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Back in the 70's, John, and his wife Dianne, built Australia's first American style tennis "Ranch" on a five acre site at Kellyville in Sydney's Hills District.
They called it TENNISLAND.
Much cheaper than surrounding sites, it had an initial problem to overcome; it was 40 year flood affected.
By making it a free tip for clean excavated material, they raised the five acres above flood level. The trucks rolled in with 30,000 cubic metres of fill from the extensive residential and commercial development taking place in nearby Castle Hill and Baulkham Hills.
The above picture shows the caravan that was home to Dianne, John, and their children aged 7, 3, and 3 months, parked at the front of the site. The caravan would remain home for 15 months until the project neared completion. To stay within a "shoestring" budget, just to the right of the picture is the loader/backhoe, John purchased to do almost all of the project's earthworks.
Tennisland became Western Sydney’s principal tennis coaching venue. In the late 70’s, John Newcombe and Tony Roche had established the “Custom Credit Operation Tennis” initiative, to regain Australia’s standing in world tennis.
This photo is of our 1982 Custom Credit Operation Tennis Elite Squad, pictured with their squad coaches, Rod and Chris Silk. Members of this squad would go on to become world top 100 players and Australia’s leading tennis coaches.
And on into the 80's and 90's.
John sold Tennisland in 1986 and built Matchpoint Tennis at Kirrawee, opening in 1987. In the same year, he established tennis lessons at Blaxland Drive courts at Illawong. The photo shows Matchpoint during the annual open tournament, the McDonald's Open Junior Challenge.
The late 80's and 90's were busy for John, and even busier for his wife Dianne. John decided to conduct country "introduction to tennis" camps, in areas with no resident coach. Shown is his camp at Berridale, in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains; It became an annual event. The photo is sideways to fit!
John often was absent! He managed groups of aspiring Australian juniors playing tournaments in the USA, which included a clinic at Hopmans International Tennis Academy, near Tampa, Florida. John is shown here leaning against a bus Hop (addressed Mr. Hopman) loaned him, to transport players to tournaments in Florida.
Selling Matchpoint in 2001, John "downsized", teaching tennis exclusively at Blaxland Drive courts, enabling Dianne to retire. The picture was taken in 2003, with the "Mobile Pro-Shop" in the carpark.
John set this section aside to thank the hundreds of dedicated young and not so young coaches that worked with him over the years. A special thanks to those in the CCOT days at Tennisland, and the success you achieved. Special mention ...Rod and Chris Silk.
When visiting Hopmans International Tennis, I left a standing offer to a number of US Pro's to visit Australia, with a guarantee of some work. In the 90's we had several visit Matchpoint, and they made an outstanding contribution: I'll single out Joe Mattingly from North Carolina for special mention.
I'm sure I would be joined by everyone involved with tennis, to offer our sincere thanks to the many people who have given, and will give their time to junior and senior tennis, for nothing other than the satisfaction of helping out; working through tennis clubs and associations throughout Australia. Without their involvement, many tournaments couldn't go ahead, and junior/senior competitions wouldn't continue as we know them. We salute you!
By John George
While some aspects of technique have changed over the years, many have stayed the same. This photo is of my elder daughter Melissa, aged 11, at Tennisland in the 80's.
New techniques are developed by players, not coaches, and change was facilitated by improvements to equipment; coaches then introduce elements of this constantly evolving change to their pupils at various levels of their development.
Melissa is using one of the first generation aluminium racquets, formed with an aluminium extrusion. She’s using an Eastern forehand grip to generate topspin, but retains the universally accepted Continental grip for everything else. Use of the Eastern forehand grip coincided with the introduction of aluminium as a racquet construction material.
Is topspin possible using a wooden racquet and a Continental grip? Sure is! Rod Laver was already creating effective topspin using the Continental grip and a small head, laminated wood racquet. The advent of aluminium racquets transformed the game, making topspin much more achievable, while producing considerably more power than the previous generation.
The first breakthrough in racquet construction was back in 1947, when the Lacoste brand introduced racquet head lamination to replace solid wood. The main benefit of lamination was a lighter racquet, greater 'feel" when hitting the ball, and a little more power, at the expense of greater flexing and vibration.
While aluminium is still used for entry level racquets, graphite composite is the preferred construction material today. Carbon derived graphite is "composite" when combined with numerous other materials including fibreglass, kevlar, titanium, tungsten, and boron. The change from aluminium to graphite composite was almost as groundbreaking as the change from wood to aluminium.
