The 2016 Women’s Australian Open: 3 Resilience Stories…

In 2011 when Angelique Kerber arrived at the US Open, she was nearly 24 years old, had been on the tour for 7 years, and had passed the first round main draw of her previous Grand Slams on just 5 of 19 attempts (and had never been past the 3rd round).

From the outside looking in, most observers I’m sure would have already pigeonholed her career as a journey woman destined to be a perennial early round Grand Slam loser until career end.

That she went on to make the semis at that 2011 US Open was surprising…

That she slowly but surely built herself into a regular top 10er was superb….

That she won her 1st Slam yesterday against perhaps the greatest women’s player of all time after 12 years on tour is simply remarkable…

Shuai Zhang

When Shuai Zhang arrived at the 2016 Australian Open her parents had come to watch her for the 1st time at a Grand Slam tournament…

Why?

Well, Zhang was considering retirement and she wanted for her parents to see her play before she stopped…

9 years earlier in 2007 Zhang stood seemingly with the singles tennis world at her feet when she was one of the youngest players in the world’s top 200 when aged just 17…

No one could have imagined that it would take 9 long years from that point to register her 1st main draw win in a Slam…

Her record during that time?

0 from 27 attempts…

And when she finally beat Simona Halep for that elusive 1st win she had an interesting reflection on the difficulties she had faced, especially over the last year, “I think it was a very important experience. Everyone wants to remember their most beautiful moments but I feel like the toughest times are also important.”

Johanna Konta

And it has been a similar, if not as brutal, Grand Slam story for Brit, Johanna Konta…

By age 24, after about 7 years on tour, she had spent much of her career battling between 100-300 in the world…

And in 2015, the LTA communicated their lack of faith in her future career prospects by cutting her funding.

So when she turned up at the 2015 US Open having passed the 1st round main draw of just 1 of 13 Grand Slam attempts everyone except her team probably expected more of the same…

Instead she went on to make her 1st Slam 4th round and follow it up with an epic Aus Open run as well…

The Most Remarkable Tennis Statistic I’ve Ever Seen…

When I reflected on these 3 great stories from the Australian Open, given their lengthy apprenticeships to make a mark on the big time, I kept feeling amazement at the amount of setbacks that these players must have endured and overcome to give themselves the opportunity to have such amazing tournaments.

Consider this…

When we combine Kerber’s and Konta’s Grand Slam record at age 24, with Zhang’s at 27….They had passed the 1st round main draw on just 6 of 59 attempts…

That includes over 20 years combined reinforcement of consistent losing in Slams…

I wonder what odds we could have gotten from the bookies if we’d suggested that 3 female players, who at the time of being 24 or older, and had passed the 1st round of Grand Slams just 6 times between them (at that point in their careers), would 1 day all make the quarter finals or better of the same Grand Slam tournament?

Those odds would have been beyond comprehension…

So Why Is This Important for Developing Players?

For 3 players to achieve a performance like this is just another strong reminder to me that if I could choose just 1 quality in developing players as MOST important to long-term success (physical, technical, psychological)…

I would choose the quality that these 3 women have displayed in bucket loads to continually chip away at developing their games despite the obstacles…

RESILIENCE…

Why?

By nature, it now takes so much longer to achieve top 100 breakthroughs that resilience has to be the #1 element that most importantly underpins all skills required for developing players…

This means that for all but a tiny %, the reality is getting beaten down by older, stronger opponents for many years before Grand Slam victories become regular.

This requires an immense ability to overcome frequent setbacks over extended periods.

So How Do We (As Coaches and Parents) Support This Development?

The 3 C’s…

While a specific discussion of the development of resilience is beyond the scope of this article, I have found these 3 C’s great to keep in mind as a simple guide in assisting player development of resilience.

It is important to remember that how you might apply each of these elements varies depending on your role as either a parent or a coach…

1.) Challenge

Parents: A parent’s role is to encourage your child’s exposure to challenges/difficulties that are generally designed and overseen by your child’s coach.

Coaches: A coach’s role is to design and implement/oversee a player’s resilience development through progressively and appropriately challenging training and tournament experiences that help a player grow and strengthen ability to meet difficulties over time.

2.) Competence

Parents/Coaches: It is important to consistently communicate your belief that players can overcome challenges and also reinforce efforts and strengths more than weaknesses when discussing challenges so that players develop a bias towards self-belief.

3.) Care

Coaches: When players don’t do as well as they want, communicate approval of them as a person and discuss controllable factors that they can improve to increase the chance of success throughout development.

Parents: A parent’s most vital role is to make children feel worthy as a person when they fail competitively. This allows a degree of safety for the child to keep chasing after their dreams even when they come up short. It allows players to continually put it on the line in practice and matches day after day, month after month, year after year.

Do you have any other ideas you would add that are important for coaches?

If so, let me know in the comments section below…

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