When Dominik Thiem was 11 years old, his coach Gunter Bresnik decided that he was too defensive and on the path to becoming just an average player. So he instructed Thiem to i.) start hitting his backhand one-handed and ii.) hit every ball as hard as he could.
Thiem hardly won a match for the next 18 months as his ranking went from 3 in Austria for his age to somewhere in the 20's. Other coaches thought Bresnik was advising Thiem incorrectly and other parents thought Thiem's parents (who are also coaches) were ill-informed and making a big mistake in letting Bresnik guide their son in this way.
In a 2016 interview Bresnik recalled, “I told his father, ‘If you go to a tournament and the people stop by and say who is this idiot who hits every ball as hard as possible?’ then we succeeded,” Bresnik said. “To make him hit the ball in the court is just a question of time. We needed to break down this barrier that he tries to put the ball in play instead of hitting the ball right.”
The Crucial Importance Of Value Based Decisions...
When Bresnik and Thiem decided to commit to a one-handed backhand and developing the biggest game possible, they were choosing to act according to the value of improvement over winning, which is a difficult but very worthwhile guide for any player, when trying to improve.
Too often, players get trapped by viewing winning as the only metric through which they get value from competing. This not only limits the joy which they experience when playing the game, but as Thiem has proved by becoming one of the best players in the world, sometimes by choosing to be guided by values other than winning, we can win more in the future as a result.
What Can We Learn?
Before completing an activity in practice, or before competing in a match, we should check in on what we at Mentally Tough Tennis call Performance Values.
So what are values?
Well, while our goals are like the destination, values are the things that make the journey along the way enjoyable and rewarding. We want to have goals so we can be clear on where we’re headed but the main thing that should guide our actions on and off the court each day are our values. And the more we know what performance values we want to connect with during a practice session or match, and why that value is important to us the better, because this motivates us to act in ways that align with those values.
In working with hundreds of players at all levels of the game over the last 10 years, we’ve come to believe that there are 4 Core Performance Values that should guide player actions when competing in tennis. We've found that by encouraging players to act according to these values, it maximises not only mental toughness development but also increases enjoyment of the tennis journey.
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