Posts Tagged ‘tennis psychologist’

The Importance of Tennis Psychology and the Parents’ Role in American Tennis Development

John F Murray – May 10, 2013 – Special Report – With a country the size of the United States and the many resources available, you would think that a return to the glory days of the early 90s or the tennis boom in the late 70s and early 80s would be only natural, but the process has been sadly taking a lot longer than anticipated. The truth is that USA tennis has been outfoxed for years now by players and organizations in much smaller nations.

In 2008, the futility of American tennis coupled with the reduced talent on the women’s side, prompted the United States Tennis Association to reorganize its player development system, launching new programs including regional residential training centers, new national coaches to develop and train prospects, and an increased budget (upward of $100 million over 10 years). The plan was comprehensive and ambitious, and its goals were to generate new great players for the future.  While organizational changes were needed, the truth of the matter is that passionate parents still have a much greater influence on tennis player success than any political initiative.

Looking at the current WTA world ranked players in the top 60, Americans Serena Williams (1) and Venus Williams (21) are still up there, but this run will not last forever. After the Williams sisters we are left with only Sloane Stephens (17), Varvara Lepchenko (27), and Christina McHale (55). This is downright sad for a country of over 300 million and with the rich tennis history we have. By contrast, there are 7 Russian women in the top 60.  On the ATP Tour, the results are even worse. In the top 60, the only Americans are Sam Querrey (18), John Isner (21), and Mardy Fish (42). By contrast, Spain has 7 players in the top 60 and France has 6.

So if the organizations are not doing it as well as they could, what can tennis parents do? Maybe they need to be a bit more passionate. Some have even called it crazy! The sports psychology implications are immense.

The story goes that Richard Williams, upon learning of the opportunity that women’s tennis offered, just decided to make his next two kids into tennis pros. He hid his wife’s birth control pills when she did not want children, taught himself the game, and taught his kids on very rough courts in the hood before sending them to a tennis academy to finish the product.  His daughters succeeded beyond all possible expectations. And while they just continued to win, Richard just continued to show the eccentric behavior that led him to believe in his daughter’s chances in the first place.

Other stories are even more astounding. Tennis star Suzanne Lenglen was the product of a nutty father who withheld jam from her bread if she practiced badly. Lenglen won 31 Grand Slam titles. Jelena Dokic’s father and coach, Damir, admitted hitting Jelena (“for her sake”) and was eventually ejected from three major tournaments. Since Jelena stopped talking with her father, he has threatened to kidnap her and drop a nuclear bomb on Australia, where his daughter now lives. Maria Sharapova’s father, Yuri, is currently so hated for his coaching during matches and aggressive behavior that Anastasia Myskina refused to play in the Federation Cup if her countrywoman was named to the Russian team.

The stories go on and on. And while I would never advocate insane behavior in order to produce a champion, there is often a lot passion in that insanity, and that raw passion and desire needs to be fostered more in children at a young age. In other words, remove the abuse, but keep some of that raw passion and excitement for the game, and you will become a better and more influential parent in your kid’s lives!

Tennis, and all sports really, are sometimes not unlike combat. The late David Foster Wallace wrote that tennis “is to artillery and airstrikes what football is to infantry and attrition.”  Great players learn how to remain objective and reduce their matches and their opponents to targets that must be eliminated. It is that singular focus and the intensity that accompanies it that I believe helps make these players great.

Arthur Ashe once stated that if he didn’t play tennis, he’d probably have to see a psychiatrist. After all, you have to be somewhat over the top to submit to the nomadic lifestyle and brutal realities of professional tennis. This is the type of lifestyle that presents numerous challenges from a tennis psychology perspective. “If you want to win the French Open, which is like desert warfare, you better darn well have a coach like Jim Pierce who exposes you to some of the most intense training, but I always state that it cannot be abusive in a way that he was known to be abusive. No hitting, no screaming, no slapping. For every Wimbledon champion that is punched, there are probably 1000 players who did not make it because they were abused!

