’s number one most important thing in their life. Imagine if someone trashed your prize possession (a car, house, mobile phone (for some ;-)) how upset you’d feel. Well, it’s 100x worse when it is their child, who they feel isn’t being looked after properly; it is important we remember this.
  • They work hard, really hard to support their childs dream.
  • They want to be helped, they want to be communicated to. Sometimes just a simple ‘Matthew looked really happy on court today’ can make their day. A “thank you for taking me to tennis” from a player can make a parents day.
    • Note: This was a big thing I realised when my kids started to play tennis. I craved getting some feedback from the coach, not for long and nothing to do with the content of the session or how well he/she was playing etc., just a simple comment (positive or constructive), so I know my kid is OK, or in some cases not OK.
  • It is not a normal parental instinct to trust everyone with their child, so expect to take some time building the relationship. Trust is earned not given.

Players

  • They are not robots! They will have bad days. A bad day doesn’t mean they don’t want to play tennis.
  • Losing is hard, it will bring emotions attached to it when they want to win. It takes time for these coping skills to develop in order to be able to deal with adult emotions.
  • Being on the court on your own can be scary. Especially when all parents and coaches are watching. Players are often ‘pleasers’, and presence of parents/coaches alone will often bring its own pressure. We need to respect this.
  • Players can’t and won’t perform to their very best every match. Each player has a range of performance, which is significant. Their level over the course of the year will equate to their average at the end of the year. They will have some good days and some bad days. This is normal for all top athletes.
    • This range of performance explains why on some days a lower ranked player will beat a higher ranked player (as the lower ranked player played to the top of their range and the higher ranked player to their average or low range). Parents: when these results happen, nothing is wrong!
  • Tennis can be a lonely sport at times (especially as a professional) and yes players make lots of sacrifices, but sometimes they just want to be a kid/young adult. This is OK.
  • They want parents to be…parents! It is the number one thing that older players comment to me when I ask.

Coaches

  • They have a life outside of tennis. It is important we respect that time (evenings/weekends).
  • They are human beings and are likely to work harder and respond better to positive reinforcement and appreciation than the other way.
  • At the end of sessions, coaches normally have somewhere else to go whether it’s another session, a short lunch break or back to their families in the evening. I would advise that players and parents who want to speak to a coach on any point of importance set up a meeting time where you will find them in a more relaxed and approachable place.
  • They give more attention to players who earn it through hard work and attitude. Players, remember that as your actions will dictate the attention you receive.

So whose side am I on?

I am on the side of anyone who buys into being part of a team: playing their role in ensuring a player has clear direction, who works hard on their communication within their role, who respect and understand each team member without making quick emotional judgements.

We do this then we are onto a winner!

Dan Kiernan

Director, SotoTennis Academy

www.sototennis.com

Inspiring Excellence | Tennis Academy Spain

The Unsung Heroes of Tennis (May 2016)

Something pretty special has been happening within British tennis over the last few weeks…Yes, Andy Murray is the high profile story that we all know of, but away from the spotlight of the back pages and of Sky Sports, Naomi Broady has moved into the women’s world top 100, and on the men’s side Kyle Edmund continues to rise. Only last week Dan Evans moved into the world’s top 100 for the first time. Only those who are so close to the sport can quite appreciate the magnitude of these achievements. The players deserve so much credit and deserve to take the plaudits, but it has got me thinking about the engines that make these stories tick along day-to-day. In formula one we see them loud and clear. Football: arguably the coaches are bigger names than the players, parading along the touchline – like Mr. Mourinho! In tennis, what provides an environment for these players not only to develop but also to help them survive and live day in day out during life on tour? This blog is dedicated to a select few of those amazing people who dedicate their lives to one person to help them achieve their goals of being a top professional tennis player.

At this point, I have to mention some names of coaches who have done the hard yards over the years with the players above mentioned. Kyle Edmund has John Black, James Trotman and present coach Ryan Jones to thank for keeping his boat moving faster. Dan Evans has worked with Graeme Adams, Leighton Alfred, Mark Taylor, Nathan Rooney and now has Mark Hilton in his corner. Naomi has her father Simon to thank for years of support before ex-STA Player Andrew Fitzpatrick took over the reigns over the last 10 months with great success.

Last week, I was in Madrid for the Mutua Open and I heard comments around some of the players’ coaches such as ‘What a great gig this is’; ‘Does he actually have to do anything?’  Often there were up to 3 coaches per player (more likely a combination of fitness coaches, physics, doctors) in their support team. A great life? Yes! A massive personal dedication and commitment? Absolutely.

So what does a traveling coach do and why I am dedicating a blog towards their appreciation? The blog is written out of a passion and an understanding of these unsung heroes within the game of tennis.  I feel it important that players, coaches and parents alike understand the sacrifice that these coaches make in order to provide a better opportunity for the players to perform and create a career.

Firstly, I want to explore whether having a traveling coach is actually needed: surely these players know as much about the game as the coach themselves? At this point I want you to imagine going to the gym on your own every day for the next 5 years, then imagine doing the same with a personal trainer by your side to motivate, inspire and give you purpose. Which one is going to get you, fitter? This is the ‘Trainer’ aspect of a traveling coach. Keeping a player motivated and with a clear direction.

