Hacking Flow for Optimal Tennis Performance

Flow in the simplest of terms is an optimal state of consciousness, a peak state where we both feel and perform our best.  In my upcoming book, 7 On Court Strategies To Experience Your Play State – How to Win Every Time You Play, I discuss the advantage of why being in the Flow State is the most powerful influencer of winning.  As Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Ned Hallowell said, “Flow naturally catapults you to a level you’re not naturally in, flow naturally transforms a weakling into a muscleman, a sketcher into an artist, a dancer into a ballerina, a plodder into a sprinter, an ordinary person into someone extraordinary.”

Everything you do, you do better in flow, from baking your favorite food, to planning a vacation, to solving a business plan, to playing tennis.  Flow drives optimal performance and accelerates performance.  Researchers now believe that flow sits at the core of almost every athletic championship and why so many champions remain at the top of their sport for longer durations of time – those athletes simply master and get in the flow state for longer periods of time and more often than others.  In this blog, I’d like to dive into one of the most fascinating ideas I’ve ever discovered when it comes to hacking flow.  Overall, there are 4 varieties of hacking flow, external triggers, internal triggers, social triggers, and creative triggers.  There are several external triggers that hack flow.  External triggers are qualities in the environment that drive people deeper into the zone.

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The term “Hacking” comes from the electronic world wherein hackers were originally found in tinkering with technology in an attempt to improve performance.  Although the word has since taken on a negative connotation, it is a powerful way to discover how to maximize human performance – and in this particular example, winning when you play on a tennis court.  In this case instead of hacking external technologies, the focus will be on hacking internal technologies, our own psychology and neurology.  Hacking flow then refers to any action performed that propels us into flow.

Focus is the goal of getting more into the flow.  Risk is one external trigger that is a powerful way to hack flow.  Using risk as a “flow hack” can be an extremely potent trigger because flow proceeds from focus and consequences catch our attention.  Not only do consequences catch our attention, they also drive neurochemistry.  As risk increases, so do two nature chemicals in our brain release.  They are norepinephrine and dopamine.  Norepinephrine is a chemical released from the sympathetic nervous system in response to stress.  One of the major advantages of norepinephrine being released is it causes an increase in the amount of oxygen going to our brain – this helps us think clearer and faster.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.  Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.  Our brain uses these two to amplify focus and enhance performance.  Playing with this trigger often produces long-lasting effects:  risk takers are transformed into risk seekers.  Risk moves from being a threat to be avoided to a challenge to be risen toward.  This is the major reason I change the word “drills” to “challenges”.  Drills originally came to be known of instruction or training in military exercises.  Challenges are an invitation or call to take part in a contest or competition.  I’ve found especially around young players that using the phrase, “Alright, here’s our next challenge!”  The response physically and emotionally is so much more positive and the player or players are motivated 100x more to participate than when I use to say, “Alright, the next drill is….”.

Being challenged is a risky proposition, there will be winners and losers (in the score), there could be embarrassment; physical, mental, and emotionally stress – but that’s exactly the point – it’s a powerful trigger towards playing in the zone, in flow.  Using the word challenge can only push you towards the flow state, it’s like having a great pair of tennis shoes to begin.  When risk is a challenge, fear becomes a compass – literally pointing players in the direction they need to go next, the direction that produces more flow.  As neuropsychologist Barbara Sahakian, the University of Cambridge, England, says, “To really achieve anything, you have to be able to tolerate and ENJOY risk.  It has to become a challenge to look forward to.  To make exceptional discoveries, you absolutely need risk – you will never have a breakthrough without it.”

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I have witnessed over 20 years of coaching, the players that embrace risk (I call it in my book, “embracing the pressure”) always push through and win every time they play.  They may not win in the score in every match or competition, but they develop towards greatness – a sense of achieving more than they believed.  There is a sense of fulfillment and learning to find joy in the journey of becoming better players and human beings.  I’ve also witnessed this phenomenal idea of embracing risk watching professional players play the game.  The best players have always had a sense of rising to the occasion, looking fear in the face, embracing all the risk of the moment, and going for it!  Players of the past like Graf, Evert, Navratilova, Conners, Lendl, Agassi, and Sampras – Players in modern times like Serena, Sharapova, Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic.  These players embody risk taking and playing in flow.