The intensity and uniqueness of passionate parents carries with it a sort of genius that I believe is indeed helpful in getting players to the top. Examples include Charles Lenglen’s decision to eschew the soft playing style of women in his time in favor of training Suzanne against men, and Gloria Connors’ insistence on teaching Jimmy a two-fisted backhand in an era of one-handers. In fact, my client for many years, Vince Spadea, who made it to the top 18, was trained by a father who decided that there were no two-handed backhands on the pro tour. He decided to create one in his son after watching Chris Evert play in the 1970s, and Vince’s backhand was one of the best on the tour for years.

In addition to smart and passionate parents, the role of the mental coach or sports psychologist is crucial. By helping the parents stay sane while they develop their kids’ talents, and by helping the players themselves develop their confidence, focus and energy control, the machine becomes a controlled passion rather than a passion ran amuck with abuse. Add in solid technical coaching and a great fitness program and you have the recipe for success.

If American tennis is ever going to return to the glory days of past, and it should with the immense resources we possess, there needs to be a return to passion on the part of the parents infused with the latest tennis psychology training, coaching, and fitness available. The United States Tennis Association can only do so much. Like many areas of human development, the lessons learned in the home are the most powerful and the most lasting. School cannot even compete with what is learned at home.

Ditch the abuse, retain the passion, and invest in sports psychology to the hilt, and in 10 years this country should have 10 players in the top 40 on both the men’s and women’s tours. I hope you enjoyed this tour of the world of tennis psychology.

Evert Tennis Academy Partners with Dr. John F Murray!

Press Release from Evert Tennis Academy – Evert Tennis Academy Partners with Dr. John F Murray! – December 29th, 2012 – Boca Raton, FL – Evert Tennis Academy has joined forces with Dr. John F. Murray, world renowned sport psychologist from Palm Beach, Florida, to enhance the Mental Toughness component of their high performance program.

Dr. Murray has worked with a wide variety of Olympic, professional, amateur, junior athletes, as well as business executives and corporate groups, to enhance personal performance and well-being.  Dr. Murray earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Loyola University New Orleans, after which he coached tennis worldwide throughout much of the 1980s with USPTA and PTR certification.  He returned to graduate school in the United States in 1991 and obtained two Master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida, specializing in both clinical and sport psychology.

Murray has published several books, including The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History and Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game, in addition he has written hundreds of articles and contributed to thousands of stories in the popular media including Tennis Magazine, Tennis Week, and Florida Tennis. His work has been featured in ESPN The Magazine, Sports Illustrated.

“Chrissie and I are both very excited about the partnership and believe it will benefit the development of ETA students as well as enhance our full-time program,” said John Evert.

For more information about Dr. John F. Murray, please visit his website at http://www.JohnFMurray.com

 

 

 

Sports Psychologist Dr. John F Murray Appearing on Tennis Channel Next Two Weeks

DR JOHN IS ON THE TENNIS CHANNEL OVER THE NEXT TWO WEEKS (PREVIOUSLY RECORDED): Dr. John F. Murray to appear on the Tennis Channel in episodes 3 and 4 of “Fit to Hit” with host Danielle Dotzenrod. Episode 3 starts July 26.

FROM THE TENNIS CHANNEL ABOUT DR. JOHN F MURRAY
—>BEFORE EPISODE 3 OF “FIT TO HIT” (begins July 26, 2010) – Sports Psychologist, John F. Murray will show us why setting goals can do wonders for our game.
—>BEFORE EPISODE 4 OF “FIT TO HIT” (begins August 2, 2010) – If you’ve ever found yourself on a losing streak, you’ll want to watch…we will talk to the sports psychologist, John F Murray, that helped Vincent Spadea come back from the longest losing streak in history!

Ground Strokes Canada Cover Feature: Dr. John F Murray, Author of “Smart Tennis”

Ground Strokes Canada Magazine – December, 2009 Issue – Lin Conklin – Cover Feature on the Author of “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game” Dr. John F. Murray. To read the full article, please click at this link. You may also click the images below to see them larger but they are bigger and easier to read here.