Now imagine hitting 1000’s of tennis balls over a large period of time in a competitive situation where the stakes are extremely high. Your focus is on doing what you can do to get the job done right? And whilst doing that do you think we pick up bad habits? Andy Murray spoke to Sky Sports after his win over Rafael Nadal in Madrid about the developments he has made on his second serve over the last few months and referenced the technical ‘bad habits’ that professional players get into with so much focus being on the tactical and physical side of the game at this level. This is where the coach needs to ensure they are a good ‘Teacher’ for their player to stay on top of the small, necessary adjustments.

Lastly, Imagine traveling the world on your own, staying in average hotels and coming into contact only with people that are your direct competition. You are away from your family, your friends, your home comforts. You have to deal with the ups and, let’s be honest, the downs in tennis that happen so frequently on your own. Now try and do that for the next 10-12 years whilst building a career. Difficult, ay?

This is where the coach has to be a ‘Coach’ and a ‘Companion’ and often a ‘Counsellor/Psychologist’. At the lower level (and by this I mean outside the world’s top 20, where players can afford to have a larger support team, each with their own specific roles), one coach needs to be this for one player, and often for 3/4/5/6 players at the same time due to affordability issues.

To give some nice examples linked in with the aforementioned players:

Andrew Fitzpatrick started working/traveling with Naomi Broady in July 2015 at a ranking of 230 and is now ranked 79 in May of 2016. Naomi had 8-9 years on the tour without an official traveling coach. Her investment in Andrew has been very much justified and the fruit of it is starting to bear. But make no mistake about it; this was a brave decision by Naomi to dig deep into her pockets to speculate on this appointment. She (and Andrew) deserves a great deal of credit for this.

Mark Hilton started working/traveling with Dan Evans in December 2015 at a ranking of 186. Dan is now ranked 86 in the world in May 2016. For an additional insight into the magnitude of this success story. Dan had 300 ATP points in December 2015 and has more than doubled his points to 646 in the last 6 months. Some going!

Let’s take a minute to applaud these coaches who have sacrificed up to 45 weeks away from their friends and families each year in order to support the player’s careers and the multiple roles they play within their one role. I don’t want us to spend too long on it though – that is the last thing that these coaches want. They don’t do this for the limelight and that is what makes them so special…the unsung heroes of this sport!

Dan Kiernan

Director, SotoTennis Academy

www.sototennis.com

Inspiring Excellence | Tennis Academy Spain

Baby Fed: Has he Finally Arrived? (November 2017)

So, has Grigor Dimitrov finally arrived with his stunning victory in London over the weekend at the Nitto World Tour Finals?

Last week, I wasn’t able to get in front of a TV for many of the group matches. However, as always I followed with interest and at first thought, I was a little surprised to see Dimitrov in the draw. Had he really had that good of a year to make the top 8 in the world and in doing so make the world tour finals for the first time? I then switched on the TV on Saturday to watch the Jack Sock semi-final and the commentator announced that Dimitrov will move to number 3 in the world with a victory today. Had he really had THAT good of a year!?

This got the curious side of me going, so my ‘Resultina’ tennis app went into over drive that evening to find out more about this golden year for Dimitrov, as he seems to have gone under the radar.

He started the year fantastically well with 2 victories in the first 3 events of the year (Brisbane and Sofia) and a semi-final appearance in Melbourne…Oh yes, it was all coming back to me, he did have a good year, didn’t he? Well, for the next 6 months of the year he had an average year. He went 15 wins and 13 losses in this period. And in the 3 Grand Slams since Melbourne he won 6 matches – an average of 2 per event. Great for many, but for a player who was tipped to be the next Federer?

As the year moved into the hard court swing, he had an ‘outlier’ of a result given his previous 6 months by winning the Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati. Interestingly, after a disappointing US Open a couple of weeks later he took 5 weeks off competition – an important point of note to up and coming tennis players. He didn’t force his year. He recognised the need for rest and recovery as well as dedicated time to work on his game and physical development.

The last 4 tournaments of the year brought 14 wins and 4 losses (2 to Nadal, 1 to Del Potro and 1 closely to the big serving John Isner indoors in Paris). Fair play to Dimitrov and his team who have kept him strong mentally and physically until the end of a gruelling year. The ability to be robust and durable is often a physical trait that is overlooked as a performance measure.

Finishing with a 49-19 record (losing 30% of matches that he played) and he has had a breakthrough year finishing the year World Number 3. A great example of what our sport is about. You won’t win every match, you won’t have an amazing week every week, but your ability to roll with this and manage yourself through the year is critical to the success of a player. This is something that we really try to educate our players about here at SotoTennis Academy.

The pattern that Dimitrov had in 2017 is a similar pattern to his career. Dimitrov shot onto the scene with his familiarity to Federer in technique and game style and his good looks.

2010 was a breakthrough year for Dimitrov, as he took the Challenger Tour by storm and ironically celebrated 2 wins at Futures level against David Goffin, who happened to be his opponent in the O2 finals this weekend!

