I had the opportunity to discuss female athletes, body images and societal perceptions of beauty on Al Jazeera English this week. Its such an important topic and happens to be trending right now thanks to Serena Williams. Check out the video below and let me know your thoughts!
We’ve all been there- on a crucial point, when opening the match or after a big break of serve committing that dreaded double fault. Some of us experience agonizing episodes of multiple double faults throughout a game or match. It hurts to give away those free points but its debilitating not knowing how to eliminate/control them.
As we have learned from this beautiful game, almost all our mistakes are caused by a combination of a technical error and a blocking mental belief. In the case of the serve, (where we hold the reigns of our match destiny) – one can easily create many detrimental negative and irrational beliefs.
Junior players easily fall prey to this cycle e.g. “My serves suck… I double faulted… I’m going to double fault again… I’m going to lose this match… I am a loser…I’m just a waste of a person.”
I’ve personally worked through this issue and have had the opportunity to work with junior and adults players on this issue. Here is my most recent student and our approach to the solution.
Background: One of my students from New Jersey, a top girls junior player was in town for the 14 and under Girls National Clay Court Championships. She was coming off a tournament and had 1.5 days before her first Clay Courts match.
Problem/Challenge: The player has been having episodes of multiple double faults. 15-20 double faults in her matches. She was feeling very low about her serve and ability to win matches. Wanted to prepare for her tournament on Sunday 8am.
Solution: With not much time on our side we got right to work. I first had her write down 2 statements that she felt were holding her back from winning more matches. She came up with:
1. My serves are not good
2. I can't close out games
(we'll come back to these)
Next we took a look at her serve. Sure enough her toss was the number 1 culprit for her double faults. It was too high, inconsistent and going all over the map. She had not developed the discipline to stop, catch and re-toss bad tosses. As a result, she had no rhythm to her serve and very little consistency. We hypothesized a better toss would take care of 50% of her serve errors.
What we did:
IMPROVE YOUR TOSS:
We drew a semi-circle in front of her serve stance and drew out times, 12 pm, 1pm and 2pm. With 2pm exactly inline with her front foot, she was asked to toss the ball at 2pm. Initially she found this extremely difficult and lacked toss awareness (could not predict a good vs. bad toss). Within a few minutes (with me adding pressure for her to get it right), she was able to toss more accurately. The results were immediate, cleaner hits, more serves in, more power etc.
FIND YOUR UNIQUE SERVE RHYTHM
The second thing we did was to create her unique serve rhythm. I asked her to singsong a count that matched her serve. 1(ready)-2(backswing/toss)-3(scratch back)-4(hit). Her unique rhythm allowed her to be more aware of bad tosses as they would interrupt her rhythm and it gave her MUCH better timing.
We went on to play points, match strategy and she drew a semi-circle clock for guidance. The results were astounding, from 3/10 first serves she made 7/10 and 8/10 second serves. By our second session practice, she made 1 double fault in our set.
Back to her hindering beliefs. I asked her to negate both statements with 6 true statements that she felt were 100% true.
HINDERING BELIEF: My serves are not good
FACTUAL COUNTER ARGUMENTS:
→ It's not my serves that are bad, it's the toss that needs adjustments.
→ There have been many matches where my serves have been great.
→I have had times in matches where I can make 10-12 first serves in a row
→ A lot of people have trouble with their serves, it doesn't make me a bad player.
→ I feel like I have good technique overall on my serve
NEW BELIEF: My serves are good :)
HINDERING BELIEF: I can't close out games
FACTUAL COUNTER ARGUMENTS:
→ It's not that I lose every game where I'm up, I win many of them.
→ I just need a bit more focus on my game points to convert them.
→ On my game points I don't play any different then on other points so all I need is a little more focus on points such as 40-15, 40-30 etc.
NEW BELIEF: I can close out games!
Result: In her first round match win, she only made 5 double faults! A 66% improvement within 24 hours!
In so desperately wanting to do something grand and impactful with my life, I forget that the little things are what actually count. In setting my sights so high and dreaming I become inactive and as a result I lose out on gaining momentum from my current situation. The opportunities at present, as simple and as insignificant as they may seem are indeed what will lead me to “greatness.”
