B>At what age should junior tennis players be introduced to the
principles of Sport Psychology? The answer certainly varies by
individual, as maturity level and intrinsic motivation play huge
roles. Having just returned from a mental training seminar I
conducted at the ATP Tour International Headquarters in Ponte Vedra
Beach, Florida, I am more than ever convinced that it's never too
early to begin providing Mental Equipment.
I was invited by Ricardo Acuna, Assistant Tennis Director of the ATP
Tour site, to address 50 of Florida's top juniors within the 10-14
age divisions on mental skills training. Upon arriving, I was
impressed by the quality of the complex, home of men's professional
tennis and the training center for the world's greatest players. It
features European red clay, grass and hard courts, state of the art
fitness facilities, spa and video equipment, an elegant dining area,
and a championship instructional staff headed by ATP Tour Director of
Tennis Brian Gottfried.
Ricardo, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist and Chilean Davis Cup star, is
an extremely enthusiastic tennis coach and gracious host. Over lunch,
we discussed a variety of topics including psychological skills,
training philosophies, and the need for a greater attitude of
"teamwork" among juniors.
The weather was brilliant as I prepared to arm these gifted
competitors with mental weapons for the 21st century. Shortly after
lunch, I was confronted by a massive swarm of mini tennis players in
the main grandstand. Ricardo interrogated the horde in an attempt to
identify who had coated the locker room door knob with chocolate ice
cream. Succumbing to Ricardo's relentless stares and threats of
eternal banishment from this tennis Eden, the trickster fell to fear
and guilt, confessed, and cleared the path for Mental Equipment.
My talk was interactive, flowing from issues and needs expressed by
the group. Although I expected some difficulty maintaining their
focus for a full hour, surprisingly little tear gas was necessary!
Topics for discussion were easily generated and questions arose on a
variety of issues (e.g., performance enhancement, coping with
cheating, coping with outside pressures).
The event was not all business, as some of the older juniors decided
that imagery, described in my talk as "making movies in your mind,"
could be used for more devious (and probably interesting!) purposes
than preparing for a tennis match. It was also amazing that one bee
had the power to simultaneously remove 20 juniors from their seats
(so much for mental toughness!). On the whole, their attention level
and involvement was impressive, and several juniors came up to me
afterwards and commented that they had learned a lot.
At days end, Ricardo gave the group a test to determine whether they
recalled the 5 tools of Mental Equipment provided earlier. To my
delight, everyone scored 100% in recall and Ricardo called the talk a
This was a fun and productive weekend and I look forward to taking
Mental Equipment on the road again. Included are some photos of my
trip to Ponte Vedra. See you next month ...