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The Expert's Guide to Tennis goal setting

Updated: Sep 3

Tennis Goal Setting SMART

Goals, we all have both long-term goals and short-term goals, to become a professional tennis player or to improve our first serves power. Goal setting is an important part of life, not just for tennis coaches or tennis players.

In Tennis, the parent who brings their child to lessons will have goals, the child will have goals and the coach will also have their goals. It is vital that all three parties have common goals. If the three sets of goals are hugely different, the relationship will break down.

In this article, I am going to show you how I conduct my goal setting and its not your traditional smart goals template!

Intrigued? Then read on.

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Tennis Goal Setting Step 1: Travel to the future and set your vision.

Wimbledon Tennis 2022 Doubles on a Outside Court

Many coaches and tennis players, when setting goals, start at the beginning. They think about where they want to be. These are very often performance goals such as In twelve months, I want to be a specific ranking or rating, and I want to add more spin on my forehand.

Players and parents are often so focused on the outcome, the result that they become obsessed with it, the outcome, in my opinion, is always unrealistic. Now, I have no issues with someone wanting the be the next Novak Djokovic or to become a professional athlete. But it does have to be an attainable, realistic goal.

I start my goal-setting process differently.

The first step is I want you to sit down and imagine your twelve months into the future. What have you achieved in the remarkable past year?

I want a vision of your future, not some personal goal.

I want you to write a diary entry dated twelve months from today, and start it with dear coach, it's been a remarkable twelve months I have achieved.....

In twelve months, what will you look back on and be proud of? These can be outcome goals such as improving my second serve percentage, healthy habits like increasing muscle mass, decreasing fat percentage, improving you're 20m sprint time or lowering the number of double faults.

This diary entry must be things that you have direct control over, you have control over improving your forehand rally tempo, but you don't have control over the ranking lists. You have control over your diet, you can't control the draw for your local club tournament where you may draw the first seed in the first round.

I want you or my player to have a clear vision of where they want to be in twelve months, not where their coach wants them to be or even their parents. This is ultimately why set goals fail, they are not a vision of self, they are expectations of someone else.

What I am trying to achieve with this type of goal setting it's to free the player from a predetermined path. Traditional goal setting sets out a destination and checkpoints, life is not linear. I want the player to really think about what motivates them, what gets them excited, what is their passion and ultimately give the player control over their own destiny.

An example of the opening paragraph may be:

"I DID IT! Today is a year since I wrote out my tennis goals for the year, I have achieved so much this past twelve months, and I'm so proud of how far I have come. This week, I conducted my annual tennis assessments with my coach, I increased my rally tempo by 20% with my forehand cross-court in a single minute!

All that hard work and early morning rallying with my friends have really paid off. I really believe the additional work on my diet has helped, I am 3kg heavier but have dropped my body fat percentage by 5%, I feel much quicker and stronger, and this is allowing me to hit the ball at a quicker tempo. "

LTA Coach Education Workshop at David Lloyd Northwood

So in the example, the player is speaking in the past tense as if they have already achieved their goals at the end point, they have highlighted a specific goal in terms of increasing their forehand rally tempo. They have also included additional goals such as muscle mass and body fat, we are imagining this is a post-puberty level player obviously. The player imagines how they feel at the endpoint, I want them to imagine the feelings that they are going through, pride, belief, gratitude and happiness are all on display here.

This is different to traditional goal setting where the ultimate goal often feels so far away. Getting the player into this positive mindset before they even start their journey is so powerful and will result in a motivated, hungry player who has a set of personal clear goals.

Tennis Goal Setting Step 2: Focus on how it makes you feel, what's your motivation?

LTA Youth Competition Prizes

The power of attaching feelings is so powerful, it will show you the coach, what motivates the player, who they want to impress and so much more.

How did improving your first-serve percentage feel? 'I was so happy to see my stats over the year, my first serve percentage had increased by 6%, that's 2% more than my original goal. My coach is so happy with me!

it's vital that the player must write this in the past tense. I felt rather that I will, remember them writing this in the future point. I want my player to really feel like they have travelled in time and are writing about the past year. We all have sat there or lay in bed dreaming about the possible future and how we would feel, this is the best way to get the players to think truly about what they wish to achieve. Next time you're lying there, write done your throughs, feelings and goals as they are hidden messages of your motivation. Create your own mind map and think about:

  • How you feel should be free from external rewards, i.e. prize money, social media followers etc.