At this stage, comparisons were frequently being made to Federer, predicting Dimitrov to be the ‘next one’ to come through. Is this a realistic expectation that Dimitrov has not matched? Or are we guilty of applying these big statements to every player that shows some level of potential from an early age? After all, at a time when Nadal, Federer, Murray, Djokovic (Wawrinka, Del Potro) have been around we really have been treated to a golden era in the Men’s game.

It has taken Dimitrov 7 years to finally reach the heights that so many expected. And I think this is perfectly normal! Maybe some don’t, but I believe it is another reality of our sport. It takes time to mature physically and mentally, to be secure in your game, to feel comfortable at each level (and believe me there are many layers to professional tennis even throughout the top 100) and many more.

Anyway, back to his macro development. Some figures for…

Federer vs. Dimitrov Year-End Rankings:

Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 17.45.35

We can all speculate to what happened at age 24 for Dimitrov as ranking dropped from 11 to a year end 28, which is somewhat significant at that level. My guess is that he plateaued a little as he moved close to the worlds top 10 whether through lifestyle choices, ability to perform week in week out, ability to perform at Grand Slam level over 5 sets which brings a big challenge to many. Again this is normal. Not normal that the plateau comes at 11 in the world; Dimitrov is special, but for all players I have worked with at professional level, this is always a big one to watch. Players all get stale and have plateaus at certain levels. The ones who are prepared to make a change in their mind set, their training, whatever it may be are the ones who continue to get over those bumps in road and importantly they aren’t disheartened by this reality.

So this brings us to the end of the 2017 season (bar Davis Cup final this weekend) and it begs the question. What happens in 2018?

None of us could have predicted the way that 2017 has gone with the re-emergence of the ‘old men’ winning all 4 Grand Slams between them, or the long term injuries of the top 3 players in the world. So for me, 2018 is one of the most fascinating years yet as we have the blend of youth (Zverev, Kygrios, Thiem, maybe Dimitrov albeit he is 26), the old guard (Rafa and Roger), and the injury comebacks (Murray, Wawrinka, Djokovic, Raonic, Nishikori). Sit back and enjoy the ride! The only prediction to come from me is I think we may see the first slam for one of the #nextgen . Maybe the big man from Germany!?

Control the Controllables.

Dan Kiernan

Director, SotoTennis Academy

www.sototennis.com

Inspiring Excellence | Tennis Academy Spain

STA’s 2015 (January 2016)

It’s the time of year where many sit down and reflect on their year just gone, we all sit down and watch SPOTY on the BBC, we start thinking about our New Years Resolutions and importantly it is the one time of the year that we all stop and spend time with our families and loved ones.

The question is often asked of a Tennis Academy, was it a successful year? I guess this question can only really be answered if you have clear measurements in place of what success is to look like. In some fields, I guess this really is pretty simple to define. Let’s take the recent high profile sacking of Jose Mourinho, no one can argue that he hasn’t had an incredibly ‘successful’ Managerial career to date. How is he judged? By the number/frequency of trophies he wins. Six months after taking Chelsea to a Premier League/Carling Cup Double he was fired for not bringing enough ‘success’ to the club this season. This shows the black and white nature of football at this level. Winning and losing are the most important measures for a club owner (as this links to the financial gain for the club).

If we were to look at that here at STA I would say we have a great ‘success’ (in line with our goals set) throughout 2015. This has not come without lots of failure and heartache and not without hours of endless work put in behind closed doors by the players and staff alike.

So here it is in numbers… Go!

53 Titles

26 of which were at the Andalucia Circuit here in Spain

3 National Titles

And 24 International Titles…Wow, that’s a nice reflection!

26 internationally ranked players

Of which …

8 Tennis Europe

10 ITF Juniors

8 ATP/WTA

1 Davis Cup Representative

3 players represented their countries

At a private Tennis Academy this can’t be the only measure of success when we are dealing with children of 5 through to professional Tennis Players aged 22, but rest assured it is an important measure for us at the Academy, as we can’t get away (and don’t want too) from the gladiatorial nature of the sport as one does battle again another, no holds bars, no outside ‘help’ allowed, just me and you. It is not for the faint-hearted when we talk about ‘mental toughness’.

That being said, we very much pride ourselves on what we believe are also very important measures of a Tennis Academy.

Player welfare/happiness – A player spends 25% of their day on the court/in the gym looking to directly improve/develop their ‘performance’, but what about the ‘other’ 75% which we know is so pivotal in terms of their overall development as a person and in turn their mindset going into their 25% performance work. A big challenge for us or any international Tennis Academy, but a challenge we take very seriously.

Player development – I was recently fortunate enough to spend a few days with Louis Cayer (LTA Head of Performance Tennis & Davis Cup 2015 Winning Coach) who talked to me about ‘developing’ a player being very different to ‘improving’ a player. And I couldn’t agree more. We need to have the ‘vision’ as a tennis coach of what we want our players to look like: act like, think like, play like and much more before we can put the ‘stepping stones’ in place to develop this player.

Keeping Options Open for Life- When your player is 18 years old, are they in a position where they have options? Here at STA we set up an initiative called ‘BE KOOL’ which stands for ‘Keeping Options Open 4 Life’. The main objective of the programme is to ensure that our players have all the relevant information in what their options are through the benefits that tennis gives them in terms of network and transferable skills. This links into the 2nd objective which is for players to develop a perspective on their tennis careers which we believe leads to the ‘performing’ better in the here and now.

