Kris is a Scottish tennis coach who has been working within British Tennis for 23 years. He is an LTA Master Performance Coach and Senior Performance Tutor. As well as coaching and tutoring Kris is a speaker at National & International Conferences. Kris is the director of the high performance tennis company, The Service Box Ltd who’s clients include LTA, IMG & Judy Murray.
Kris has helped developed many players who have gone on to National & International success. In this article Kris explains the method he uses to help coaches understand, monitor & develop the all important feeling of confidence in his tennis players.
The Four Pillars to Building Confidence
When it comes to confidence it is often regarded a person either has it or they don’t. Unfortunately the reality is confidence fluctuate in a second.
This article will break down how I break confidence into 4 key areas and help you understand how to tailor your coaching to help monitor & build this all important mental skill.
Competence – This is the most obvious of the 4 pillars. If you perform a skill to a high level it makes sense you could draw confidence. The mistake a lot of players and coaches fall into is not placing the skill under enough pressure. This can lead to a false sense of confidence. Ever heard a player saying ‘I can do it in practice but not in the match’?
The other challenge with competence is there are so many skills you have to be competent at in tennis. This means prioritising practice time is vital. Raise the competence levels of the key skills in tennis…………. Serve & Return are a must.
If you sense your player is low in confidence check to see how they are thinking & feeling about their competencies at that moment. Remember you raise the awareness of your players when they have made a significant development in their skills.
History of success – If you have a history of being able to perform in certain situations you can recall positive experiences in times of trouble and it could help pull you through. Imagine being 2-5 down in the final set knowing you’ve turned it round countless times before. Be careful your players don’t do the opposite. I recently asked a player if he could tell me the last time he came back from the brink of defeat to win. He struggled to recall an occasion. When I asked him to recall a time when he’d lost from the brink of victory he rattled off a string of matches. This player dipped into a history of failure under pressure. The result in this situation is obvious so why not the opposite?
I will talk about a players experiences in the lead up to a tournament and/or match. Often it is done in a very subtle way, almost in story telling format. I try as much as possible to fill the players head with positive images of themselves playing well. IMovies is a perfect way of editing footage of your playing their best shots along with their favourite music.
Helping your players to draw on positive experiences will increase their chances of selecting these images & thoughts.
Healthy comparison with peers – ‘If they can do it so can I’
If you see others in your peer group succeed you can draw confidence from them. A great example of this is the continued success of the Scottish juniors on the international scene. We have a consistent stream of players doing well internationally and a lot of this is to do with the Andy Murray effect but more importantly the fact players in their peer group and pushing each other on.
I believe you can only gain from wishing your peers the very best of success. I believe you could even wish your opponent to perform at their best. This healthy thought then means I have to perform at my very best to compete. If I do this day after day I have a much better chance to reach somewhere near my potential.
There is a massive difference between thinking ‘if they can do it so can I’ versus ‘if they can do it WHY can’t I’. The second thought places a feeling of guilt and unnecessary pressure to succeed while the first thought provides a feeling of opportunity.
My suggestion to all coaches is to ensure their environments are as healthy as possible when it comes to peer interaction. My programme has a set of team values that everyone agrees to before they start the programme. This provides a reference when anyone says or does anything which brings the group down. This is a constant challenge and one I believe could pay massive dividends to British tennis in the long run.
Encourage parents buy in on this topic. The parents will spend more time with their children than you ever will. Parents have to be very careful when it comes to comparing their children with others. If I could wave a magic wand I would suggest it is not done at all. Help educate the parents on the possible long term harm it could have if done on a regular basis. Then explain how important it is the player has good will for others. The bar can be raised so much higher when people want the best for each other.
This is a huge challenge but I believe it can be done. I lose nothing for believing amazing things can be done!
Feedback – There are two main types of feedback; internal & external. I tend to liken external feedback to being like a band aid, it only sticks for a short period of time. However internal feedback is like a strong medicine with no prescription. You can take it as much as you like.
This is why raising awareness in your players is so important. If they have heightened awareness they won’t panic under pressure as they will know how to fix things. Imagine the opposite, not knowing what is wrong under pressure. They say tennis matches are often won & lost between the ears. This can often be linked to how clear players feedback internally. We’ve all been on both sides of that fence!
How healthy are the conversations your players have with themselves? Think about that for a second, how someone thinks about a situation leads to them having a certain perception about it. This then has a massive baring on how they behave in that situation. If you can encourage your players to have healthy conversations with themselves you will increase their chances of staying very much in the moment and choosing a healthy solution.
I believe this is an excellent opportunity to build ownership within your players. If you can facilitate healthy feedback and encourage positive choices when under pressure your players will start to take charge of their own tennis. They will slowly but surely start to realise their destiny lies in their own hands and not in the hands of others. This can often take years to fully develop so it is extremely important this becomes one of your values which you live each day. You cannot do stand alone sessions on positive self talk. It has to be intertwined in their daily lives to have a genuine impact.
When you break down these pillars of confidence it is often very obvious why a player may be suffering with low confidence. Their skills may be lacking in key areas, they may be either inexperienced or be choosing to recall their bad experiences. They may not have peers to bounce off of or may even be under estimating their ability compared to their peers. They may be using a negative feedback loop and therefore convincing themselves they cannot perform.
Imagine the cocktails which could come out of these 4 pillars…………….. now imagine reinforcing these 4 pillars and giving them constant attention.
In theory the first two pillars could grow and grow as I believe a player can always develop more skills. If young children can develop their fundamental skills early they will have far more confidence when it comes to trying out new things. There will be no safety net, they will be willing to play outside their comfort zone. Having skills is like having options. The more options one has under pressure the more confident they could feel in finding solutions.
Of course experience will always develop but it amazes me how certain people don’t learn from their experiences. I have 23 years of experience in coaching tennis. I see some people having the same experience each year for 23 years. I still feel like I am just beginning my journey where others feel comfortable staying at the same level. Encourage your players to learn and love their experiences. Foster a love for the game which will last a life time. Lead by example in learning from your own experiences and always strive to develop and improve.
The last two pillars; comparison with peers and feedback are the most fluctuating ones. These require constant attention as they can flip round in a second. Negative thinking is way more powerful than positive. If you think positively you increase your probability of performing well. If you think negatively you almost guarantee a poor performance.
In summary help your players improve their skills, constantly refer back to their positive experiences, ensure positive peer relationships in every environment and help raise self awareness and promote healthy internal feedback loops.
I believe it is our job to help players help themselves. Using these four pillars as references will help provide a way for you to monitor why a players confidence may fluctuate and most importantly help them develop self confidence.
If you have any questions I would be happy to answer on email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck, I wish you and your athletes the very best of health & success