Graphite Composite made possible an infinite range of weight and balance, along with greater frame stiffness. The extra power generated enabled an even more extreme Semi Western grip for forehands. Nevertheless, both Roger Federer and Ashleigh Barty still use the Eastern forehand grip.
While I am sure you won’t see a current top 100 player using a wooden racquet, many still use the original string material, natural gut.
Currently, the most popular racquet among the world‘s top 100 male players is the Wilson Blade 98. At the time of writing, players ranked world number one are Novak Djokovic and Ashleigh Barty. They both use Head racquets. Novak uses a Head Graphene 360 Speed Pro and Ashleigh a Head Youtek Graphene Speed Pro.
Coaching manuals? I've read quite a few!
I'd say the best is the now out of print ATPCA "Supercoach" manual. The final edition can be recognised by a picture of Raphael Nadal on the cover.
These days the best source of new ideas is unquestionably You Tube. There are many thousands of hours of content, produced by many hundreds of coaches. I allocate a strictly limited 15 minutes per day of screen time to checking for any worthwhile new content... it's worth taking a look. As with anything, the content varies from great to....not the best.
The advice for beginners is more uniform, and generally well presented. Beyond that, considerable circumspection is needed. Tom Avery has a good series of videos, covering just about everything.
Long before the World Wide Web (1991), we had the Beta and VHS tape era; well over 100 instructional tapes were commercially available. In the 80‘s, one of the best was by Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith; Arthur, considered to have the best backhand of the era, and Stan, the best forehand.
An exceptional series of two VHS tapes were produced in Australia in 1990, titled “Tennis for the 90’s”. Covering all tennis strokes, it shows how racquet technology has transformed the game. The video highlights the forehand in particular, and presents it with the biomechanically produced “multi-segment” concept. At the same time, it shows that the featured player‘s individual application of these elements have remarkable variation In both backswing and followthrough. Compare Boris Becker’s high looping backswing to that of Ivan Lendl. Ivan also had an abbreviated followthrough. Other players (Thomas Muster) featured in the tapes used the current “windscreen wiper” followthrough. Muster also had a linear backswing, with the racquet face always parallel to the ground, mirroring the also current ”pat the dog” position prior to forward movement. Conclusion? The minimal changes in the 30 years following the tape‘s production, contrasting the previous 30 years.
Then came the DVD. The only one I bought was one of a series by the previously mentioned Tom Avery. The WWW eventually killed the DVD.
Tennis was played long before the advent of organised teaching of kids. Teaching in classes really only began in earnest, in the late 40's, and then only in the US, Europe, and Australia. The idea of a training course for coaches began when groups of coaches got together to form associations, and create entry criteria to join. They eventually established courses, including a "probationary" period with an existing member.
With one notable exception, tennis coaching instructional manuals came later. That notable exception was the work of Australian tennis coach, Don Pullinger. Don was co-proprietor of the long since disbanded franchise ”Newks Tennis World" at Gymea in Sydney. Don produced an enormous 100mm thick coaching manual, that also doubled as a scrapbook. It essentially covered the history of tennis, globally, until the 1970's, including more than 100 high quality original photographs, especially tracing the history of the former Tennis NSW headquarters at Edgecliff, which everyone knows as White City. The latter half of the manual shows the use of improving camera technology, providing sequential shots of tennis strokes. Don's comprehensive notes, interpret the photos, and include copious newspaper clippings of outstanding players and descriptions of technique.
As it doesn't extend beyond the 70's, it's now obviously outdated, but it was unique at its time, and many basics still apply. I was entrusted with it, following the shop's closure in the 80's.
Who has it?
I donated it to the Tennis NSW Museum in 2012. If you'd like to check it out, the museum is located directly underneath the current Tennis NSW office headquarters at Sydney Olympic Park.
There's been quite a lot of reading here, and you may want to skip it, or come back to it later; in which case you may just want our contact details, and where we are. If so, hit the big yellow button.
Every now and then I’m asked if I’m on Facebook. I’m not on any social media, as I’m not a fan of screen time. Makes you wonder how we all got by before 1991 and the World Wide Web! While I’ve carefully avoided having a website until now, it’s finally happened; I have a website (you found it!), and I’ll be happy to send you a short autobiography. I call it a “Mini Bio”; it’s a Facebook substitute. Some say you need to be famous (or infamous) to write an autobiography. Normally that’s the case, but as I’m neither, I’ll just have to be unconventional. And I’m certainly not audacious enough to imagine anyone would pay to read it!