Over the last three years, we have had 12 players graduate from the Academy to go to a US College Scholarship, which is the small matter of $1,000,000 in value over the 4 years. A fantastic return on all that emotional, financial investment from players and parents alike.

Coachable kids are employable kids – Through environment and strength of values within a programme, great things can be achieved in terms of the type of ‘people’ that come out of your programme.

This is a day-to-day driver in our programme here at STA through our Performance Behaviours that we demand from players and coaches alike.

Last, and certainly not least, as I reflect on 2015, how can I go without mentioning the Worlds Best Tennis Nation, the 2015 Davis Cup Champions! What a year it has been for British Tennis led off the court by Coach Leon Smith who showcased the value of teamwork and believing in each other, to the on-court leader Andy Murray whose years of dedication and determination came flooding out in each tie as the year went on. Like a steamroller leaving all in his wake, NO-ONE was going to prevent him lifting the famous trophy. A fantastic opportunity for British Tennis to build on, and that I am sure they will do, but spare a thought for where the nucleus of their team spent their formative years developing their game, outside and mainly on the clay courts in Spain.

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you and thank you for your continued support you give us here at STA.

Here is to Happy and Healthy 2016. From there on in it is up to you.

Control the Controllables

Dan Kiernan

Director, SotoTennis Academy

www.sototennis.com

Inspiring Excellence | Tennis Academy Spain

Back to the Future (October 2015)

October 21st, 2015. Today. Unless you went through this day without switching on the television or browsing a social media site you will all know that this is the day that Marty Mcfly and Doc Brown took a little look into the future in ‘Back to the Future’. This got me thinking…

If we could take a little look into the future or even ‘go back in time’ to ‘talk to our younger self’. How could this benefit our tennis journey?

I know there have been a couple of excellent blogs around this on Pete Sampras and Greg Norman who have written a letter to their younger self. I liked the insight in these blogs, but something was missing for me in terms of it being ‘tangible’ for a young aspiring player. Sampras and Norman are almost superhuman in their achievements, so I thought it would be cool to speak to players who we can associate with a little more and those who are still very much in the early stages of their tennis journey, so I spoke to a group of players here in Greece at the ITF Pro Circuit events and asked them

If you had 2 minutes with your ‘younger self’ aged 14 what piece of advice would you give ‘you’ with regards to your ‘Tennis Journey’?

Some of the answers I received:-

‘Learn from every match’

‘Wish I had worked harder in EVERY session’

‘Results don’t matter- developing your game does’

‘Don’t worry about other players results’

‘Make sure you have a consistent and level mind’

‘Take care of the small professional areas… The details’

‘Back yourself in the big moments in matches’

‘Take on board what coaches say 100%’

‘Watch lots of tennis so you can learn’

‘Spend time building other interests away from tennis’

‘Spend more time enjoying other players company rather than keep self to self’

I am sure you would agree some really nice pieces of advice. No mention of technique, of tactics or even physical side of the game. The feedback was overwhelmingly aimed towards the mental aspect of the sport and more than that the areas that are IN YOUR CONTROL.

The most interesting part of this little experiment was that ALL players talked about the same things, so from this, we can derive that these areas must be pretty important when it comes to developing as a tennis player (and as a person).

So there we have it…from the words of the professionals. I have been through my tennis playing career and am 10+ years into my coaching career and I believe the players here in Greece have pretty much hit the nail on the head with regards to the advice.

Take care of all those things in your control, plan well and commit to this process with a smile on your face and you won’t go far wrong!

Over to you guys as players (young and old) to make the decision to act on this advice now…someone out there will.

Good Luck!

Control the Controllables.

Dan Kiernan

Director, SotoTennis Academy

www.sototennis.com

Inspiring Excellence | Tennis Academy Spain

Simple Excellence (July 2015)

At the risk of sounding oh so simple… I wanted to share a couple of my views from my last month ‘on the road’ which has taken me from Wimbledon to Dublin. From U14 Tennis Europe events to Grand Slam Senior events with some ITF Junior events, it has been fantastic to see a range of levels.

Soto Tennis Academy players have been competing at Junior Wimbledon, U18 ITF events/U14 Tennis Europe Events in Edinburgh and lastly our Pro Team have been competing on the grass courts on the East Coast of England (Frinton and Felixstowe) before taking us to Dublin this week for the Irish Open $15,000 ITF Futures Event. Notable successes for Lilly Mould who made her first International Semi-Final, Anna Arkadianou who picked up her first ITF Junior World Ranking. Lloyd Glasspool and Pete Bothwell continue to go strong this week in Ireland and Alex Parker has shown some nice consistency to rise 600 places in the world. The Team will continue in Ireland for a couple more weeks whilst others go to warmer parts of Europe in Portugal, Macedonia, Turkey. Exciting times ahead for all involved at STA.

