On Monday I watched James Ward take on defending champion, Novak Djokovic. Tim Henman was in the commentary booth and was asked what he felt James Ward would have to do to develop his ranking. His answer……….. ‘he needs to have a tennis identity’
His point was that the individual parts of James’ game are pretty decent but collectively it is almost like he doesn’t know what to do. Courier made a good point in that he doesn’t move good enough to be a great defender so he thought most of his efforts should be in developing his offensive game.
Later that day I tuned in to watch another match. I can honestly say I have not looked forward to a match more in a long time (outside Andy’s huge matches). Marcus Willis, world no. 772 had won 6 matches to qualify for his first official tour match. Court 17 beckoned (what were the organisers thinking) and his opponent was world no. 54 Ricardas Berankis from Lithuania, all 5 foot 9” of him. I started laughing at the thought of all of the Lithuanians sitting round their TV’s laughing at how lucky their player was to draw the guy who was 772 in the world. Then how their laughs would grow as they saw this guy literally dancing to the chants of his mates in the corner before a ball was struck. The only problem for them was…..
Marcus Willis knows who he is and is 100% comfortable with it. He has a tennis identity. You only have to look at his hashtags on tweets and Facebook – #willbomb #willyadventures #teamcurlers #cartman amongst many others that sign he knows what makes him different from the norm. When he plays the game he knows exactly what he brings and he doesn’t attempt to be anything else. This means he can relax and just play ball.
Marcus is comfortable in his own skin as a player and most importantly as a person. He doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously and it feels that some have interpreted that as meaning he doesn’t take his tennis seriously. Some would be quick to talk about his extreme grip on his forehand and say ‘that should have been sorted when he was younger’ but my guess is they are the same people that say players with unorthodox technique would never have made it if they had been brought up in the UK.
As coaches we have a duty of care to do all we can to create players with sound fundamentals and of course technique is important but what some call technique others call shapes, positions and poses. I believe there are too many coaches in the UK who spend too much time changing technique because it does not conform to a picture they have in their head of what looks pretty. In some cases the player has no issues with controlling the ball and all the change does is set them back on precious time to develop skill with their existing technique.
This then leads to players spending less developing their tennis identity (how they play the game) and in many cases not even being comfortable or knowing the person they are. By the time someone hits their mid teens there should be far more emphasis placed on beginning the process of the person understanding what player they will be. If this happens to be different from the norm then so be it. Embrace the idiosyncrasies, help someone build their character traits so they can relax and be the person/player they want to be without worrying about conforming to what someone else thinks is acceptable.
Marcus Willis is exceptional in many ways and this should be embraced. It is a simple joy watching him enjoy the limelight, he deserves it and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
Let’s all get behind him today and marvel in all the skills and personality he brings to centre court. Join in the chants behind your TV sets and enjoy our sport for what it is, the best in the world!
And if you are a coach, reflect on how much time you spend developing your players versus changing them….