I want to share a story with you that I tell all my students when they come through the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy that will help you win more points on court. The concept is simple, but executing it is much more difficult.
Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena Williams, and his family have and always will be a very special family to me. I can remember when I first met Venus and Serena; they were 10 and 11 years old. It was extremely important that I understand everything about the girls at that time and what made them so special.
A few years later, Richard and Oracene asked me to spend some time working with the girls, which included travelling with them. During my first few practice sessions, it became apparent to me that these girls were unique and it wouldn’t take them long to make their mark on the WTA Tour.
Our practice sessions were not just simple practice sessions, the atmosphere was more like playing in the finals of a Grand Slam. One interesting thing that I noticed immediately was that the girls would run for every single ball, no matter where it bounced on the court, including some that were out by several feet.
After this happened a few times, I asked the girls why waste your energy when there was no doubt that the ball would be out by several metres? They answered, “When we first started to play tennis our daddy explained a few rules we had to follow with no exception.” The first rule was:
“Girls, when you see the ball coming over the net you will see it with your eyes and also your second set of eyes (your brain). As soon as this happens react to the ball with your feet and know that you can reach the ball.”
This simple tip was repeated to the girls over and over again and became an instinct reaction because it was repeated day in and day out and made it possible for the girls to retrieve shots that were clearly winners against most other players.
When I watch most players today it is my opinion that the majority think before they react and start to develop a habit of thinking that they cannot reach the ball. You must change, not adjust, your entire thought process and this must begin when you practice, because that is exactly where most players lose their intensity and focus.
I cannot stress to you how important it is that you practice the same way you play. I often tell my players that it is not the quantity of practice, but the quality and this has been echoed by many of the all-time greats, including Jimmy Connors.
Starting today, not tomorrow, as soon as you step foot onto the court remember the mantra to “run for every ball, and I mean every ball no matter where it is hit and where it lands.” So many people thought that Richard Williams and his teaching methods would work. I wonder what coach has been more successful than him. (Venus and Serena have won 20 Grand Slam singles titles combined). Once again, Richard, my deepest thanks to you and your family for allowing me to be a part of your team.
This article first appeared in Australian Tennis Magazine.
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