Friday, November 18, 2011

Tebow Got Me Out of Bed This Morning

What does Tim Tebow have to do with me getting up at 5:30 to run five miles this morning? And, what does this have to do with tennis?

Last night I watched the Broncos/Jets game in its entirety due to the fact that I started Willis McGahee on my fantasy team. It was a pitiful game for Willis, and he garnered me a whopping -1 for the night! I don't mind though, because what I saw and heard was inspirational. Tim Tebow (QB for the Broncos) led his team on another last-minute, game winning drive over one of the toughest defenses in the league. That was exciting and fun to watch, but what stuck with me was what he said after the game.

He threw out so many cliches like "We just said, here's our chance to be great." "When I miss a pass, I just tell my receiver, I'll get it to you next time." "We are just focused on improving every day." "We are taking it one game at a time." "I don't worry about things I can't control. I'm just blessed to have so many people supporting me and pulling for me." But, what really got my attention was that he seemed to really understand them and BELIEVE them. I get the sense that his whole life he has been practicing, learning, and applying that understanding and belief.

At one point he mentioned that winning a football game is great, but what really gets him excited is his project to build a hospital in the Philipines. That really got my attention and was the point where something clicked in my brain. I can't really say why, but that pressed my inspiration button. Here's a guy with a plan - win football games and use it as a platform to change people's lives for the better. I can understand why people follow him. He's only 24 and he's got the maturity to know what he wants and use all of his focus every minute of every day to work toward that goal.

It may have gone unnoticed to many, but directly after the game when all of the players were finishing up handshakes, I saw something I'm not sure I've seen before. There was a group of around 20 players from BOTH teams on the field on their knees with joined hands and bowed heads in circle. Tebow was among them, and it looked like another player was leading a prayer. You can agree or disagree with the tennets of particular religions, but I imagine there were players from multiple faiths in that circle. I think the important thing is that those players were inspired to give thanks for their blessings, and I think they were inspired by Tim Tebow.

I don't have be a Christian or a Muslim to buy what Tim Tebow is selling. He's selling Belief, Hard Work, Focus, Empowerment, Giving, Learning, Gratitude, Humility, Courage, and the list goes on. As a scientist, I'm always looking for evidence and analysis before I believe in something. Tim Tebow is proof that if you live by and work to understand all of these cliches that we all know, you WILL be successful. Ironic that a man of such faith is providing me such a concrete example of how to live a better life. Who says I don't go to church on Sunday?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Betsy Smith's Yoga

In March of 2011 Betsy Smith held and informal class on yoga with the Men's team at Lewis & Clark. This is a transcript of what she covered.

Betsy's Themes
* Hands, Feet
* Balance, Breathing
* Water
* Posture, Attitude

You alternate going up on your toes on one foot while remaining flat footed with the other. Do this exercise as a warm-up and as a resting exercise between other exercises.

* Arm Swings
Looking down at the floor, slowly swing the arms back and forth around the body. As you swing around look at the opposite heel to obtain relaxation in the shoulder and neck areas. Do 6 times each side.
* Knee Lifts
Raise the knees to the chest and pull knees with your hands towards the abdominal area. Do 2 series of 8 (4 each leg) 1 series very slowly - 1 series faster.
* Side Bends
Hands on your hips, standing straight and looking forward, bend to the right and then to the left. Try to keep the motion continued and rhythmic such as a pendulum in a clock. Do 4 times on each side.
* Back Arm Circles
Starting with the left arm out in front slowly bring the arm around backwards with the right arm following. Keep the elbow slightly bent in doing this warm up; it is similar to the backcrawl stroke in swimming. 6 times each arm.
* Shoulder Rotations
Slowly bring the shoulders up, head back and then drop the shoulders, bringing the shoulder blades together and down. Do as relaxed as possible letting the shoulders do all the lifting. 4 to 6 times or until relaxed.
* Squat Position
Slowly go to a squat position by going down on the toes, then forward (up) on your toes, then back on your heels, and slowly stand-up - crawling up the body with the head last to come up. 3 to 4 times.
* Alternate Stretch
Raise the right arm up adn go up on the left foot toes, such as in a climbing motion. Look up at the ceiling and try to keep the upper torso as straight as possible.