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Certainly taking risks is needed for you to activate flow.  There are different types of risk taking, physical, mental, social, emotional and creative risks.  The application of imagination – a very short definition of creativity is all about mental chance taking.  The game of tennis is a very mental challenge, and taking risk is something that must be embraced to be your best.  And the risk is real because losing is real…. stay tuned for the book and more to follow 🙂

Hacking flow requires full commitment to the process or the journey – and it must be ferocious.  Accelerated performance needs unyielding focus and commitment, coaches that design training environments that create a safe space for taking risks is one where players will thrive and play in flow more often.  They will “Win Every Time They Play!”

7 On Court Strategies THE BOOK

7 On Court Strategies To Experience Your ‘Play State’

– Discovering how to win every time you play may seem like a daunting task but it’s actually well within your reach.   Styrling’s new book opens the possibility to explore your game from his innovative perspective of winning on the inside in order to truly appreciate the win on the scoreboard.  You’ll find yourself reflecting that when you lose a tennis match, it’s an incredible opportunity you’ll have to carve out the formula to winning – adversity makes room for opportunity.

Release Date:  7.7.2017

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About the Author – Styrling Strother

Yep, it’s official – I’m an author now.  Unbelievable, at least to me.  I never imagined that as a young boy who struggled with a speech impediment would end up writing a book. Anything is possible if you believe, be yourself, and trust your instincts.  This was a project that pushed me to the limits.  I couldn’t have done this without the support of my wife and family, my incredible editor Bill Patton, extraordinary entrepreneurs Gary Vaynerchuk and Lewis Howes, as well as the encouragement from my players and friends.  My passion has always been to inspire people in person, it’s a dream come true to hopefully inspire you with the written word.  I hope you enjoy 7 On Court Strategies To Experience Your ‘Play State’ and it inspires you to play at a whole new level of fun!

Developing Better Footwork

The foundation for developing better footwork from the baseline is the reset positions after you play a ball to your opponent’s court.  Instead of thinking of the tennis court as a rectangle that has one center, picture three main triangles that shift as you play the ball into your opponent’s court.  Even if you are playing the ball down the middle of the court, you are actually resetting and hitting back into a triangle, not a rectangle.  In the videos below, seeing is believing and this is really step #1 in transforming your practice court to developing better footwork and reset positions from the baseline.

 

Extended video 3 Centers of the Court

Throw Away Shots

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Transcript:

Let me talk to you about “Throw Away” Shots in a match. One way to define success is to win the point. You can win the point with 1, 2, 3, or 20 shots (which doesn’t happen very often). Now 20 shots are unlikely but 0 – 8 is typical.

You’re playing for 1 point but there is not a lot of emphasis on each shot. There’s not an urgency to play each shot because I want to win the point. You’ve got to stay in the moment of executing 1, 2 Re-set. You’re emphasis when you do this isn’t on winning the point, it’s on making shots! Specifically 2 shots in a row.

Two shots in a row lines up with the data. In 6 out of 10 points, the points end in 0 – 4 shot rally length. Another 2 shots for each player gives you 8 shots which is 9 out of 10 points you’ll ever play. Don’t worry about the 1 point out of 10 that rarely happens that go past 8 shots.

Focus on right when the points begins. Right when it starts it’s about to end. In the beginning, there is the end.

If you only focus on winning the point, you can have “Throw Away” shots. You can randomly spray shots.

You have “Throw Away” shots because you’re not thinking, you want 1 shot to set up your 2nd shot. You’re not thinking about finishing a point with 2 shots or more. You’re thinking let’s just end the point there. You hit it as hard as you can with very little decision making. You hit a deep ball which pushes your opponent behind the baseline, they give you a very short ball and all you have to hit is a drop-shot. Instead you hit an 80 mph forehand into the back fence.

You have to understand a point is won by a series of smart shots, making good decisions.

The key is making 2 shots, reset, then hitting 2 shots, reset. Within that, playing catch and keep away.  Sometimes you have to play catch because you’re in trouble and you want to make the shot.  When you have the opportunity, you play keep away.

You can Run, Reverse, or Cage them.

