Dr. Allen Fox has quite the tennis resume. He is a former tennis professional, having reached the quarter-final at Wimbledon, tennis coach at Pepperdine University, coach of Igor Kunitsyn (ranked as high as 35 ATP and winner of the Kremlin Cup in Moscow), mental consultant to pro like Sam Querrey and Dinara Safina well as author of the following books: his first, If I'm The Better Player, Why Can't I win? then Tennis: Winning The Mental Match,, Think to Win, and The Winner's Mind: a Competitor’s Guide to Sports and Business Success. Oh, and he was also Brad Gilbert's college coach. On my quest to find tips for players to teach themselves tennis, this guy definitely would be a great person to reach out to! In fact, he started out teaching himself tennis as well! Our conversation centered around tips that any player can use to help their game. His huge heart for helping others was obvious in our conversation. Always willing to go deeper into conversation, I was left with a feeling of gratitude to have had the opportunity to pick the brain of such a legend.
I will be having the complete interview in my book but I did want to share a few questions he answered that will I hope will be as helpful as it was for me!
Question #1: You mention in your book, Tennis: Winning the Mental Match, that we escape stress by doing any of the following: becoming angry, complaining, giving up, rationalizing defeat, etc. This all comes from becoming emotional in our matches. How can someone practice being unemotional so that this doesn't occur?
Dr. Fox: Do it. There is no try. Becoming unemotional in your matches is not done through repetitive practice, as is done in working on your strokes. It's done by making a firm decision to do so. Once you decide to do this, you can do it immediately. Roger Federer once said that he finally realized how much of a fool he looked when he would throw tantrums in front of all the viewers so he decided to stop it. And he did immediately. The overarching mental difficulty in tennis is that winning feels more important than it really is, but no matter how hard you try, there is no guarantee of winning. So it's natural to become emotional during your matches. It's unnatural to control these emotions. It takes a constant, conscious effort to control your natural impulses, and that is why it makes it so hard for players to commit to it.
Question #2: How can a player build confidence? Can you "fake it ‘til you make it" or is there a better way?
Dr. Fox: I haven't yet come across someone being able to manufacturer confidence. The definition of confidence is to have an expectation of success. Just as you would expect the sun to rise tomorrow because it always has in the past, you expect to win if you have a history of winning. Although some people are born (or learn in early life) more basically confident than others, for everybody, confidence comes from winning. Players need to have past experiences of winning to draw upon to have that confidence. It's a feeling based on history. If you have a history of winning you will tend to feel you are going to win in the future.
Question #3: What are some rituals you recommend for players to do between points?
Dr. Fox: It's not necessarily the ritual itself that is so important but rather its objective, which is to control the mind and exclude thoughts that make you nervous or stressed. Try this: hold a pen vertically with the tip pointing up and about a foot from your nose. Focus on the point. Move the pen left to right and then up to down. What were you thinking about? The point of the pen right? This is an example of how the mind can only focus on one thing at a time. The ritual is intended to fill you mind and keep it away from worrysome thoughts, like, “I must win this game. Or I’d better not lose this point.” You cannot simply stop your mind from thinking. So instead, you need to fill it with something else. And that is a ritual. An example might be the following: When a point is over, you have no emotional reaction at all, whether you hit a great shot or missed and easy one. Immediately detach yourself emotionally from what happened. (Yes, in certain circumstances you would want to pump yourself up but for the most part, consider it like a wave washing over you after every point, washing away what happened (good or bad). Then relax, keeping your eyes close by, maybe like LLeyton Hewitt used to do, focused on your racquet. Finally, when you are in position to start the next point, quickly run through the most important little “keys” for beginning the next point (like, on serve return, weight forward), and finally, get yourself focused, properly activated and emotionally positive.
Question #4: What are some key aspects one should consider when teaching yourself tennis?
Dr. Fox: Keep in mind to obtain racket velocity by turning your body and swinging a relatively loose arm to hit the ball. On the other hand, using your arm muscles to move the racket on the groundstrokes gives you more control at first because you get feedback about the position of your arm from nerves in the muscles. But in the long run, a relaxed swing using primarily body rotation and forward leg drive are better. The more you used your arm muscles to move the racket, the more likely it is to break down. As players improve their stroking techniques their forehands are usually more likely to break down (though also more flexible) than their backhands because the proper backhand is usually more mechanical and simply rotational than the forehand. The forehand will usually have a larger component of arm muscle as part of the stroke because the muscles moving the wrist forward on the backhand side are weaker than those on the forehand side.
Question #5: What was it like to coach Brad Gilbert?
Dr. Fox: He is one of my favorites. Great team player and leader for us. A very loyal guy. I could go on and on about how great he is as a person. As a player, he had an excellent forehand with a great set of wheels and a pretty good first serve. But other than that, everything else was mediocre. What set him apart was his judgment on every shot with regards to risk vs. return. In general, the perfect shot is the one with the least amount of risk and the most reward. Instinctively, Brad knew the best shot within his capabilities for every situation. I would consider him a genius in that aspect.
Video Of The Week: Want to learn how to get more power on the volley when you do not have time to step into the ball? Try this!