Balance Exercises
Remember to look at a spot 6-8 feet in front of you to keep your balance while doing these exercises.
* Slowly bend right knee up, slide over to touch left knee. Slowly extend left arm up, grasp foot in hand and pull to buttocks. Do opposite side. 2-3 times each side.
* Slowly pull left foot up and place on right thigh. Place hands on waist and slowly bend right leg and then raise up again. do 8 times per leg.
* Slowly pull left foot up and place on right thigh. Place thumb on bottom of left foot, fingers on top and slowly extend left leg out in front and then pull back in. Do this 8 times per leg.
* Slowly pull left foot up and place on right thigh. Take left hand on foot (thumb on sole, fingers on top) and extend back, left hip goes out, leg goes out to the left side. Do this 8 times per leg.

Sun Salutes
* Salute
From a standing position, rotate straight arms up above head with fingertips touching and head leaned back to look at hands while inhaling. Exhale as you rotate arms down and into a prayer position lowering head to face hands.
* Stretch
Do two salutes and then on the third rotate your arms to your side and bend at the hips. Bring your palms to the floor on either side of your feet while bending your knees as little as possible. Inhale as you rise half-way; exhale down to the floor again. Inhale into salute and start process again. Do 8 times.
* Cobra
Do two salutes and then on the third rotate your arms to your side and bend at the hips. Leaving your palms on the floor, jump your feet straight back (or step one at a time) on your toes and try to bring your hips to the floor in the cobra position. Then put the tops of your feet on the floor and hold. Then, step one foot at a time back under your hands and rise into a salute and start process again. Do 8 times.
* Downward Dog
Just like Cobra above but take your feet back one at a time onto your toes and then try to move back so that your heels are touching the floor.

Sitting Stretches
*Butterfly. Put feet together, bring in and force knees to the ground (or as close as you can). Do very small fluttering of knees. Lean forward bending at the hips to put your forehead on the floor (or as close as you can get).
*Straight Legs. Put your legs straight out in front of you. Lean forward bending at the hips to put your hands as far out as your can.

Bridge. Lying on your back, bring your knees up hip-width apart and put your hands behind your shoulders with your fingers under your shoulders. Lift up and balance on the top of your head.

Back Bend. Lying on your back starting from the same position as the Bridge above push up with your arms and legs to put your chest as high into the air as possible.

Put your arms out in front of you. Inhale. While exhaling bend your knees all the way until you are nearly sitting (but not touching) while keeping your feet flat on the floor. Keep your arms out in front of you for balance. Hold, then stand up and reach up with your arms as high as you can rising onto your toes.

Squatting on your toes, put your arms straight out behind you grasping hands. Pull them up as high as you can. Then put your arms straight up above your head, grasping hands and push them back as far as you can. Stand up keeping your arms above your head and reach as high as you can rising onto your toes.

Squatting on your flat feet, drop your butt to the floor to be seated keeping your arms extended out in front of you. Stand back up without touching the floor with your hands.

NJCAA Rules About Playing In Money Tournaments

Based on the 2010 NJCAA handbook and from a conversation with the person who wrote the rule, here is what you need to remember about playing in tournaments and keeping your amateur status:

1. You cannot make any money from playing in tournaments. If you win a cash prize, you can accept enough to cover your expenses as defined in the ITA/NJCAA Amateur Reimbursement Form. You must return the rest or become ineligible.

2. If you play in the main draw (qualifiers don't count) of a tournament that has a cash prize, that counts as playing in a professional tournament regardless of whether you qualify for any cash prize. If you play in main-draw doubles and singles in the same tournament, that counts as playing in two tournaments.

3. If you have played in 10 or more pro tournaments (see 2 above) you become ineligible to compete in the NJCAA. There is an exception for very young players who have just left high school where they only lose 1 year of eligibility.