You’re so focused on winning a point, not focused on running patterns or trying to get the opponent out of position.

You can’t get too far ahead or stuck in the past when you lose or win a point.  You’ve got to let it go.

This is how you win every time you play.

The score is one small measurement of success. We’ve made it the “be all, end all” of success.

An ultimate success is you come off the court and you gave it all you got at that moment in time, then you say to yourself,

“I’m going to play and practice harder.”

Why do You Play?

Below is an excerpt from the Chapter “Why do You Play?” in my new book 7 On Court Strategies to Experience Your Play State.  I explore the idea of winning EVERY TIME You Play in this book – pick up your copy today Click here at Amazon.com

 

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. 

                                            –  Fred Rogers

 

Why do you play? There are varied reasons why you may play the game of tennis. Some of us play for the simple enjoyment to interact with friends and family, others for competition and physical exercise, and then some of us play to relax and release the tension and pressure from our jobs or school. For whatever reason you decide to play tennis, it always leads to keeping score with someone winning and someone losing. Sometimes you win because you are more skilled than the other player, other times it may be a combination of being stronger mentally and emotionally than your opponent. Whatever way you happen to win in the score, being self-aware of how you win is rarely as valuable as the self-awareness gained when you lose on the scoreboard. My confidence in this statement is from observing players who win and lose and observing how they respond to each result. My belief is founded on the idea that winning and losing in the score can actually reveal the ‘why’ in playing the game.

Here is a fascinating quote from a recent article by Craig O’Shannessy July 2016 titled, The Percentages That Separate Djokovic And The Top 10:

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis shows that the current players in the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings have won, on average, just 53.2 per cent of their points the 2016 season. The flip side of the coin is also sobering to contemplate: Top 10 players average losing 47 per cent of all the points they play.

Reflecting on this data, if some of the greatest players in the World are losing 47 per cent of all the points they play, then defining why one plays the game is important. There is certainly more players losing tennis matches than winning them. In a tournament draw of 64 players, there are 63 players losing and one player winning. Why and how a player responds when losing points and matches is an important question to ponder in a quest to discover and advance toward growing and improving their game. The tension of losing can change or form the why, when, and how to play again because it gives a player the opportunity to explore more options for improvement to win more often. The key is to find ways to play that will really add to your enjoyment of the sport and the value of the lessons that can be learned from tennis. You will win and lose points like a roller coaster ride drifting up and down the track. The most important thing to realize is how you respond when you lose points because there will be a lot of them in playing this game. The first idea to grasp is your response to losing will determine how much and how often you win.    

 

The words printed here are concepts.  You must go through the experiences.
– St. Augustine

 

Take a moment to reflect on the last tennis match you lost. How long did you reflect on the match afterward? How many times did you lose that match – once, twice, three times in your mind? How would you describe your mental state after losing? Do you easily get over losing and move on to the next thing without much thought, or does losing torment you to some degree? Whichever way you slice it, coming to a point of simple and objective reflection can really help and become the catalyst for growth. I would say that some amount of agony over losing serves as a form of motivational energy. Also, you don’t have to lose in order to improve. Even in winning you can reflect on points or games that were lost and then create objectives for training so that more points are won moving forward. In fact, I love to win more than I hate to lose. A champion’s mindset is exemplified through a consistent effort to become the best version of themselves on and off the court.

In an evenly played match, you may win very close to the same amount of points that you lose. If you win 55% of the points, you will win 99% of the time with the exception being losing close sets, while winning relative blow out sets.

 

The idea being that winning by a little can lead to winning a lot.

 

Taking the time to separate the losing points versus winning points can make a huge difference in moving forward in the game. You will lose as many points as you win, there will be times you are up or down in the game.

To give a bit of a preview of the value of this book, I am sharing some strategies to help keep you in the moment and enjoying the game. The strategy of ‘Ball-Player’ in the pages ahead explain how to shift your visual perspective in the present moment. Being in the present moment is the key to unlocking your best performances. ‘Spot on the Ball’ is a challenge of awareness to experience the art of visualizing where you want to contact the ball to control trajectory and direction of your shot. Play Patterns That Run, Reverse, and Cage is a chapter about how combinations of shots tell a story of how the match is playing out. Once the story is understood, then maintaining the same story or changing to a new plot becomes more realistic. Stories have beginnings, building parts, and finishing pieces. If someone asks how did you play that match the other day, you could recall the match in story-form. ‘1-2, Reset’ is a challenge to experience how to let the previous shot go, then immediately shift attention onto the next shot in a two-ball sequence. As a player, you will learn to see in the immediate present, neither thinking about the past or focusing too far into the future.