Wanted: Insane Tennis Parents

Slate Magazine – Huan Hus – June 2, 2009 – The only way to end America’s Grand Slam drought – With Andy Roddick’s loss at the French Open on Monday, American men have now failed to take the title in 22 straight Grand Slam tournaments, extending the longest dry spell in U.S. tennis history. This stretch of futility, coupled with a dearth of young talent on the women’s side, prompted the United States Tennis Association to overhaul its player development system last year, introducing a host of initiatives such as regional residential training centers, a new roster of national coaches to scout and train prospects, and an increased budget (upward of $100 million over the next 10 years). The plan is comprehensive and ambitious, intended to produce the next Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, and Venus Williams. Unfortunately for the USTA, national organizations with comprehensive mission statements don’t produce tennis champions. Crazy tennis parents do.

Consider the Williams sisters. As the story goes, their father, Richard, upon learning of the lucre that women’s tennis offered, decided to make his next two kids into tennis pros. That his wife, Oracene, didn’t want any more children was a minor obstacle—he simply hid her birth-control pills. He taught himself the game, coaching his protégés on rotten courts where their sessions were sometimes interrupted by gunfire before shipping them to a Florida tennis academy for refinement. While his girls racked up Grand Slams (17 singles titles and counting), he made headlines with his histrionic antics at tournaments, erratic ramblings, and general weirdness—he insisted on meeting his daughters’ first hitting coach at a public carwash because he believed the FBI had bugged his car and house.

Obsessive, overbearing, and downright insane parents are not a new phenomenon in tennis, nor are they uniquely American. Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen was the product of a taskmaster father who withheld jam for her bread if she practiced badly. Under Daddy Lenglen’s tutelage, and occasionally fortified with the cognac-soaked sugar pieces he provided during matches, Lenglen won 31 Grand Slam titles between 1914 and 1926. In 2000, Jelena Dokic’s father and coach, Damir, who has admitted to hitting Jelena (“for her sake”), achieved three legs of an ignominious Grand Slam, getting ejected from the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. Since Jelena cut ties with him, he’s threatened to kidnap her and drop a nuclear bomb on Australia, where his daughter now lives. Maria Sharapova’s father, Yuri Sharapov, is currently so reviled for his cheating (blatant coaching during matches) and belligerence (making a throat-slitting gesture from the stands) that Anastasia Myskina refused to play in the Federation Cup if her countrywoman was named to the Russian team.

In 2001, June Thomas wondered at how women’s tennis has grown ever younger and more popular—but Mike Steinberger argued that there just aren’t enough great female tennis players out there. Anne Applebaum asked where all of Russia’s gorgeous tennis stars come from. Huan Hsu bemoaned the destruction of his promising tennis career at the hands of Chinese-American stereotype Michael Chang.

Why are so many tennis parents unhinged, and why are they so successful at incubating talent? While sociopathy—the utter lack of a conscience—undermines a society, it happens to be really useful on court. Florida-based sports psychologist John F. Murray likens the stress of the game to combat, and the late David Foster Wallace once wrote that tennis “is to artillery and airstrikes what football is to infantry and attrition.” It’s no coincidence that three notorious tennis fathers—Stefano Capriati, Mike Agassi, and Roland Jaeger—were trained as boxers. Great players reduce their opponents to targets that must be eliminated. This was the impulse Gloria Connors (the rare insane tennis mom) was encouraging when she taught her son Jimmy to try to knock the ball down her throat “because … if I had the chance, I would knock it down his”; when Mike Agassi positioned Andre at midcourt and blasted him with close-range shots; when Jim Pierce screamed, “Kill the bitch!” during one of his daughter Mary’s matches.