Of course, I have seen differences across the levels in many areas that go with International Level events from the facilities to the price of the sandwiches. In general, though a tennis tournament is just that… a tennis tournament. It really doesn’t change so much from the time we first played in the Adidas Grand Prix events in terms of the process we go through of signing in, warming up, waiting around, warming up again, timing your eating, then playing a match, dealing with the emotions of the win or the loss and I would like to think then cooling down, showering, reviewing our performance (and maybe getting back on the practice court after)
 However, there are 2 very simple areas that have stood out consistently for me over the last few weeks for those players that are having real success whether it is Novak Djokovic winning Wimbledon or Dan Evans winning a Futures event and it firms up my long-term beliefs on this..

They have a coach/team who ‘care’- and I mean really cares. They are invested in the person before the player and truly have a desire for that player to do well for the player and their families. You see this with ‘Team Djokovic’ and it is certainly reciprocated back in every interview we here from Novak. GB Davis Cup would be another great example of this, as they move into the Davis Cup Semi-Finals for the first time in 34 years! That team has been on a 5-year journey lead by Leon Smith and their relationships stem from a fundamental ‘care’ for each other.

They TRY! Always.. Every day, every ball. And by try I mean they really try, they don’t step up to play a point until they are fully ‘ready to compete’.  If we say a tennis match is average 180 points for a 3 set match, so we agree that to win that match you need to collect 95 of those 180 points. Your opponent has 20 points in the match where he/she does not try 100%. All of a sudden you need to win 75 points to win the match and your opponent still needs to win 95. This isn’t a fair game now, is it!?

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Ask Mr. Kygrios if it is that simple! Or 99% of Junior Tennis Players I have seen the last 4 weeks.

Dan Kiernan

Director, SotoTennis Academy

www.sototennis.com

Inspiring Excellence | Tennis Academy Spain

The Realities of a Great Sport: You Can’t Always Win (October 2014 )

I would like to thank James Cluskey (Irish Davis Cup Player) for sending me a quote he read in Roy Keanes Autobiography from his Sports Psychologist Bill Beswick, as it has helped label some of the strong thoughts I have had on this subject for a long time.

Let me share the quote with you first and then I will look to show some specific examples of this within the tennis world. I hope the examples and objective data provided will help some of you understand your own thoughts and feelings which can only be a step in the right direction in making some progress with how you control these emotions.

“Sport is all about disappointment. It’s about dealing with the disappointments. It’s not the highs. There are so few of them. It’s the defeats, the injuries. Great careers carry massive disappointments. It’s how you cope with them. You have to look forward, home in on the positives. Take the positive out of every negative. Look to the next game”

This may sound a little bit pessimistic, but I can assure you it is realistic. Maybe I can give a little insight that may give you a different perspective.

Let’s take Roger Federer- I have chosen RF as some would argue (including myself) that he is the greatest Male Tennis Player of all time. He has 17 Grand Slam victories to his name and has won 81 Career Titles. If anyone in the sport of tennis doesn’t have to deal with disappointment it’s him, right?  RF has had to deal with losing in 73.6% of weeks that he plays a tournament throughout his career. Out of the 306 tournaments, he has played on the ATP Tour he has lost in 225 of them! In simple terms, Roger Federer has averaged losing in 3 out of 4 tournaments that he has played throughout his career.

When we break this down even further it is what makes tennis a stand out ‘difficult’ sport when it comes to ‘dealing with disappointment’. Within every match, we lose almost as many points as we win. To give an example of this: In the 2008 Wimbledon Final between Federer and Nadal, it was 188 points to 187 points in Nadal’s favor. He had just won Wimbledon yet had to deal with the emotion of losing a point on 187 occasions within the 4 hours and 48 minutes that they competed. When we then think about how we feel when we make a mistake or we lose a point and we think about the reactions we see up and down the country to losing a point from the racket bangs to the head hangs, to the groans and the moans and the whinges. Is this sustainable emotionally? Do Rafa and Roger feel the same pain? Of course, they do, they are winners, they hate the feeling of losing, but they know it is part and parcel of the game. They have learned how to ‘cope with them’.

To bring home the realities of this in our sport I would like to share a few facts and figures:

-During every Grand Slam Main Draw, 127 players lose during the tournament

-During every Futures MD event- 16 lose on the first day and 31 lose every week

-Roger Federer lost EVERY week bar one that he competed in 2013

-Tobia Kamke ranked 93 in the world has won 11 matches and lost 23 matches during 2014

-Donald Young ranked 69 in the world has won 23 matches and lost 29 matches in 2014 AND his ranking has significantly increased throughout 2014! He has had a good year!

-Francesca Schiavone (and Former French Open Winner) currently ranked 83 in the world. She has dealt with losing 27 times on the tour this year whilst only winning 22 matches.

And don’t forget, not only are they losing matches, they are dealing with ‘losing’ often over 100 times within each match! So how do we typically see junior tennis players deal with the natural disappointments of the sport and how can we help them to ‘cope’ with these disappointments better? What we see in the large proportion of players is the extreme reaction to losing points and losing matches.

