Effortless Tennis - Innovative Tennis Instruction
Since I am proposing what some people would call a radical idea, I thought it would be good to give people an in-depth look at my background and influences. This will help everyone better understand why I came to the conclusion that competition, as it is now being practiced, is doing more harm than good in helping people develop themselves to the fullest of their abilities.

Sports from the Start
I grew up playing sports, starting about age 5, on the outskirts of a small town in a rural farming area in southeastern Pennsylvania, Lancaster County. Home of the Amish. I did a little wrestling (very little), then baseball and basketball, then soccer. I did very well in both baseball and basketball for several years. Finally in 1968 at age 14 I took up tennis. Although I lived in a small community, regionally, tennis was a relatively developed sport; there were some serious junior and adult players. For about 3 years I took private lessons from a great local pro, John Thomas, to whom I shall be forever grateful.


I played high school tennis where, as a senior, our team went undefeated, winning the county championship. I played #2 singles for 3 years behind the guy who, for our age group, was the top ranked player in the state; individually both of us were undefeated for the season. I played tournaments for 2 years in 16’s and 2 years in 18’s, playing at least 8 to 10 tournaments a year for the last 3 years. I was ranked both in the Central Penn area and in the Middle States division of the USLTA for both 16’s and 18’s.

In 1972 I went to the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia (a Division 1 school.) I played tennis my freshman year and was the second ranking freshman. I played varsity singles at the number’s 5 and 6 position all season. Playingwise it was not a great year for me, probably too much fun being away at college. After my freshman year I started working at the tennis courts at the world famous Williamsburg Inn. About a year after being at the Inn, I did my first teaching. The year was 1974.

Inner Tennis
1974 was also the year that Tim Gallwey released Inner Tennis and I saw the direction that my teaching was going to take. To me, this approach was the future of the game; learning how, on a consistent basis, to play “in the zone.” I have been developing and refining these concepts ever since. The one area I differ with Gallwey is that I believe that, yes, there is perfect form inside each of us, but it doesn’t just magically happen when you walk on the court. Developing the strokes happens over the course of time. It’s like a sculptor with a piece of stone, the perfect piece is in there, it must be gradually and carefully brought out.

In the spring of 1975, I completed Dennis Van der Meer’s TennisUniversity program. The job at the Williamsburg Inn was too good, so rather than continuing to play on the team, I worked at the Inn. As I’m still in the same profession 36 years later, it proved to be a good decision. I played tournaments while I was around the Williamsburg area, and got a men’s open ranking in the Mid-Atlantic area. Later in 1975 I joined the United States Professional Tennis Association of which I am still a member today.

I’m A Tennis Pro
After graduating from William & Mary with a B.S. in Geology in 1976, I decided to stay with tennis and moved to rural Virginia, near the Chesapeake Bay. I quickly found a job at a small exclusive resort, The Tides Inn. This job helped me learn more about teaching and dealing with people. After being there for about 9 months I gave a series of lessons to a hotel guest, a retired Army general who was just starting to teach tennis. We hit it off and several months later he called saying there was a teaching position open at his club in Annapolis, Maryland. I got the job and moved to Annapolis in the fall of 1977. I taught there, playing regional tournaments, and working with regional level junior players until the fall of 1979.

Off To Europe
In September, 1979, I took off to Europe to play tennis. I spent 3 months playing tournaments in Switzerland and France. I played a lot of tennis, but not that many tournaments. I had a great time and learned a lot about myself and life. I returned to the mid-Atlantic area and got a teaching job at a club between Washington, D.C. and Annapolis. I taught there for 2 more years while continuing to play tournaments and work with highly ranked tournament juniors. During this time I was regularly ranked in the Men’s Open Division both in the state of Maryland (a high of #8), and the Mid-Atlantic area(a high of #18.) At this point I decided that if I wanted to coach people on a world class level, and I wanted to be able to speak from experience, I needed to get my game on a world class level. This was 1981 and I decided to take a year off and just play tennis.

I went into training and took off for Europe again. This time I played a lot of tournaments (13 in 12 weeks.) I played national and regional professional tournaments, mostly in France. I had a pretty high classification (ranking) in France so that I usually had a good placement in the draw. For all the people who are into competition out there, here is a good story from this trip. I went to a tournament outside of Lyon, France. I was in a slump. I had lost my first match 3 weeks in a row in the last 3 tournaments. I got to this tournament with my self-esteem in doubt, and found out that I was the top seed. Not only that, but I am staying with this family that is so excited because they have the top player at their house. They were friends with the head of the club so this was important to them. More pressure. I had to play 4 matches to win the tournament. My first match or 2 were pretty shaky, but I won them. In the semifinals I lost the first set but came back to win. In the finals, all the people were out to see my opponent, the young local hero. I was a little nervous, but since winning the three matches, my confidence was coming up. I played well and won in straight sets. Ah, the thrill of victory.

Lessons In Humility
After this adventure I came back to the U.S. for a couple of months to recover from a severe wrist strain. In January of 1982 I took off looking for computer points in a satellite series in New Zealand. My wrist had not fully recovered, but I decided to go anyway. I had a great time, but tenniswise it was a humbling experience. Just before returning to the U.S. I had an extraordinary experience happen that showed me the beginnings of effortless. Upon returning I was offered another teaching job at another club in the Baltimore/Washington area. I also returned to playing and coaching.