K.Juvan Wins Girls 18s Orange Bowl Championships – How did she do it?

Kaja Juvan (SLO) won the Girls’ 18s singles at the Metropolia Orange Bowl International Championships stifling top seed and No. 1-ranked Russian Anastasia Potapova 6-1, 6-4.  The ITF Grade A, USTA Level 1 tournament is the showplace where the best junior players in the world come to battle for the coveted trophy.

The 55th Annual Junior Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship is one of the most distinguished and paramount junior tennis tournaments in the world! This globally recognized event brings together over 1,500 of the top ranked male and female junior players representing more than 76 countries.  Over the past 55 years, tennis legends such as Chris Evert, Jimmy Conners, Mary Joe Fernandez, Monica Seles, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf have showcased their athletic talent as well as current pros, Caroline Wozniacki, Genie Bouchard, Maria Sharapova, Sloane Stevens, Roger Federer, Juan Martin del Potro, Kei Nishikori, and Andy Murray2012 Olympic and 2013 Men’s Wimbledon Champion.  As Kaja Juvan adds her name to this prestigious list of Orange Bowl champions, I’m sure she is looking forward to continuing her dreams of becoming the best she can be on the Pro Tour!

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Kaja Juvan 2016 Girls’ 18 Singles Champion

How did she do it?  Beating the #1 seed Potapova in straight sets 6-1, 6-4 was in no way an easy task.  My analysis of her match is based on a Point Tracking Chart I developed 4 years ago while tracking the length of points in junior tennis matches and tournaments.  It is evident when analyzing the numbers that Juvan was well-prepared in the First Strike Phase (0-4 shots) going into the Finals this year.  Breaking down and going beyond the numbers to get a glimpse into what led to her stunning victory is where we go next.

I’d like to add that this match was played on a “wet” clay court surface on December 11, 2016.  The numbers here were collected using the Point Tracking Chart, successfully mapping the length of each point.  Thanks to my friend and colleague Todd Nassief for the data entry.

Juvan played an absolutely flawless 1st set by winning 75% of the First Strike points (0-4 shots) when returning serve.  Here are the numbers:

Return of Serve – 1st Set

(0-4)  6-8  75% pts won

(5-8)  2-4  50% pts won

(+9)  1-1  100% pts won

In the 0-8 shots (First Strike Tennis and Patterns of Play), Juvan won 8 out of 12 points in these point phases winning 67% of the points.  I’m beginning with the Return of Serve numbers because this led to a big confidence booster for Juvan in the 1st set.  Putting pressure on the #1 seed’s serve right out of the gate set the tone for the Slovenian to storm through and break serve in the 2nd and 4th game of the set.

Serving in the 1st set was equally as lethal, Juvan won 9 out of 14 points in the First Strike phase projecting a commanding presence starting the point.

Serve – 1st Set

(0-4)  9-14  64% pts won

(5-8)  3-3  100% pts won

(+9)  4-4  100% pts won

 Juvan was perfect in the Patterns of Play (5-8) and Extended Rally (+9) phases, 100% pts won.  In the 0-8 shots, she won 12-17 points for 71%.  So what are these numbers really telling us?  Kaja Juvan was simply the better player between 0-8 shots in the first set, either serving or returning serve, she was on fire right out of the gate.  As my good friend and colleague Craig O’Shannessy http://www.braingametennis.com, lead analyst for the ATP Tour, says “Just when you think the point is beginning, it’s about to end, and that’s where all the action is!”  As you can see from these numbers, it’s exactly where all the action was played as well in the 2016 Girls’ 18s Final at the Orange Bowl.

After wining the 1st set 6-1, with a commanding lead Juvan took this great confidence into the 2nd set where her percentages may have dipped a little but her ability to keep the numbers above 50% in all three phases launched her towards victory.