Losing points

Racket banging, moaning, groaning, shouting as mentioned before…the list goes on. These are all behaviors seen on the surface, the more destructive work happens on the inside. The negative thoughts: ‘Why bother playing?’ ‘Give up’ ‘what is the point’  and even worse players building up or even down a career with one shot, one point, one match. ‘If I can’t beat this girl how am I ever going to play at Wimbledon?’ We can’t perform to our capabilities with these thoughts at the forefront of our mind. These thoughts paralyze us. They lead players to feel ‘demotivated’ and in turn, effort/application drops. It feels easier to deal with the pain that way. It is not…

Losing matches

All players react differently and we see many different reactions from comfort eating to silence to punishing ourselves with physical activity. The key issue being IF you do have an extreme reaction to a loss it shows that you do not have a ‘tolerance for failure’. This needs to be built up over time.

This then leads to often 2-3 days of ‘mood’ whilst we get over the loss and in the meantime, we are wasting valuable practice/preparation time for the next event. We then build up the next tournament in our heads and can’t bear that feeling of ‘losing’ so play another tight match and the cycle continues….

So how do we help players to ‘cope’ with disappointment and break this cycle? How can we help speed up this process? (Remember there is no magic wand here, just dedication and hard work in the correct environment)

Education

Awareness

This is important for parents and players alike (I hope a blog such as this can have an impact).  It is important that players know this is a normal feeling…a natural feeling. We are not made to enjoy disappointment. We have to learn the coping skills as we go, it will not happen overnight as you won’t be hitting BH returns like myself overnight- it takes time, effort, energy and commitment day in day out and as ever there will be difficult times along the journey.

Mindset

This can come from the environment that you are in…

Support Team (Parents play a big role in this)

Players you are around.

What do you reward? I would suggest rewarding effort and attitude instead of rewarding winning. First questions after a player come off the court: Did you have fun? Did you work hard? How was your “x” process goal’?

What we are after in our players?

Philosophical View- I love Rafa Nadal’s saying: “Play the game like it’s the most important thing in the world, but… Understand it is not”

We want players to fight and fight as hard as they can, but at the same time, we want players to understand that there is more to life than tennis. We want players to understand that tennis is an amazing vehicle in life that will provide life opportunities, friendships, and skills. These thoughts can not only soften the blow of the inevitable disappointment but will also allow our mind to stay clear whilst in the heat of the battle, therefore, reducing the amount that we are to be disappointed…Otherwise known as winning!

Control the Controllables

If you can measure success in terms of doing everything in your control with unconditional effort then you retain ownership of your success. As long as you are doing everything in your control you cannot fail to have success in this life.

This way of thinking may help you get over the disappointments a little easier…

Good luck!

Control the Controllable’s

Dan Kiernan

Director, SotoTennis Academy

www.sototennis.com

Inspiring Excellence | Tennis Academy Spain

Sports Science at STA (July 2014)

In the modern era of tennis, the importance of “fitness” is synonymous with elite performance. You only need to watch the marathon duals between Nadal, Murray, Federer and Djokovic (amongst others) to see it for your own eyes. The feats of physical prowess are something to behold.

So what does this mean for a High-Performance Tennis Academy? Is there a magic formula? Who are the Guru’s to listen to? Well, the first question is a simple one to answer, whilst questions two and three are the topic of debates that can rage long into the evening.

Let’s start with what a good academy should do, and in particular how we approach it at STA. Very simply, we have a dedicated team of well-qualified professionals who support the development of our tennis players. Players have individual programmes, based on a tennis specific needs analysis. Their physical maturity is tracked, and the emphasis on specific aspects of training is altered accordingly. Their fitness goals are integrated as part of their tennis programme to ensure that at whatever age their physical development is enhancing their performance on the court. It is all quite simple really, and in truth, it should be. We are of the belief that much of the skill is in the delivery.

So what about all the blogs and articles that talk about “this way to train, or that way…” Well, we are also of the belief that all types of training, delivery formats, theories, and philosophies have some merit. If there were only one-way of doing things, life would be boring! As a team, we are continually reflecting on our own practice, researching new practice and asking others about their practice. An open mind is an important trait, but only if you have the ability to rationalise it into something that you understand then decide whether to accept, reject or trial it as part of your own practice. Good practitioners will ensure the objectivity of their practice in the form of evidence, but will also challenge themselves to find new and innovative ways to do things.

That is our view at STA. We believe that Sports Science and “Fitness” should be simple. Good people, delivering evidence-based programmes tailored to the individual and reflective of the environment in which they train. We are transparent in our assessment of the players, and communicate what they need to do, and how to go about doing it. Every time we work with athletes, we are educating them about the importance of training, and how they can become better at it, both under our supervision and when they are reliant only on themselves. An autonomous athlete is a professional athlete.

If there is one area we do discuss a lot, it how hard can we push a player, and to what degree does physical fitness play in “toughening” up players mentally. This doesn’t distract us from the nuts and bolts of being good scientists and practitioners, but these are the debates had between coaches and practitioners in the real world of tennis. And we’d be happy to have them with anyone else out there too if you have an opinion!

So what is the moral of the story? Well simply, we believe in the importance of physical fitness to overall tennis performance, and tennis development (and so should you!). We do the basics and then try to build on those basics with all our players. We place emphasis on delivery, the education in delivery, objective results, and priorities that will enhance tennis performance. But above all, we don’t look for any magic formula’s just good science, excellence in delivery, and some bloody hard work!