4. You must file an ITA/NJCAA Amateur Reimbursement form for each professional tournament (see 2 above) you play in regardless of how you finish.

ITA/NJCAA Amateur Reimbursement Form

2010 NJCAA Handbook Excerpt:
Student-athletes shall not have competed on the men’s ATP Professional Tennis Tour or the women’s WTA Professional Tennis Tour or with any other professional tour, circuit or league that provides prize money or salary or any other form of remuneration beyond actual expenses. The ITA expense form is to be used for those amateur student-athletes that have competed in professional tour events or on circuits/tours that provide expense money, not prize money based upon winning, however,
a. Any student-athlete having played in 10 or more professional events after his/her high school class has graduated, shall have one year of eligibility remaining if the ITA expense form is properly executed and approved.
b. Any student-athlete having played in 10 or more professional events two years after high/her high school class has graduated, shall have no eligibility remaining.

NOTE 1: “Professional events” are those main draw events that provide prize money or other forms of remuneration based on winning, whether or not they are sponsored by the ATP/WTA or any other professional tour or circuit.
NOTE 2: An “event” is a main draw singles or a doubles entry in a professional tournament. Entry in a singles and doubles draw in a single professional tournament would count as two (2) events.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Set Your Expectations High for Success

At the level of 4.5 tennis and below, success in doubles is about two things: serves and returns. Success in singles is about rallying and finishing. In other words, in doubles, if you can serve effectively and get almost all returns back in play, you will beat most other teams at your level. Your other shots come into play, yes, but you can be mediocre with those if those first two are extremely solid. In singles, the returner has a lot more freedom to get the ball back in play and there's not a guy at net, so longer rallies are much more common. You have to be able to sustain long rallies, and when your opponent makes a mistake, you have to know how to finish. So, to sum up:

Doubles: Serving and Returning
Singles: Rallying and Finishing

The first step in achieving mastery of those skills is to set your expectations extremely high. The following phrases sum up the mindset:

Serving: "Nobody breaks me."
Returning: "I don't miss a return."

Rallying: "I'm gonna hit 50 balls."
Finishing: "I am going to end this point."

The importance of setting your expectation high is to motivate you to reach that goal. The expectation should be with you at all times - especially during practice. If you practice or play and accept failure, you will continue to perform at the same level.

When you fail, the expectation needs to be aggravating - not in any negative way, but in a motivating way so that you know what to do to not fail in the future. This is a very important point. Many tennis players get mad when they miss a shot, but they make several mistakes with this anger. First, they let their opponent see that they are emotionally out of control. This energizes their opponent and sends even themselves a defeatist message. Second, they let the anger feed into negative thoughts like "I suck." or "Why me?" I'll answer both those statements. You don't suck, you just made an error - now figure out WHY you made that error. Why you? Because you are in control of your own errors. Don't forget that - you are in control of your own shots and the opportunities you give your opponent.

So, again, the important point is your high expectation should put you in an aggravated state when you don't live up to it, but that aggravation should lead to positive action. For instance, losing a match because you couldn't hit 50 rally shots should motivate you to practice your groundstrokes for hours until you can. Or, getting your serve broken in doubles, should motivate you and your partner to carefully examine why you lost that many points and make adjustments in the next service game to avoid those same problems. Or, missing an approach shot should motiviate you to figure out exactly why you missed it - was it the right shot selection, did you decide what do do quickly enough, were your feet in position, was your racquet ready in time for the stroke?

This aggravation should be internal and any external display should be one that indicates control and thought. No negative body language. No whiny tone. If you realize that you missed the shot due to poor footwork, you should at least say "Feet!" in your head and smile. Why are you smiling? You're smiling because you know why you missed that shot which means you are less likely to make the same error the next time. That means you are in control and a very dangerous opponent.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Playing The Net Drill #1

The key to becoming a master of the net is to relax, be confident, and know what you want to do in different positions on the court. Being relaxed helps you react quicker. Being confident helps you stay relaxed. Knowing what you want to do keeps your opponent in a disadvantageous position.

