Every coach and every parent wants to know one thing. What are the characteristics of a champion? Whether it’s in tennis or in any other field or endeavor, what are the inner traits of the true winner? I sought out a tennis coach who has worked with some of the best and brightest kids in the nation to talk to her about exactly what makes a champion. I found Carol Watson right her in our own backyard. Carol is currently director of programs at Alley Pond Tennis Center in Queens Village, N.Y. She is an open and bright woman who was a tour player and then a coach on the national team in Key Biscayne, Fla. for 20 years. She has coached players like Lindsay Davenport, so she knows a few things about spotting talent and developing it. She told me that on the elite level they all have the requisite physical tools to play great tennis. What separates them at the highest level is the mental game.
This is what she said:
1) The first thing you see about the future champion is that they have more drive than their peers. They seem to want to win more than others. They eat, drink and breathe tennis all day long.
2) They are very fast thinkers and very good problem-solvers. In a tennis match, many surprises and distractions will come at you in a hurry. The great young players seem to know how to get around this and problem-solve solutions in quick fashion.
3) They have more focus and this focus goes on for a longer period of time. I think they see the big picture better and realize that they must maintain their focus over many hours, days, weeks and years to obtain their goals. They are unrelenting.
She then explained to me how she handles the young ones who are just starting out in this game.
“Many of the young ones are a little scared and nervous on the court and I make sure they learn to have fun out there,” said Watson. “We do playful drills so they grow to love the game of tennis.”
So if you’re a parent who has a young one starting out in the game and you have hopes they will achieve great things the formula is simple: Start them out so that they learn to have fun. If they seem to enjoy the game for a while and you determine it is time to get more serious, and then find yourself a good tennis coach. Look to see how much drive and focus the young player has. It’s like in thoroughbred racing when the horse “takes the bit.” You must teach them to be good problem-solvers and to expect distractions in every game and to always have a plan to master this problem. If they show these traits of focus, passion and good problem-solving, you need to support their tennis for the long haul and get yourself ready for a fun ride all the way to the top. And who knows … we may see you at Wimbledon.
Dr. Tom Ferraro
For consultations, treatment or on-site visits, contact Dr. Tom Ferraro Ph.D., Sport Psychologist, by phone at (516) 248-7189, e-mail DrTFerraro@aol.com or visit DrTomFerraro.com.