Original source: http://tennisportalen.se/allistair-mccaw-kevin-andersons-success-depends-mainly-on-his-mental-strength/
Allistair McCaw is an internationally recognized leader in the field of athlete performance enhancement and with over 20 years experience, Allistair has worked with multiple Grand Slam Champions, Olympians and world class athletes in a variety of sports.
Allistair Mccaw is currently working with the number twelfth ranked giant Kevin Anderson and Allistair tells us a lot of interesting things – for instance, what does the term ”coachable” really mean?
You are currently working with Kevin Anderson, can you tell us more about that, and how often do you see each other?
We have our base in Florida and approximately we spend 20-25 weeks every year together, that includes all the slams as well as tournaments in Miami and Delray Beach. He has a great work ethic and always wants to improve himself! He is always listening, wants to know why, and is in general a very coachable player! He has improved his consistency most over the years and also the mental aspect of his game. He has been working with a psychologist here in Florida for a long time, and his victory over Andy Murray at the US Open recently (reaching his first slam QF) showed a lot of mental strength. I don’t think it would have been possible a few years ago. Kevin doesn’t have the same athleticism as Roger Federer and therefore he has to work extremely hard on his movement and for me, that’s a lot of respect. You can have a big game but if you don’t move well, you will not reach the top!
You also have been working with Tomic, Malisse and Bogomolov JR on the men’s tour: how was it to work with them and how professional were they?
Every player is different and every player comes with a different package and personality. My job is to adapt and adjust to the player in question. You have players in different stages in their career and your approach can’t be the same for all of them. I had Tomic when he was young and Malisse in his early thirties, he had at the time been on tour for 15 years and was familiar with how everything worked. Every player has been a pleasure to work with!
What character should a good coach have and what do you think is the most important element for a coach to embrace?
I would say the instinctive skills, your ability to connect and communicate well with the player are the most fundamental things for a coach to have. You are always trying to get into their head what they are thinking at that particular moment. Every day you are adjusting and adapting, feeling the situation and then making the best out of it. Not to mention the listening skills, we only learn when we are listening!
What does many coaches do wrong today?
Overcoaching! Coaches tend to give too much information which they player can’t absorb and the player in question doesn’t know what to do anymore. Coaches also needs to have patience! Each player learns differently and players develops differently in time.
What is your philosophy as a coach?
Trick question, can be a lot of things. Putting the athlete first, becoming a great listener, adapting and adjusting to what the athlete needs at the time. My philosophy develops not the player mainly but the person. I have been given the opportunity to work with people and with that comes great responsibility and for that exact reason I would have loved to become a teacher because the best coaches comes from teaching. You are teaching players to play, not coaching. The term coaching for me is more managing and directing.
Juniors tend to behave badly on Court sometimes, adults as well I should say. How should they think on Court, not being affected by bad decisions?
It all comes down to controlling what you can control. Can you control the wind, an opponent cheating, a net rule? Of course not! You have to let that go. What you can control is your attitude on court! Letting go of what you can’t control is fundamental in tennis and you have to accept that there are certain things you cannot do anything about!
It’s also important to play the same way in practice as you do when playing a match and not only when you are hitting the ball. Find the coach that embrace what you think is important, not just the way you play. The people around you, coaches and parents should bring a positive environment.
Do you think we in generally should talk more about mental toughness in tennis? Take Mardy Fish for an example who described his problems as a sickness.
For sure, you got to look at people that have achieved something incredible, in any sport, music, whatever it may be. They had an imbalance in life and it’s normal because you spend a lot of hours on something specific. The Anders Ericsson-theory (10 000 hour rule) is very interesting because it claims that it’s mandatory for making it, becoming an elite and therefore its logical with an imbalance in life. We need to have a better understanding of that these people needs our help, they have been sacrificing a lot through their whole career and believe it or not but they are just like you and me! They are human beings. They have feelings, they have good days and bad days like everyone else. People put these athletes, musicians, actresses on pedestals and think that they are emotionally disconnected. Life must be great for them is what you would think but that is not always the case!
Tips for juniors and upcoming talents in making it as a professional?
Follow your passion! I know it’s a bit of a cliché but do your best everyday and listen to your coaches. The best players are the best coachable, take Kevin for example. He doesn’t think he knows everything and he is always listening and trying to improve himself. I was working with Svetlana Kuznetsova a few years ago and we had our practice in Dubai next to Roger Federer for three weeks. He was then working with Paul Annacone and I was amazed AT how coachable Federer was! He is learning new things and we saw that with Edberg as well. Unfortunately we see a lot of 14-15-16 year olds that are good but they think they are too good. Just keep on doing your best everyday because that’s simply all you can do, you can’t predict the future but you can work hard and work towards your goals! Don’t compare yourself to others in the same age group, everybody develops differently!
What does a typical training day for Kevin Anderson look like?
Very structured! Wakes up probably at 7.00 am, coffee and breakfast around 7.30, then he does what I call a pre performance routine, the ppr, where he does 20 minutes of foam roalling and stretching. He leaves for his first practice at 8.30 and it will last to around midday. Then lunch and a mid-afternoon nap, he may also play some tunes on his guitar to relax. He leaves for his second practise around 4 pm and that will be the most physical of the day. 7-8 massage, dinner at 8.30 and bedtime at 10. Structure is non negotiable for me.
No ice baths?
There is not enough evidence that ice baths work for an athlete! There may be an exception if the player have been practicing in extremely hot conditions, say 35-36 degrees.
A lot of players had to retire from their matches at the US Open recently due to cramping, how can it be avoided for even the most fittest athletes?
Cramping comes down to three main things. Salt level, hydration and fitness nutrition. You can be a very fit athlete but still be cramping and one element can be slighly low for it to happen, not all three together necessarily.
How is it possible for Federer to be playing his best tennis of his life at 34 years of age?
Three things! Being taught great technique with great coaches has enabled him an effortless game, investement in his physical training from a young age, and intelligent planning of tournaments and season preparation – no overplaying.
What advice would you give parents out there who are supporting their children in tennis?
Three things here as well. Understand it’s not about you, it’s about your child. Reward their effort, discipline and attitude instead of focusing on the results. Don’t forget to have fun and have patience with your child!
Interview and translation by Alex Theodoridis