This drill designed to have players practice hitting volleys from different areas of the court so that they get better at hitting volleys at different depths and begin to memorize where to hit the volley based on their own court position.

Here are the general rules to remember:
1. The farther you are away from the next, the less aggressive you should be with the volley. Just be content to get the volley back in play. Aim for a spot as deep as possible maintaining a margin for error. Aim for a spot that is directly in front of you (so if you're in the middle of the court aim for the middle of the court).
2. The closer you get to the next, the more aggressive you should be with the volley. Concentrate on placement instead of power. If you are fairly close, but not on top of the next aim for a deep corner. If you are very close to the net, aim for a short angle winner.
3. Hit your overheads with authority. You have just as much a chance of missing a tentative overhead as an overhead hit with power. And a tentative overhead means your opponent will probably get it back. The only exceptions to this rule are if you can barely reach the lob or you are extremely deep in your court.
4. If you don't have time to get under a high ball or overhead, lock your right arm and swing through it like a volley. This typically happens when you are coming to the net after a serve. If your weight is still moving forward hitting a full overhead is very low percentage.

One player stands at the baseline. The other player starts a step back from the service line in the middle of the court. The player at the baseline feeds a ball in play; the feeds should be varied so that the player at the service line has to hit both volleys and half-volleys. From the starting position, the net player should put the ball back deep to the center of the court with a high margin of safety. After hitting the shot, the net player should take a step closer (which may be part of the act of hitting the volley or half-volley). The player at the baseline is now free to try to pass or lob the player at the net. The player at the net should hit a volley according to the rules above and move a step in until he she is a racquet-and-arm length from the net.

To practice what to hit in each position, the player at the baseline can play points where he only hits balls to the middle or forehand or backhand side for the entire point.

You can also have the net man stay at a certain court depth (i.e. not take a step in) to practice what to hit at that depth. This is probably a good way to start when the player is just learning the rules.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Team Footwork Drill #1

The following drill is designed to do the following: 1) Get players on the balls of their feet 2) Get players to practice a split step 3) Get players to take little steps to adjust to the ball. It can also be used to get players to practice getting their racquet back early and letting their arm swing freely for groundstrokes.

You need at least two players to do this drill. However, you can have an entire team do it. Split the players up into two teams positioned on either side of the court. When the drill starts everyone should be bouncing on their toes (holding their racquets) as if they were jumping rope.

One player from each team is positioned at the baseline and the ball is put in play. The objective of the players is to hit an appropriate rally shot to the other side. Groundstrokes should be struck with high racquet head speed imparting a lot of spin and a lot of arc. The purpose of these groundstrokes is to move the opponent around with a high margin of error. If a player is pulled way out of position, he should do whatever he can to just keep the ball in play deep. The coach will award a point for each appropriate groundstroke. The coach can use his judgement on this. If a shot was hit too tentatively or too short he can choose not to award a point. When a shot is missed (in the net, long, wide), then the coach deducts a point. Also, when a shot is missed, the player who missed it goes to the end of the line on his team and the next player moves to take his position. Ideally, this transition is done with no break in play. The game ends when 20 points have been scored in total (so both teams are cooperating). Let the players rest a little bit and then start it up again.

ALL players should be bouncing on their toes like they are jumping rope at all times whether they are in the rally or waiting in line. The player in the rally should do the following: 1) bounce on toes at all times while waiting on opponent, 2) bounce a little higher just as opponent is about to hit the ball, 3) move racquet back as fast as possible after determining forehand or backhand, 4) take medium steps to get to the general position to hit the ball, 5) take exaggerated little steps just before hitting the ball (4-6 squeaks should be heard), 6) hit the ball with a free swinging arm with the intent of generating spin and arc.

If a player fails to do any of the six steps, no point will be awarded. The coach should say the score if a point is awarded or something like "steps" or "bouncing" to indicate why a point was not awarded. When a shot is missed and a point is deducted, the coach should say the decremented score.