What have I been up to over the years? It’s all in the Mini Bio.
Before reading, I ask you to please consider the following caveats.
There’s no attempt to keep it purely tennis related, with regular and extensive mention of my other interests; music and motorsport. There’s also a story regarding my elder daughter Melissa’s involvement with tennis. Apart from simple reminiscing, I’m not out of step with the usual motives in writing an autobiography. I see the most valid motive as an opportunity to thank the many people who helped make things happen, and happen successfully.
Why offer to provide a general, non-tennis-specific autobiography at a tennis coaching website, which are normally nothing other than a product marketing exercise for tennis coaching services? ….. just to avoid getting tied up with screen time, and third party platforms such as Facebook.
It’s written in only rough chronological order, without formal chapters, entirely by myself, and has not been proof read, so please forgive any grammatical errors and indiscretions. I’ve included quite a few “happy snaps” of varying quality. All reference to time is correct as of early 2020. If you’re still interested, after considering all the caveats, you’re more than welcome to access the mini-bio. Just send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org and it’s on its way!
I’m also working on a book, which may or may not reach completion and publication. Research used to involve books and libraries. Now research involves screen time, and, as such, is heavily rationed. The book’s concept and title? “Winning; It’s All in the Mind”. If you’re interested, my summary notes to introduce and outline the book follow here on the website.
MISCELLANEOUS EXTRACTS AND NOTES: “WINNING; IT’S ALL IN THE MIND”
Author: John George
My inspiration to research and write this book followed general discussions I had with the late and great Harry Hopman. There is ample evidence to argue that Harry Hopman remains the greatest tennis coach of all time. The nature of the discussions were anything but formal; the setting was a golf cart. Hop used a golf cart to travel around his vast tennis academy, located in the walled and gated community of Bardmoor Village in Tampa, Florida; near Largo, it had it all, including an 18 hole golf course hosting the prestigious JC Penney Golf Classic.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s I managed groups of aspiring juniors visiting the USA to play tournaments and attend a clinic at Hopman’s International Tennis.
Hop’s emphasis on fitness was well known. Each day, all those attending clinics would begin with a compulsory, well developed and graded exercise regime. While my group was taking part, Hop noticed I was standing around doing nothing in particular, and he beckoned me to join him in his golf cart. He was just starting what was a regular tour of the venue, where a purpose built concrete track allowed access to all 48 tennis courts.
I would find that the morning expedition would follow no specific path, and follow no specific time frame. As we made our way around, he gave me an exceptionally informative running commentary on why he would bypass activities on some courts with little more than a cursory glance, and stop at others, perhaps to watch for a while; occasionally he would leave the cart to offer instruction or advice. The on court activities ranged from visiting groups of juniors with one of his many coaches, to world top ten players, along with their entourage of hitting partner, coach etc. I considered Hop’s invitation to join him regularly as an honour and a privilege; it also enabled me to construct a general theme to his advice.
For simplicity, I have referred to Harry Hopman as “Hop”, when he was generally addressed as “Mister Hopman”; showing respect for his standing in the tennis world.
My accumulation of thoughts and ideas flowing from the theme, prompted a simple question: Why do some players rise beyond others who possess a seemingly identical skillset? Physical fitness and performance technique are unquestionably essential, however I saw another element in our discussions. While I was confident I’d found another, perhaps elusive and even neglected factor, the final decision to begin serious research came later when I was unexpectedly presented with the clearest of evidence.
I haven’t missed an Australian Open since 1988 when it moved from the Kooyong grass to the hardcourts of Melbourne Park. I rarely watch the headline singles matches, heading straight for the backcourts, to watch the world’s best doubles play; a far more tactical game than singles.