I remind myself that small steps was how I became an elite athlete, small steps is how I achieved my degree. Tennis matches are won stroke by stroke. It’s bit by bit not any other way. So why should I expect career success to be or look any different? The best part is, I can take as long as I need to get where I want to go. I came across this reflection from Lori Deschene founder of Tiny Buddha that succinctly articulates my situation.
“I started living a life guided by my passions when I stopped believing that purpose meant doing something big. Previously, I thought I needed to change the world, or save the world, or travel the world, otherwise my actions wouldn’t be good enough. This paralyzed me because I had no idea where to start. I realized then that I needed to stop worrying about the big picture–how all the dots might connect–and focus instead of creating that first dot, following my heart. That first dot was one simple tweet, and since then I’ve taken it one passionate dot at a time.”
This interview was taken on October 18th 2010. Reposting it on the blog for some inspiration.
Venus Williams, is currently ranked number four on the WTA tour, has 22 Grand Slam titles, is an author, fashion designer, student, philanthropist and icon, but sitting there on her living room chair with her hair pulled back wearing no make up and a plain white t-shirt, you would never know. She was recently named one of the World’s Most Powerful Women by Forbes Magazine, a list she claims is “always inflated.”
Having already met her a few times, during my time playing on the WTA tour, I was eager to hear her speak as I was now on the other side of the lens. Off the court, Venus had always been a delightfully friendly person, humorous and giggly. She was like an old soul that is comfortable anywhere and in any situation.
Venus was at home and out for the rest of the season due to a knee injury and agreed to do an interview with 15 Princeton University students via skype. I started the questions by asking her if she remembered me. She giggled, nodded her head and said “yes, your hair is so long”. The response was diplomatic and at the same time honest; a trend that carried on for the whole interview. At 29 years old and in the later stages of her career, her responses tended to be more introspective and uncontroversial giving insight in to her perspectives, lessons of life, her goals and future aspirations. When asked about how she imagined her life in ten years, she responded with “that always changes…I love design, I’ll definitely being doing that because I love it just the same way I love tennis…and of course I’m giving back to tennis in some way…I’ll probably be fairly quiet”. One could tell, Venus is still figuring it all out.
Listening to her responses to questions about gender equality in sports, being an ambassador to the US and philanthropic work, one could tell Venus is very aware of the power and responsibility bestowed on her because of her athletic achievements. “For me, its great to be in women’s tennis at the premier level…really giving an example to women and…all people around the world…trying to be leaders and trying to give back…” It was refreshing to hear an athlete taking initiative and using her fame and wealth constructively “being a role model is even more rewarding than winning a tournament” she concluded. Furthermore she was very aware of the fact that many athletes abuse this power given to them “you have to stay true to yourself and be responsible and not every athlete is and that’s definitely a shame…”
Venus has done thousands of interviews that have probably covered many of the same questions we asked her but she never gave us stock answers, they seemed genuine, Through her giggles and big smiles she offered nuances and humor about her imperfections and insecurities such as her love for junk food, going off tangent in interviews, her inability to correctly spell women vs. woman and forgetting lessons she has learned through life. One would expect her to be a lot more boastful but she was the complete opposite and almost self deprecating.
Although she was fun, relaxed and welcoming Venus definitely kept a lot of private information from us. She is a very “low key” person in contrast to her sister, Serena and did not divulge information about her personal life. However she did share her strong views on how her religion and family has helped her reach such great heights stating that “I think that’s [faith] been the main difference between Serena and I and our contemporaries and the reason why we are still here…having a good family I think [also] helps a ton.”
Venus has accomplished so many amazing things in her life; becoming the first African-American to be ranked world number 1, win 3 Olympic Gold medals, start a charitable foundation, create her own clothing line, model, author a book and recently, become a part owner of the Miami Dolphins. When asked how she finds inspiration and creativity to manage it all she quoted her sister, “[Serena] said if you take your opportunities, more will come. Just by us… trying to be positive, trying to be good people, trying to be role models, trying to be innovative…more opportunities came.”
She is a superstar that doesn’t require superfluous accessories. Her self confidence and stately demeanor were apparent even in the simplest of settings; sitting at home with a knee injury babysitting her dogs. The best piece of advice she gave us was “believe in yourself”.