  • Think about what made you feel happy and proud when you achieved your vision.

  • What truly makes you step onto the tennis court every day?

  • Why do you invest so much time and energy into playing?

  • What motivated you on your journey?

Motivation is essential, yet as coaches, we rarely ask the players a simple question...Why do you play Tennis?

The majority of the time, the junior player has no idea. They just get brought along to tennis because of their parents.

So I ask the parents, Why does your child play Tennis?

As a coach, I need to know what makes my player tick, is it the competitive edge, is it the mental battle, or is it the feel of just smacking a ball?

I played to make my parents feel proud, and I was happy with how I played because it showed all my hard work paid off. Are two common answers, what makes your player proud?

This section of ‘goal setting’ or vision planning is vital for me, and it makes me know precisely what will make my player achieve their vision.

I will use this constantly when communicating with my player, as I now know the ‘why’ behind the player.

Tennis Goal Setting Step 3 - Now Detail The Process or Short Term Goals

LTA County Cup 2022 Bucks Girls Team with Steve Whelan

So we have the long term goals, we have a better understanding of what motivates the player, now let's look at how we are going to achieve it. These types of goals are processes you changed, improved, stopped, adapted etc. The best tennis player will adapt, change, evolve and take away things in order to reach their full potential.

Again write this in the past tense. I did rather than I will. These good things you will do every day, your weekly goals or the easy steps you can change to improve yourself. 'I will get up each day to express gratitude to my parents for helping me with my tennis, this really helped me feel like they knew I loved them' is a great example. This links in the motivation of the player to please or make their parents feel proud, if the player tells them every day, this has been ticked off before they have even stepped on the tennis court.

'For a more tennis-specific process goal, 'i stayed back after practice twice a week and did the one-minute forehand tempo drill with my friend, I felt tired but I could see the benefit because every week I was making more shots or the quality of my play was going up.'

Again the player is being very specific, it's measurable (twice a week), it's both attainable and realistic and timed so fits into smart goal setting, it's just framed backwards.

When talking about your processes, you must think about things you can either see or feel. These are things you have direct control over. The see-and-feel element is important for me as a coach. As we practice and play over the next year, I will often ask the player did you see that or feel that? I want them to link that to their vision.

  • If increasing the spin on your forehand, you should write. I started hitting the ball with so much spin I could see the ball spinning more, and I could feel my racket strike up the ball with much more speed.

  • I stopped only serving in the last ten minutes of my lesson, and I didn't feel like it was giving me any benefit. Once I started serving throughout my lesson, I felt my serve improve because I was using it so much more.

This part of the planning or reflection is the ‘how’ they achieved their vision. Again, this should be in the past tense. I want the player to feel like they have already completed their vision and how they archived it.

Getting the player to write this way opens up their mind to possibility and freedom. It will get them to think about what they can do rather than barriers or what they need to improve. Too often, we write goals, and they list what the player must do to improve.

We list weaknesses! What the player cant do! imagine getting a school report full of what you were bad at, where would your motivation be?

I want this vision to be real, getting the player to focus on what they can see or feel when writing their ‘how’ or process section will make it feel real as they can easily relate to it.

Conclusion on Tennis Goal Setting

My method is a little unorthodox and not what you will find on your regular tennis player's goal-setting sheet. I do believe and have seen it provides players at all levels from the college player, high school, club player or grand slam events level players with a clear path. I do strongly believe that coaches or parents writing goals for players is the wrong thing to do, it's not our tennis, it's the players. If we can tap into where the player wishes to go, why and what they believe they need to have in terms of daily goals then we are onto a winner.

What To Read Next After Tennis Goal Setting

  • The Ultimate Tennis Statistics You Need To Know

  • SwingVision Review: 5 Ways it can Improve Your Tennis

  • The Best 5 Tennis Coaching Books

My Tennis Coach

Written by Steve Whelan

Steve has developed thousands of tennis players and tennis coaches over the past twenty years as a coach and educator.

Steve has over 20 million social media views in 2022 alone.

Read About Steve's amazing career here

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