The #1 Way Junior Tennis Players Fail Trying to Reach the Top

May 11, 2023
The #1 Way Junior Tennis Players Fail Trying to Reach the Top

If you clicked on this blog, you obviously have a passion for tennis and want yourself or someone you have a connection with, to become one of the world’s best players.

For over 25 years I’ve coached, mentored, and guided players from grass roots to the top of the game, watching, observing, and trying to understand why a fraction of players pass, but most fail, in their pursuit of greatness.

On a plane to deliver a workshop on the process of player development in sunny Cairns at the pointy end of Australia, I started to read a book called The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle to stimulate my ideas for coaching.

Daniel Coyle is the bestselling author of The Talent Code, and in The Little Book of Talent he gives 52 tips for improving your skills.

I open the book and in the very first chapter title I see written what I’ve always thought but couldn’t explain to the young players I was coaching.


Tip 1 – Stare at who you want to become.


I’ve worked with countless top 100 players, travelled on the tour, and coached some amazingly talented juniors - and this tip hit home!

In 2010, whilst working with an incredible player ranked inside the top 30, I wondered how he’d come from a small tennis country with minimal resources, made the top of the game and stayed there for over 10 years.

Victor Hanescu showed me something that I hadn’t seen before in any of my athletes. One night while staying at my place in Melbourne prior to the Australian Open, I’d gone to bed in an adjacent bedroom at around 10pm.

For some reason - call it intuition, I woke at midnight to find Victor in the lounge room. He had his computer on, racket in hand and was watching players he admired whilst shadowing the shots he wanted to play.

My first thought was - Go to bed, we have practice in the morning!

My second thought - Wow that’s dedication. This guy is desperate to be the best.

Thinking about why my junior players, who had so much talent, weren’t cutting it at the pointy end of their journey, I now knew the reason. They weren’t desperate enough.

Human beings are creatures of habit and highly visual learners. We are copycats. I see this from my 2-year-old daughter as my behaviours become hers. Around her I need to watch what I say and do, because even if I tell her not to copy, she instinctively will. It’s human nature.

If you want to improve on the court, start by developing a routine off it. Watch the best in the business. Actually, don’t just watch. Immerse yourself in the computer screen or TV. As Coyle mentions in the book, “I’m not talking about passively watching. I’m talking about staring – the kind of raw, unblinking, intensely absorbed gazes you see in hungry cats or newborn babies.”

Watch the way the top players move, the way they hit, how they hit in different situations. Learn the look, the mannerisms, and the behaviours.

What you can see and understand, you can become. Pick your role model and begin the first step to greatness. 

By Marc Sophoulis

PS This clip about Kobe Bryant is exactly what I’m talking about.