The following article is a compilation of my favorite quotes taken from conversations with champions at every level, from the juniors to the pros. These conversations have helped shape my own coaching philosophy and I often use these tidbits in my coaching and consulting roles.
“Training is the time to focus on your side of the net. But when it's time to compete, you should be more focused on the other side.”—Mats Wilander
Mats Wilander always talked about using practice and training as a way to focus on technique and footwork, but when it was time to compete, players should be primarily focused on figuring out their opponent and problem-solving. During competition, most junior players are overly focused on themselves, especially in a negative manner (including focusing on mistakes, negative thinking), which blinds them from seeing what is going on across the net.
Takeaway: Turn your attention towards finding ways to exploit your opponent's weaknesses. Think about adjustments that may make a difference when behind, or remain engaged with your strategy when ahead.
“I have never understood how a player cannot be motivated to train or compete. If I have to motivate the player, then it takes time away from doing other things that are more important. The player has to bring his own motivation each day, that way the coach can do his job.”—Ivan Lendl
When asked about the main difference in his second coaching stint with Andy Murray compared to his first, Ivan Lendl had a simple answer: “Andy is much more motivated now when he comes to the court.” The player's responsibility is to bring effort, passion and desire each day, which will allow the coach to focus on the primary task … finding ways to help the player achieve their goals. By bringing good energy to the court, players can get the most out of their coaches.
Takeaway: Your energy level and motivation dictates what you will get out of practice and what you will get out of others (coaches and practice partners). Get to practice 10 minutes earlier, come prepared with questions/ideas, show a willingness to learn and try new things, and run hard for each ball, etc.
“To be great at this game a player has to have the stomach for traveling and for losing.”—Todd Martin
Todd Martin had a great way of communicating how important it was for players to roll with the punches and move past failures and losses. He said he lost a match almost every week of his career, except for his eight titles and the times he made it to the second week of a Grand Slam. In essence, he was saying that losing is a part of the game, but how a player handles losing will determine how often it happens. Further, he said that players have to get used to being uncomfortable, especially when on the road and eating new food, sleeping in a different bed or being in a strange place.
Takeaway: Having the ability to move past adversity and being outside of one's comfort zone are necessary components of becoming great at this game. Losses represent chances to learn, and when they happen, the player must direct 100 percent of their efforts toward finding solutions and getting ready for the next challenge.
“Be coachable, put in the time, hit twice a day, stay for serves after practice, stretch in your room; it all pays off. And lastly, stick to the process, always have the big picture in mind and don't get discouraged. The tennis gods don't reward people that take short cuts. Do the work day-in, day-out and be respectful of your peers and coaches. I can't stress this enough, work your butt off, you always have more in the tank than you think.”—Quentin Monaghan
Quentin Monaghan was an All-American in singles and doubles at Notre Dame and a great leader in his college career, both on and off the court. The quote above represented his advice to young players and I believe it rings true on multiple fronts. Even though Quentin had a lot of success at the collegiate level, he was always looking for ways to improve, especially when making the transition from college tennis to the Futures level.
Takeaway: If a player wants to reach an elite level, they will need to put in the work each day, show respect and appreciation to others, and be willing to go beyond certain limits and expectations.