I remember walking past a women’s singles match, noticing it was a set all and 4 games to 2; currently in the lead an 80’s ranked player over a player ranked in the 20’s. I decided to watch the finish. The 80’s ranked player served a close to perfect seventh game, with 2 of her serves finding the lines. She appeared to be full of confidence. She was up 5 games to 2. A little unlucky to lose the next game, she could still serve out the match. Her lead now 5-3. Just 4 more great serves, producing defensive or weak returns, and she’d win. The first point was a double fault, just missing the lines on both serves. 0-15. That point decided the match. You could see the very beginnings of problems evidenced by her demeanour, effecting her approach to her service action…. simply thinking about it. Interjection by those pesky neurons residing in her prefrontal cortex were the culprits; true! She was not relying on the automated action which she’d no doubt practiced to infinity, and she’d relied on without question to that point. Her left arm was clearly tightening and this disrupted her ball toss. Double fault. 0-30. No crowd effect. There were just 3 seat rows and less than 50 spectators. Her entourage was becoming concerned, with comments about the ball toss (but no mention of the reason it was failing). Where she should now be adopting a point by point approach, deep breathing techniques, or at least some mental reprogramming… as simple as focusing on a diversion such as an unnecessary string adjustment… the loss of the previous two points, and the way she lost them, remained dominant in her mind. At 0-30, her serving arm was also tightening up. She managed to get her second serve into play, but it was so weak it was easily attacked by her opposition.
0-40; now, with cascading negative thoughts, clearly enveloped with performance anxiety, and despite the fact that she was still leading 5-4, she lost the game, and eventually lost the match 5-7. By the last game she had mentally imploded. Her body was on the court; her mind was already on the way back to the locker room.
I remember noting her name, and checking her ranking a year later. She’d dropped out of the top 300.
Why did this happen? It was certainly a physiological response to a psychologically initiated event.
I suggest that her response to the initial double fault fell under the umbrella of a specific incident (the double fault), initiating simple performance anxiety. Not a stranger to generalised anxiety myself, I further suggest performance anxiety syndrome affects us all in some circumstances, and can be easily overcome by some; is so fleeting, that it doesn’t effect a desired outcome, and is therefore irrelevant. For others it can be career destroying.
Both Arthur Ashe in tennis, and Greg Norman in golf, were so effected, but were still able to become world champions. Nevertheless, it did lead to the loss of events they were expected to easily win.
Arthur Ashe called it “paralysis by analysis”, although the tennis great was not the first to use these three words. Golfing great Greg Norman described the effect of the same syndrome with just four letters; the “yips”. He wasn’t the first to use these letters either. While these champions had fleeting issues with the syndrome, others would find it overwhelming.
Should players effected by performance anxiety simply be allowed to fail as a result?
Here’s an analogy to help understand various paths to overcome the issue.
Let’s say you’re driving your car to a desired destination. You come to a potentially removable roadblock. Your choices are, to look for off road possibilities to go around the blockage, attempt to dismantle the blockage to continue, or accept the blockage as final, give up, and go back. I would suggest the order of approach is 1, 2, and only 3, after every attempt at 1 and 2 were tried and failed.
I suggest any degree of performance anxiety can be addressed, or at least reduced, with multiple techniques, and not accepted as irreversible; there can certainly be irreversible cases, where the intervention of doubt can’t be completely “switched off”. The roadblock may be too strong to overcome.
The most recognisable form of performance anxiety for most people is public speaking. Despite many rehearsals, prompt notes, even an "autocue" or a written speech, anxiety often precedes its presentation. Perhaps it's the intense moment of self awareness as you walk on stage, regardless of whether it's an audience of 50 or 5,000. You are the focus of interest. You are aware that in the following moments, perceptions about you will be formed and judgements made.
Of course, some revel in the opportunity public speaking provides them. Others pass through life carefully avoiding exactly the same situation. There are various possible techniques to "get through" public speaking events. I recall discussing this with a regular public speaker; his way of dealing with his anxiety was to always look beyond the audience to the back of the room, and avoid eye contact with anyone near the stage.
I have had the exceptional privilege to provide more than 10,000 children their first tennis lesson. This has enabled me to gain outstanding insight into the subject of this book with reference to children.
Up to this point we were examining examples of champions. Now we will examine the effect it has on children, and their ability to acquire tennis skills.
With tennis having an exceptionally complex skill set, performance anxiety has ample potential for manifestation. On the subject of performance anxiety, you can have an interesting debate, comparing golf to tennis, relying only on the fact that the ball hit in golf is always stationary.
All tennis coaches should have a special interest in teaching beginners. Many coaches have trainees deal with beginners. I suggest highly experienced tennis coaches should provide the initial lessons, and trainees should only deal with pupils who have been shown the basics, and attained a reasonable level of proficiency. Of course, each child will have a unique ability to learn and apply, as there is an infinite variation in the absorption and application of these basics; beginners should be placed in a class with no more than four pupils, so individual attention is possible. It cannot be overstressed that a “one size fits all” approach to teaching beginners will fail those that are affected with any degree of performance anxiety; this must be recognised and individually addressed.