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Juvan continued with a solid performance by applying pressure to Potavova’s service games in the 0-8 shots (21-33), winning 64% of the points played when returning.  Even though Juvan had a lower winning percentage in the +9 shot phase, she overwhelmed her opponent by winning the majority of points in the (0-4) and (5-8) shot phases.

Return of Serve – 2nd Set

(0-4)  14-23  61% pts won

(5-8)  7-10  70% pts won

(+9)  5-13  38% pts won

Serving in the 2nd Set, Juvan stumbled just a little on the Serve and S+1, winning just 53% and 50% of the points there, but was able to make up the difference once the point reached the extended rally phase by winning 63% of the points.

Serve – 2nd Set

(0-4)  8-15  53% pts won

(5-8)  5-10  50% pts won

(+9)  5-8  63% pts won

Winning 52% of the points in the (0-8) shot phases when serving and combined with her performance when returning was enough to finish the match with a win.  One of the keys to victory for Juvan was when leading 5-4 in the 2nd set and now serving for the match.  The 10th and final game was tracked and looked like this:

Point 1:  11 shots  (15-0)

Point 2:  13 shots  (30-0)

Point 3:  5 shots  (40-0)

Point 4:  3 shots (Game)

My sense after looking at the numbers of the 9th game, which lasted 10 points total, was that Potavova was trying to stretch out the rally length of points while hoping for a downtick in Juvan’s confidence and focus to finish the match.  But Juvan was able to maintain her focus out of a long point (+9) to the next short point that would ultimately land in the (0-4) shot phase.

I really enjoyed going through the numbers of this incredible match and found that player’s who train on the practice court like they will eventually play on the match court, find more wins, more often when it counts the most.  Handling the pressure of beginning a point well is a key factor to becoming one of the best players in the world.

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Drilling Deeper Beyond The Numbers

The first 4 shots are made up of the Serve and S+1, the Return and R+1.  The next two shots that a player plays is the S+2 and S+3 when serving.  The R+2 and R+3 when returning.  Here’s a chart to help see this a bit clearer:

Serve (1-shot)          Return (2-shot)

S+1 (3-shot)              R+1  (4-shot)

S+2 (5-shot)             R+2  (6-shot)

S+3 (7-shot)             R+3 (8-shot)

The shots played from the Serve player are the odd numbers:  1,3,5,7

The shots played from the Return player are the even numbers:  2,4,6,8

I found that even as well as Juvan played, there were places of improvement in her game.  Exactly “where” the adjustments and improvements can be made are found when drilling deeper beyond the numbers in this match.

The 1st set Juvan played was practically flawless in the (0-4) and (5-8) phases, as stated before winning 10-12 points when returning serve and 9-14 points when serving.  Total 19-26 points in the 1st set.  I’d like to focus more though on the 2nd set because the final set score was 6-4.  Here’s a closer look towards exactly where the errors (forced or unforced) showed up.

Return of Serve – 2nd Set

Return:  5 errors

 R+1:  4 errors

R+2:  2 errors

R+3:  1 error

Serve – 2nd Set

Serve:  1 DF

S+1:  5 errors

S+2:  1 error

S+3:  4 errors

Juvan returning serve in the 2nd set made the majority of errors (9-12) on the Return and R+1.  When serving, she made 5 errors on the S+1.  This is certainly a place to look when making adjustments and training on the practice court.  Combining the Serve and Return, Juvan made 15 errors in the (0-4) phase of the point and 8 errors in the (5-8) phase of the point.  Training these two phases of a point can make the difference between winning 6-4 and losing 4-6.  Juvan executed better in these phases of point play in this match than her opponent.

Congratulations to you, Kaja Juvan, on your impressive win at the 2016 Orange Bowl!

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Flow To Play Your Best

Flow, in the simplest of terms, is an optimal state of consciousness.  When in a ‘play state’ we are free to perform our best.  In 7 On Court Strategies To Experience Your ‘Play State’,  I share innovative challenges that engage and assist you in finding your zone.  Playing more often in the zone increases your chances for better outcomes.