Dr. Jim Loehr
In 1983 I hooked up with sports psychologist, Dr. Jim Loehr, when he was first beginning. I took his mental toughness training workshop through Dennis Van der Meer. Jim had a big impact on my playing and teaching. I will also be forever grateful to him.

California Bound
I had always said that my tennis could take me anywhere so in September of 1985 I decided to test out that idea and, without a job, moved to northern California. I did have friends to help me get settled. Things were good on the East coast, but something was missing. So I took a chance, and I’m still here. When I arrived, it felt like home.

Soon after I got to California I started looking for teaching jobs and signed up to play the prequalifying for the then, TransAmerica Open. I won my first round and then played a player whom I didn’t know. He was blowing me off the court and I knew that if I didn’t stop making mistakes it was going to be over quickly. Fortunately my opponent thought he had the match won and let up. I came back and ended up winning in 3 sets. Just shows how important that mental part of the game is. That player was a, soon to be, Northern California #1. I lost my next match to current University of California Berkeley Head Coach, Peter Wright. That was the first last and only tournament I played in California. I played tournament level competitive tennis from 1968 until 1985. I did my time, I learned a lot, and I have the experience.

Effortless Tennis
In 1987, after hearing so many top athletes say that when they got into “the zone,” it felt effortless, which had also been my experience, I named my program Effortless Tennis. To me the goal in tennis is to achieve this state of being, “in the zone.” Winning and losing are unimportant because if you are “in the zone,” you are playing great tennis and having fun—and that’s all that matters.

It Does Work In Competition
From 1989 to 1991 I volunteered a lot of time with the Drake High School Boys Tennis team in Fairfax, CA. In 3 years they went from 1-13 to 14-0 and won the county championship defeating the county powerhouse team, ending their 12 year consecutive reign. All during that time I emphasized learning the skills and that the winning would take care of itself. At first they thought I was crazy, but winning did take care of itself so now they think I’m a genius.

Bye Bye Competition
Over the years I had noticed that it was very difficult for people to attain “the zone” in any situation, let alone in competition. After one of the people on my mailing list told me about Alfie Kohn’s landmark book, No Contest: The Case Against Competition, I knew that competition was doing more harm than good. Mr. Kohn is brilliant in debunking the myths about the superiority of competition. After reading his book twice, I decided that if I was to create the best tennis learning program possible I would have to remove all competition from the program. That happened in the fall of 1992.

This was a giant leap for the program. Many people have fear not only around learning sports, but learning in general. Learning in a competitive environment is too much for many people so they just stop trying. I am challenging a system upon which most people’s lives have been based. Throwing people into competitive situations before they have developed the basic skills of that activity is a crime. How can you expect someone to be able to do something before they know how to do it. This is the old school of hard knocks, trial by fire, or sink or swim mentality. A nurturing, supportive, cooperative environment is where people will attain their true potential.

Oh, It Works Even Better In Competition
In October of 1991 a mother brought her 9 year old daughter to me. I could see from the first moments on court that this girl was special. She had “it.” She was a natural. She is Tarrin Dougery. We worked together for 2 years until the middle of 1993 when she got more interested in other sports. We reconnected in January 1996 and began an intensive program for the next 2 years. All the time we were working in this cooperative context without any competition. We were developing the skills needed to be a great player. As a freshman she won the MCAL doubles crown and lost in the finals of the North Coast Sectional Doubles. As a sophomore she won the MCAL singles crown. As a junior she repeated as MCAL champion and lost in the semi-finals of the North Coast Sectionals. As with many teenagers, Tarrin's priorities changed and she lost her motivation. Her senior year she lost twice to a girl who was much more motivated. Her overall singles record for 4 years was 57-7. Working with Tarrin proved that someone can be trained in a non-competitive program and succeed in competition.

The Last Ten Years
Since 2001 I have been teaching three Effortless Tennis classes a week for the College of Marin Community Education, a beginner, and two intermediate. Working with hundreds of beginners and non-elite athletics has confirmed how important it is to remove competition from the learning process until people can demonstrate competence in the basic skills. Seeing and feeling the relief that people have when they learn that there is no competition in the program is very rewarding. It’s like a giant weight has been lifted off their shoulders. Because the competitive system is so much a part of most people’s lives and so deeply ingrained into our subconscious, we are frequently unaware of the negative impact that it has on our ability to learn, to grow, and to attain our potential.

Done My Homework
As you can see I have been involved with tennis on a continuous basis since 1968, and I've been teaching continuously since 1974. In total I have taught over 25,000 hours of private and group lessons. It's now been eighteen years since I removed all competition from Effortless Tennis. That means that half of my time teaching has been from a competitive perspective and half from a cooperative one. I now have well over 10,000 hours of teaching and coaching experience in a non-competitive learning environment. I have done the research and the outcome is conclusive, a non-competitive learning system is, in every way, superior to a competitive based learning system. It's that simple.

 

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