Arthur Ashe once remarked that if he didn’t play tennis, he’d probably have to see a psychiatrist. After all, you have to be somewhat crazy to submit to the itinerant lifestyle and brutal competitiveness of professional tennis, where only about 10 percent of the ranked players break even. “If you want to win the French Open, which is like desert warfare, you better darn well have a Jim Pierce beating you into the ground … so long as it’s not abusive,” says Murray, the sports psychologist. (For the record, Pierce was abusive. Mary claims he would slap her when she lost matches.) Murray also notes that the pathology of tennis parents often belies a certain genius, such as Charles Lenglen’s decision to eschew the demure playing style of women in his time in favor of training Suzanne against men, and Gloria Connors’ insistence on teaching Jimmy a two-fisted backhand in an era of one-handers.

For a long time, the USTA seemed to recognize that its role in developing American champions was to stand aside and leave the training to parents and Svengali coaches like Nick Bollettieri and Rick Macci. (In 1987, Bollettieri’s finishing school had an astonishing 32 players in the main draw of Wimbledon.) But in 1986, with Connors and John McEnroe aging and no obvious American successors on the scene, a panicked USTA launched its player-development program. (Disclosure: I worked for the USTA for a few years during and after college.) The methods—an infusion of money to support new regional training centers and national coaches—will sound familiar to anyone who followed last year’s renovation. Since that first attempt at resuscitation, the development program has been defined not by its production of Grand Slam champions (zero) but by the continual formulation of new plans: The department was revamped in 1995, 2001, 2003, and 2008.

While the bloated, bureaucratic USTA sputtered, tennis parents continued to spawn champions. Leading the way was Mike Agassi, a self-described “crazy Iranian from Las Vegas who browbeat his kids into mastering tennis.” Mike indoctrinated his son Andre by hanging a tennis ball over his crib and taping a pingpong paddle to his hand. Stefano Capriati boasted that his daughter Jennifer was doing sit-ups as a baby and had a racket in her hand as soon as she could walk. Though Jim Pierce had no tennis background, he pulled daughter Mary out of school to train her full-time, working her up to eight hours a day, sometimes until midnight. He also punched a spectator at the 1993 French Open and was so unruly that he led the women’s tour to add a provision for the banning of abusive players, coaches, and relatives. (In an act of solidarity, Richard Williams later called him “one of the best parents I have ever known.”)

The approaches of these tennis tyrants may have been objectionable and the psychological damage they inflicted on their children immense. Nevertheless, these parents had a plan, and they stuck to it. They spent time and money and energy and didn’t have to clear their decisions with a committee, answer to a board of directors (or even their spouses), or worry about overtraining or being fair to other players. And the expectations they put on their children, however misguided or unrealistic, originated from a resolute belief in their ability to become champions. Richard Williams’ biggest achievement is not teaching his daughters how to hit forehands and backhands but inculcating them with, in the words of 1990 Wimbledon finalist Zina Garrison, the “strength, confidence, and arrogance you need to become the top player in the world.”

It’s no surprise that the USTA would try to cultivate star players—the organization doesn’t have much to gain from acknowledging that it has nothing to do with producing Grand Slam winners. The reality, though, is that rational coaches and trainers with sensible development plans can never compete with the designs of an obsessed parent. The success of self-taught tennis players turned coaches such as Williams, Capriati, and Bollettieri—the famed coach didn’t pick up a racket until college—reveals that it doesn’t take long-tenured gurus and well-structured organizations to teach the game. Tennis consists of only a handful of basic strokes and strategies. As such, parents who wouldn’t dare try to teach, say, golf can read a book, watch a few videos, and give capable instruction. What separates the best players from their peers isn’t superior teaching. It’s maniacal devotion.

It’s no accident that three of ESPN’s 10 worst sports relatives (Dokic, Pierce, and Peter Graf) are tennis parents. The ugly truth is that for the United States to produce another Andre Agassi or Venus Williams, some crazed dad is going to have to add his name to that list. In its quest to develop a new generation of champions, the USTA would do well to remember the words of Robert Lansdorp, the former coach of Sampras and Lindsay Davenport. “The basic principle is the same,” he said. “Every person who has made it in this game, Americans or foreign, it has been the parents who were behind it.”