In this chapter I will discuss guidelines for the the recognition of performance anxiety in children, and how this should best be addressed by coaches.
The interpretation of “awkwardness” when a child is introduced to hitting a tennis ball should be be regarded as a psychological rather than a physiological issue; it should be therefore addressed as such. Children will always volunteer a physical reason that may effect their performance, but not a reason that is psychological.
I have found that performance anxiety in children is age related. Generally, beginners in the 5-8 age group are less likely to be affected than those 9-12, due in part to simple social conditioning.
Any degree of performance anxiety will affect timing and a smooth fluid movement as the racquet is swung forward to hit the ball. For this purpose we will use the forehand drive. The racquet should already be held back so timing is solely dependant on the forward swing. In the 5-8 group, they should initially be hitting a dropped ball; does their weight transfer appear to be natural? Interestingly, to achieve a more physically relaxed approach to hitting the ball, I have successfully used some of the same methods used by tour players, including breathing control, mental relaxation, etc.,
With the 9-12 group, performance anxiety is more transparent, and can be addressed by similar techniques. Perfect timing is achieved when there is no intervention by thoughts which interrupt this timing. Ultimately, it is conditioned by our individual abililty to “switch off” imposing thoughts of reason and question. “Overthinking” is a good word to provide a simple description. “Paralysis by analysis”.
One of the gifts in teaching beginners is that every coach enters a great lottery. First prize is an Ashleigh Barty. In a recent interview, Ash Barty’s first coach commented on how effectively she hit the ball at her very first lesson; exceptionally talented kids (such as Ash Barty) are part of this great lottery. My experience suggests 1 in every 10 new pupils can be made very good tennis players; 1 in 100 can be made exceptional tennis players; 1 in 1,000 have the potential to be made world champions. This potential is critically dependent on the right management.
It must also be noted that regardless of their commitment, for 999 new pupils, “world champion” status is not an achievable end; you simply can’t make a champion, if the factors of potential are not presented.
I suggest the focus of tennis coaches should be on the 999 pupils, to be made the very best they can be, and their tennis coach provide just as much commitment to this end, regardless of potential, with particular reference to the incidence and effect of performance anxiety within this group.
As I have previously mentioned, I’m not a stranger to generalised anxiety; my own experience was yet another incentive to pursue this research, including methods to encourage self belief. All sport coaches would have observed that every beginner will have a different level of self belief, A “one size fits all” approach to teaching tennis to children who are beginners tends to leave behind any pupil who fails to maintain the pre-set median of progress for their class.
The set standard usually favours those who are progressing at above a pre established rate. In this circumstance, those that have fallen behind may simply lose interest and drop out.
It is important therefore, to look beyond the question of coordination and movement to interpret what may be a primarily psychological rather than a physiological factor affecting the rate of progress. This can then be interpreted as a need for pure encouragement, rather than stressing errors in technique. Look for any element of technique that is near to correct and offer congratulations. You may just intercept a “downward spiralling sense of failure”.
Thanks for reading these notes and extracts. I hope it may one day incentivise the book’s purchase. No need to start saving up just yet, as there is still research to take place, updating to be made, intentionally limited research time, and no completion date! Hopefully the notes have provided “food for thought” among any tennis coaches that may read them. Should you be interested in learning more regarding my trips to Hopmans International Tennis Academy, along with some “happy snaps”, you could refer to my “Mini-Bio”.
The above " Miscellaneous Extracts and Notes: Winning: It's all in the Mind" is Copyright and must not be reproduced or copied in any form in whole or in part without the express written consent of the author.
Yes, only one brand and model! It’s the one in the picture above, the Polytec Cyclone .
With lightweight carbon mono-form construction, it’s the perfect racquet to use until you decide to get really serious, and spend hundreds of dollars.
I consider it the best value racquet under $100. That’s why I sell this model and brand.
Three sizes are available, 25 Junior. 26 Graduate, and full adult size 27.
The price is the same for all three.
Now that’s not much more than a restring!
And the $50 includes all you‘ll need to get playing:
1. The racquet in your choice of size.
2. A full racquet cover as shown (not the bag).
3. A can of 3 premium Pro Tour balls.
......yes, the lot for $50.
There is one problem. I don’t offer delivery. You’ll need to pick them up at our Illawong address. Just call or message me first, arrange a time, bring $50 with you, and we have a deal!
If you read through the whole page.....congratulations, and I'm honoured that you did.....I hope you found something interesting.
Contact details follow….
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