Nick Morgan

Head of Sport Science, SotoTennis Academy

www.sototennis.com

Inspiring Excellence | Tennis Academy Spain

In the modern era of tennis, the importance of “fitness” is synonymous with elite performance. You only need to watch the marathon duals between Nadal, Murray, Federer and Djokovic (amongst others) to see it for your own eyes. The feats of physical prowess are something to behold.

So what does this mean for a High-Performance Tennis Academy? Is there a magic formula? Who are the Guru’s to listen to? Well, the first question is a simple one to answer, whilst questions two and three are the topic of debates that can rage long into the evening.

Let’s start with what a good academy should do, and in particular how we approach it at STA. Very simply, we have a dedicated team of well-qualified professionals who support the development of our tennis players. Players have individual programmes, based on a tennis specific needs analysis. Their physical maturity is tracked, and the emphasis on specific aspects of training is altered accordingly. Their fitness goals are integrated as part of their tennis programme to ensure that at whatever age their physical development is enhancing their performance on the court. It is all quite simple really, and in truth, it should be. We are of the belief that much of the skill is in the delivery.

So what about all the blogs and articles that talk about “this way to train, or that way…” Well, we are also of the belief that all types of training, delivery formats, theories, and philosophies have some merit. If there were only one-way of doing things, life would be boring! As a team, we are continually reflecting on our own practice, researching new practice and asking others about their practice. An open mind is an important trait, but only if you have the ability to rationalise it into something that you understand then decide whether to accept, reject or trial it as part of your own practice. Good practitioners will ensure the objectivity of their practice in the form of evidence, but will also challenge themselves to find new and innovative ways to do things.

That is our view at STA. We believe that Sports Science and “Fitness” should be simple. Good people, delivering evidence-based programmes tailored to the individual and reflective of the environment in which they train. We are transparent in our assessment of the players, and communicate what they need to do, and how to go about doing it. Every time we work with athletes, we are educating them about the importance of training, and how they can become better at it, both under our supervision and when they are reliant only on themselves. An autonomous athlete is a professional athlete.

If there is one area we do discuss a lot, it how hard can we push a player, and to what degree does physical fitness play in “toughening” up players mentally. This doesn’t distract us from the nuts and bolts of being good scientists and practitioners, but these are the debates had between coaches and practitioners in the real world of tennis. And we’d be happy to have them with anyone else out there too if you have an opinion!

So what is the moral of the story? Well simply, we believe in the importance of physical fitness to overall tennis performance, and tennis development (and so should you!). We do the basics and then try to build on those basics with all our players. We place emphasis on delivery, the education in delivery, objective results, and priorities that will enhance tennis performance. But above all, we don’t look for any magic formula’s just good science, excellence in delivery, and some bloody hard work!

Nick Morgan

Head of Sport Science, SotoTennis Academy

www.sototennis.com

Inspiring Excellence | Tennis Academy Spain

Tennis: A Vehicle for Life (June 2014)

How many thousands of people around the world wake up early every morning, bright eyed, bushy tailed ready for what the day has to bring as they chase their dream? In the world of tennis, we are surrounded by inspired youngsters who dream of walking onto the freshly cut green grass of Wimbledon or the beautiful red clay of Roland Garros. They work for years and years making sacrifices that many could not even dream of. Leaving home at a young age, missing out on their friends 16th birthday party, their school prom, and making the decision to sleep 9 hours a night rather than spend countless hours playing Call of Duty. So what is the return on this investment, this large financial, emotional, and time investment that players and parents contribute from a young age?

A very select few receive a direct return on that investment when they achieve their ‘dreams’ of lifting that Wimbledon trophy or pulling on their National shirt while listening to the anthem belt out. So does that mean all the others are failures? Wasted time? Wasted money? Wasted emotion? No, it does not…far from it.

I am a massive believer that we get out what we put into this life, but we need to be a little smarter in where we search for the return on investment.

I recently read an article in Forbes Magazine that discussed the 15 ideal traits of a quality employee. When I first read it I thought they were writing about how to become a successful tennis player!

Here are a few examples that I felt were very relevant to the skills we pick up from our tennis careers through training, competition and the way in which the ‘lifestyle’ demands we manage our lives’:

Action Orientated – someone who takes action takes chances in this life. Ever gone for a big return on break point in a pressurised match? Ever made a big potentially ‘life-changing’ decision. Maybe making the decision to join the SotoTennis Academy! I promise it will change your life for the better!

Ambitious – isn’t this what we are as tennis players? The reason we get up and hit a fluffy yellow ball over the net day in day out?

Autonomous – arguably the biggest trait we need as a tennis player. Unique to tennis, we are not allowed to be ‘coached’ throughout our matches from a very early age. This creates independence in our character rather than in team sports we can get ‘carried’ along.

Leadership – from an early age we are our own boss. In tennis, players employ coaches and must take a leadership role in their own development. The individuality of the sport leads to great leadership qualities being learned through time.

Culture Fit- 99% of high-level tennis players have trained at an Academy/Club where they have to ‘fit’ into the way that Academy works. Yes, it is an individual sport, but our ability to work within a team environment is critical to the success of our career.