I have witnessed, over the past 20 years of coaching, that players who embrace risk often push through and win every time they play.  They may not win on the scoreboard in every match, but they develop towards greatness.  My players often breakthrough to play better than they ever imagined.  Time and time again they find joy and fulfillment in the journey, transforming their game to experience their best performance while on the court.

Play Patterns That Work

There are many different types of patterns of play in the game of tennis.  How can we improve the efficiency with which we recall and employ different patterns of play.  Many of the patterns of play that I have seen from others and taught previously myself, are not altogether logical or easy to recall. We as players begin with good intentions to stick to our patterns of play, but then there are many factors that cause us to forget our plans for play. One of the most important factors are the feelings of pressure we feel when we compete.  Yes, pressure, that ugly word that creeps into our minds and ruins the calm demeanor we want to maintain throughout the entire match.  In the spirit of play patterns that work, we can bridge a sometimes overwhelming gap between the ability to make decisions in the moment of play and preplanned decisions that happen before the first ball is played.

There are some best practices in doing our preplanning, including simplifying and chunking.  Chunking is the strategy of breaking down strings of information into bite-sized pieces so the brain can process more easily and faster.  One of the main reasons the brain needs this assistance is because working memory, which is the temporary workspace where we control and process information, holds a limited amount of information at one time.  Think of working memory as equivalent to being mentally online.   

Simplifying and chunking is a powerful way to remember and recall information, in this case patterns of play, quickly and effectively.  Word choice matters in how we present strategy, because we want our words to express as concisely as possible the meaning we want without sacrificing important details. We remember ideas or patterns better in story form, so why not tell a story about how you are going to play patterns in your next match. By telling a story I am emphasizing a meaningful connection between playing shots to move an opponent wherever and however I’d like.  A story as beginning, building, and finishing (ending) parts – if someone asks you how did you play that match the other day, you could recall the match in story-form.  For example, I started the match by running my opponent side to side, then I discovered they did that really well so I began to reverse and cage them keeping them unbalanced and disturbing their rhythm and timing.  It was great, I felt like a puppet master just directing my opponent’s every move.

Run, Cage, Reverse.  I use three words combined in 2-shot play patterns, to tell a specific story about how a player will dictate a point and control their opponent.   Run as an action shows that the opponent will be moving in every direction.  When you run a player you are pressuring their movement.  The player will “run” a player in a certain direction, side-to-side, up-and-back, angle-to-angle.  To Cage works on the opponent to keep them contained.  When they are “caged” – their movement is limited!  Here the player restricts the time and space of another player has to perform a task with freedom.  Another way to understand it is to “hand-cuff” or “jam” an opponent.  Reversing a player means that a player will intentionally create situations where they can make an opponent run in one direction, then reverse their direction 180 degrees.  When you reverse a player, you are disrupting their balance and rhythm.  For example, when the player hits a ball deep in the corner, and the opponent is resetting to the center, the player will hit right back to the same corner. This is also known as ‘hitting behind the opponent.’  When the player was running forward for a drop-shot, you hit a lob over their head and reversed them to retrieve the shot.

Play patterns that work made up of simple word associations that tell a particular story of ways to win points.  There are nine 2-shot play patterns that work:

1.  Run / Run

2.  Run / Reverse

3.  Run / Cage

4.  Reverse / Run

5.  Reverse / Reverse

6.  Reverse / Cage

7.  Cage / Run

8.  Cage / Reverse

9.  Cage / Cage

Two shot patterns can be used discover quickly in a match your opponents strengths and weaknesses that relate to movement, time and space, as well as rhythm and balance.  Challenging a player in these areas at the right moment can cause a massive shift in momentum and flow of a match.  For example:  Its pretty important to cage a good player when they run you to the outside of the court.  In effect, you neutralize the point by playing back deep to the middle and taking away your opponents ability to hit an angle back to make you run again.  The key phrase here is “deep to the middle”, a short response or deep angle will give your opponent the opportunity to change direction on you – now you are running and reacting.  My #1 player on my high school team who is Top 10 in North Carolina played a Top 10 in South Carolina pre-season tournament finals.  The main reason my player won the match in the end was she caged her opponent who ran side-to-side very well.  My player neutralized her opponent and many times forced her on the defense after being caged.  A Cage/Run pattern was used to dictate the points.  Testing a player’s movement is one of the first ways to determine the athleticism of your opponent.  It’s one of the first strategies I have players initiate with their opponents to see if they can play the ball on the run.  One thing to have good technique, quite another to be able to maintain that good technique while playing a shot on the run.  I had an adult player who came to me and wanting to beat a certain player who just seemed to be able to hit that perfect lob every time.  My question to her was, “Can they hit that perfect lob while on the run?”  The player responded, “Hmmm, I never thought of making her hit the lob on the run.”  Yes, challenge the player with perfect technique – make them run!  Luring your opponent first by running them can set up the reverse pattern.  Reversing a player calls out their agility skill of quickness and balance.  Change of direction requires a player to sustain balance and counter-balance while moving to play the ball.  Some players may guard the reverse pattern too much and that opens up for the run while other players take off to soon to run and then the reverse catches them off balance.  I was coaching another Top 20 player from South Carolina and her ability to bait-and-switch, run/reverse or reverse/run players was her advantage.  She has begun to beat players more regularly in the Top 10 because of this two-shot pattern sequence.  It was discovered in my conversations with my player that so many of the top players in the State moved extremely well from corner to corner.  When faced with the decision to anticipate the run or the reverse, the ability to change direction was the difference between winning and losing points.

Why do I recommend two shot patterns?  Two shot patterns help players stay in the present moment. When players think too far ahead or with too much detail, they get caught up somewhere other than executing their shot.  Ideally the player’s mind will be as quiet as possible as they play. A quiet mind is one of the hallmarks of a play state mind. We want our players to stay in the Flow State for as long an extended period of time as possible, and with minimal breaks in flow.  Not only does this calm your thinking and keep it simple to execute, it lines up with the data as described in greater detail in the chapter First Strike Tennis.  Rally length data as displayed in this chapter “First Strike Tennis” is the foundation by which these Run/Cage/Reverse 2-shot play patterns were developed.  The patterns compliment the idea that points are short on average at every level of play and the easier it is to remember and recall your plan, the better your chances of winning the point.  As more data continues to be collected from every level of play including National Juniors 12 – 18, High School Tennis, Collegiate Tennis, and the Professional Tours that 55-70% of all points end in 0-4 shots.  The ability to simplify and recall mindful play patterns that tell a story while in the moment will likely lead to maintaining and prolonging longer cycles of your play state, or playing in the zone.

Chapter: ‘Play Patterns That Work’ from my new book

7 On Court Strategies To Experience Your ‘Play State’ – How To Win Every Time You Play

coach on court. 2016

Hacking Flow For Optimal Tennis Performance

Flow is the simplest of terms is an optimal state of consciousness, a peak state where we both feel and perform our best.  In my upcoming book, 7 On Court Strategies To Experience Your Play State:  How to Win Every Time You Play, I discuss the advantage of why being in the Flow State is the most powerful influencer of winning.  As Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Ned Hallowell said, “Flow naturally catapults you to a level you’re not naturally in, flow naturally transforms a weakling into a muscleman, a sketcher into an artist, a dancer into a ballerina, a plodder into a sprinter, an ordinary person into someone extraordinary.”

Everything you do, you do better in flow, from baking your favorite food, to planning a vacation, to solving a business plan, to playing tennis.  Flow drives optimal performance and accelerates performance.  Researchers now believe that flow sits at the core of almost every athletic championship and why so many champions remain at the top of their sport for longer durations of time – those athletes simply master and get in the flow state for longer periods of time and more often than others.  In this blog, I’d like to dive into one of the most fascinating ideas I’ve ever discovered when it comes to hacking flow.  Overall, there are 4 varieties of hacking flow, external triggers, internal triggers, social triggers, and creative triggers.  There are several external triggers that hack flow.  External triggers are qualities in the environment that drive people deeper into the zone.

hacking growth

The term “Hacking” comes from the electronic world wherein hackers were originally found in tinkering with technology in an attempt to improve performance.  Although the word has since taken on a negative connotation, it is a powerful way to discover how to maximize human performance – and in this particular example, winning when you play on a tennis court.  In this case instead of hacking external technologies, the focus will be on hacking internal technologies, our own psychology and neurology.  Hacking flow then refers to any action performed that propels us into flow.

