I had an absolute blast watching Jo march her way through to the semi final over the past two weeks, and I know you all did too! Consistent quality of strike, aggressive movement, amazing strength out wide and a cool calm focus on getting the job done, it seems like Jo has got pretty much every box ticked. I was on court next to Jo during her training in December and it was a joy to watch her attitude and application for every shot regardless of whether it went in or out. As a junior player there are so many elements of Jo’s game that you can take and try to implement in your own game, but I think there is one exceptional quality that stands out above the rest in her game. Her priorities and what she really cares about.
Jo has learned to care about each individual shot in front of her above all else in tennis. Listening to Jo speak I often hear her saying something like this, “I’ve just got to go out there and do my job, play the best tennis possible and not get sucked in to the occasion”. If there is anything I would want juniors to take from Jo’s success it is that message. The minute that winning a match is more important to you than playing your best tennis you will be anxious and not able to produce the tennis you know you can. This then leads to frustrated parents who have driven hundreds of miles to get to a tournament, as well as coaches spending most of their time trying to help the player deal with their nerves and anxiety on the court instead of working on other areas.
A lot of coaches will teach this principal to parents and players… “Only look at who you are playing not who you might play in the next round”… Very sensible. I also hear a lot of “try not to get ahead of yourself and just focus on the game you are in”, again a reasonable lesson to teach. Some coaches will break it down even further with “stay in the moment and play the point that is in front of you”, which is also very wise. But I think it is necessary to take it a step further and break it down in to each individual shot. If you value and care about each shot you play in practise and in a match as much as if it were match point at Wimbledon, the consequences will be that you will deliver your best possible tennis. If we go back to Jo for a moment, I can see how much she cares that each shot she plays is the best she can possibly deliver. This means her best possible movement, footwork, positioning, decisions, technique, strength and execution. Then she does it again and again and again and is not happy if she lets up on this at all. Read that last sentence again. It is not the case that Jo is annoyed when she misses, she is annoyed when she could have worked harder to deliver a better shot.
If you are an aspiring pro don’t only ask yourself what went wrong on that shot, sometimes ask yourself why. Yes you didn’t move your feet well enough but why not? Why didn’t you work hard enough to really get in to the right position? Its normally because you didn’t truly value and care about that particular shot enough. I always used to ask myself if someone was standing there with a gun to my head telling me to do it better or I get shot, could I do it better? I was very happy when the answer was no and I would die knowing there was nothing more I could have done. It is maybe a bit dramatic but it used to work for me!
As I said earlier most coaches will try to teach this principal of staying in the moment, but it can never be successful unless everyone in the team is on board, and I mean EVERYONE. As well as the coach this includes, parents, squad coaches, hitters, strength and conditioning coaches and the governing body. If the player is surrounded by this attitude like Jo has been for the past 18 months then it isn’t a difficult skill to master. If there is any encouragement of results over performance, even if it is just clapping a point that they played poorly, the player will receive mixed messages and will continue to feel anxious about results.
Yes players need to learn to win as well as improve as you are ultimately judged on that, but they equally they need to learn that you won a tournament because you won your matches, you won your matches because you won a lot of points, a point is a collection of shots, so each shot you get the chance to play better be the best it can be. If winning is the goal then the quality is compromised, but if relentless quality is the goal then winning will be a consequence.
A lot of kids want to be good but not many want to get good. I can see in Jo that she has loved the process of getting good as much as she now enjoys being good. Enjoy the journey.