Attention to detail – from how we look after our equipment, to how we prepare for each shot, to how we ‘plan’ our trips (hotels, flights, pick-ups, etc.).

Hard Working – this is a must to get to any respectable level in the game of tennis.

Passion – you don’t play this sport to the level you do without passion! It is a must to keep that fire burning inside you that makes you get up and go again each morning or after every loss.

I urge everyone out there to continue throwing yourselves into what you are doing, into what you believe in. If you do that you will not fail… You cannot fail! You are acquiring so many skills along this journey that will not only set you up to be a better brother/sister, son/daughter, Daddy/Mummy, friend, but a better employee, and a person who will have many opportunities open for them through continuing their passion, hard work, ambition and driving it using their leadership skills with a great attention to detail.

The world is your oyster. The first step is to conquer the tennis world, next stop: you can use those acquired skills to attack anything you want too…I promise.

Control the Controllables

Dan Kiernan

Director, SotoTennis Academy

www.sototennis.com

Inspiring Excellence | Tennis Academy Spain

Three Reasons for the Success of Tennis in Spain (March 2014)

After 4 years living/working in Spain, it seems like a good time to surmise my thoughts on why Spanish Tennis has been so successful over the last 20+ years and continues to be a powerhouse throughout the world. I have not attempted this till now, as I have not wanted to throw out random thoughts – after 4 years I hope the thoughts carry a little more substance.

We could explore many intricate details, but I aim to keep this to 3 main points which are: Unconditional Effort, Accessibility of Quality Competition, and Rafael Nadal

Unconditional Effort

Unconditional Effort sits at the heart of the Spanish Tennis Culture. In short: if you do not give unconditional effort at ALL times you stand out like a sore thumb – it IS what you do, it is the norm. This actually goes against the Spanish workforce and attitude to work ‘Mañana.. Mañana’, but is very clear for all to see.

An example of this was at a tournament this week in Seville. As with many matches on a clay court, you can have an easy scoreline yet a close match due to the difficulties in finishing points on the clay courts (especially in junior tennis). So what tends to happen is if a player is a little better than his/her opponent in all areas it leads to a relatively easy scoreline. I was watching one boy who lost the first set 6/0 in 45 minutes and in game 1 of the second set you would have thought he was winning the match. This is very typical at all events we go too at STA and extremely refreshing to see. Kids (in general) will naturally follow the crowd. 

 Accessibility of  Quality Competition

Quantity   

In Andalucia alone, we have 362 tournaments in a calendar year. This works out to 7 events EVERY weekend throughout the year.  This is a phenomenal amount of tournaments and makes competing without travelling big distances extremely easy.

In the National Events (Nike Junior Tours, Rafa Nadal Tours) they run a 128 Qualifying draw and a 64 Main Draw for each age group. This offers an opportunity for EVERYONE. Players enter an event if they believe this is the best for their development and if they want to play matches, they play matches!  The key point: If you enter the tournament you get in the tournament

Quality

As I said above, the quality of matches is high, as players are fighting like dogs for every point. The cream rises to the top but has to work to do so. As tennis is more accessible to the masses (due to weather, facilities, and the number of tournaments/matches available) this leads to greater strength in depth across the age groups.

An example of this would be top 50 ranked UK Players who train at STA – they play local events in Andalucia 2-3 times a month. It is rare for them to win an event and is a great accomplishment if they do. In the National Events you can guarantee a quality opponent from the first match to your last.

With no easy matches, this leads to an ‘every ball, every match’ mentality. Once a player gets used to competing at this level of intensity week in week out, it becomes the norm.

Rafael Nadal

2 important words in Spanish Tennis…Rafael Nadal

Rafa has set up his own National Tour of events. He has played an instrumental role in every small detail of the events. From the Wild Card Opportunity to the educational seminars that are in place for coaches/parents/players.

As mentioned above, these events run across the country with 3 National Events, the top 7 points winners advance to the finals in Mallorca  The 8th Player is the one that receives a Wild Card based on the following criteria:

  • Effort/hustle on court
  • Sportsmanlike conduct
  • Coach Conduct at side of court
  • Parent Conduct at side of court

Rafa will not only be present at the finals but will play a big role of involvement in speaking to the players and passing on his philosophy on the sport. In last week’s event in Seville, he sent his Mum and Girlfriend to the event who were present the entire tournament. They chatted to all players and parents, and they ran workshops on the importance of the above areas (Effort, Sportsmanship etc). This really is taking ‘inspiration’ to a new level.

In my 4 years in Spain, I have heard many stories about Rafa and Uncle Toni who pass on information to other coaches/players and show a massive willingness to educate and also continue to be educated. Getting better never stops.

I want to leave you with a little slogan that Rafa has on all his stationary at the event

Juega al Tenis como Si fuera lo mas importante, pero se consciente de que no lo es’ 

Translated into English…

‘ Play Tennis like it is the most important thing, yet realise it ‘actually’ is not’ 

Success does not happen by accident…

Controlar los Controlables.

Dan Kiernan

Director, SotoTennis Academy

www.sototennis.com

Inspiring Excellence | Tennis Academy Spain

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