Focus is the goal of getting more into the flow.  Risk is one external trigger that is a powerful way to hack flow.  Using risk as a “flow hack” can be an extremely potent trigger because flow proceeds from focus and consequences catch our attention.  Not only do consequences catch our attention, they also drive neurochemistry.  As risk increases, so do two nature chemicals in our brain release.  They are norepinephrine and dopamine.  Norepinephrine is a chemical released from the sympathetic nervous system in response to stress.  One of the major advantages of norepinephrine being released is it causes an increase in the amount of oxygen going to our brain – this helps us think clearer and faster.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.  Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.  Our brain uses these two to amplify focus and enhance performance.  Playing with this trigger often produces long-lasting effects:  risk takers are transformed into risk seekers.  Risk moves from being a threat to be avoided to a challenge to be risen toward.  This is the major reason I change the word “drills” to “challenges”.  Drills originally came to be known of instruction or training in military exercises.  Challenges are an invitation or call to take part in a contest or competition.  I’ve found especially around young players that using the phrase, “Alright, here’s our next challenge!”  The response physically and emotionally is so much more positive and the player or players are motivated 100x more to participate than when I use to say, “Alright, the next drill is….”.

Being challenged is a risky proposition, there will be winners and losers (in the score), there could be embarrassment; physical, mental, and emotionally stress – but that’s exactly the point – it’s a powerful trigger towards playing in the zone, in flow.  Using the word challenge can only push you towards the flow state, it’s like having a great pair of tennis shoes to begin.  When risk is a challenge, fear becomes a compass – literally pointing players in the direction they need to go next, the direction that produces more flow.  As neuropsychologist Barbara Sahakian, the University of Cambridge, England, says, “To really achieve anything, you have to be able to tolerate and ENJOY risk.  It has to become a challenge to look forward to.  To make exceptional discoveries, you absolutely need risk – you will never have a breakthrough without it.”

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I have witnessed over 20 years of coaching, the players that embrace risk (I call it in my book, “embracing the pressure”) always push through and win every time they play.  They may not win in the score in every match or competition, but they develop towards greatness – a sense of achieving more than they believed.  There is a sense of fulfillment and learning to find joy in the journey of becoming better players and human beings.  I’ve also witnessed this phenomenal idea of embracing risk watching professional players play the game.  The best players have always had a sense of rising to the occasion, looking fear in the face, embracing all the risk of the moment, and going for it!  Players of the past like Graf, Evert, Navratilova, Conners, Lendl, Agassi, and Sampras – Players in modern times like Serena, Sharapova, Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic.  These players embody risk taking and playing in flow.

ryan-harrison 2016

Certainly taking risks is needed for you to activate flow.  There are different types of risk taking, physical, mental, social, emotional and creative risks.  The application of imagination – a very short definition of creativity is all about mental chance taking.  The game of tennis is a very mental challenge, and taking risk is something that must be embraced to be your best.  And the risk is real because losing is real – however you can win every time you play -….. stay tuned for the book and more to follow 🙂

Hacking flow requires full commitment to the process or the journey – and it must be ferocious.  Accelerated performance needs unyielding focus and commitment, coaches that design training environments that create a safe space for taking risks is one where players will thrive and play in flow more often.  They will “Win Every Time They Play!”

 

Transforming the Practice Court – School of Tennis

Transforming the Practice Court is an innovative project to educate, inspire, and motivate tennis coaches to re-think and re-organize the ways we train players for the 21st century.  This project is more about innovating the old, tried and true methods of coaching towards a strategic mindset of transforming our players on the practice court with the necessary tools they need to succeed on the match court.

One of the biggest gaps in becoming a professional tennis coach and excelling in the art of coaching is mentorship and apprenticeship opportunities.  The School of Tennis provides for this type of opportunity to any tennis coach looking to advance the pursuit of becoming a better coach.  Transforming the Practice Court is the 1st course being offered by Styrling Strother to provide a pathway for you to become your best.  After being mentored by some of the best coaches in the industry, Styrling’s passion is to raise the bar of excellence in tennis coaching through interactive mastermind environments and personal one-on-one coaching.