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Commentary: Q&A with the Ultimate Achiever

This week, I had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Allen Fox, who I consider an ultimate achiever.

Fox is a three-time All-American scholar-athlete with a BA in physics, Ph. D. in psychology and was a professional tennis player, who was ranked in the U.S. Top 10 for five years. He was a 3-time Davis Cup member, spent 17 years as the men's tennis coach at Pepperdine University, an author, lecturer, business person and was included in segments on the Tennis Channel. He also spent time as the editor for TENNIS Magazine. Fox just came out with his new book, "TENNIS: Winning the Mental Match."

Q: What does the game of tennis mean to you at this point in your life, and how has it changed over the years?

A: The game, at the top levels, has become one more of aggression than previously. The players hit harder and are able to put balls away with groundstrokes rather than only at the net.

I spend my time consulting with players of all levels on the mental game and writing books and articles.

Q: What prompted the writing of this book?

A: I wrote my latest book, "Tennis: Winning the Mental Match", because of the insights I've gained in my last 10 years of consulting with players. The same issues kept recurring with players of all levels and I saw patterns. My perspective as to what's happening in competition has grown. I couldn't have written this book even 5 years ago.

Q: Out of the three books you've written, which one did you work the hardest on?

A: I worked hardest on this book because the issues are more complex and original. There are many books on the mental game, but none like this one. I conceptualize the issues more broadly and at a deeper level than other sports psychologists and than I did previously.

Q: You've had quite the career in tennis, covering many avenues of what it has to offer, can you mention a few words of what you considered the best and toughest of each?

A: Working to reach my potential as a player was the most fun and exciting aspect of my involvement in the game. I loved learning the game, improving, and competing. I was very analytic and ultimately managed to solve most of the problems of strokes, strategies and the mental game. I did this by first understanding, at the most basic level I could, what was happening on court. I tried to break down the issues into their simplest components and use this information to come up with the best solutions to the on-court problems.

As only a medium athlete, I was surprised at how high a level this approach allowed me to reach as a player.

Coaching was more difficult, because I could not control the process as well as I could as a player. I was also surprised to learn how little my knowledge of technique and strategy influenced my success as a coach. Far more important was my ability to deal with my players' emotional and motivational issues.

Writing about the strokes, strategies and mental issues was even more difficult for me because I am not a naturally good writer and must rewrite every piece I produce multiple times. It's necessary because writing is so different from speaking at which I am quite good. In writing the organization of thoughts must be more linear and organized because it takes the reader more time to assimilate information than it does the listener. In speaking I can back and fill with thoughts and concepts.

My most difficult and stressful tennis endeavor was teaching my kids tennis and coaching them in tournaments. I wouldn't want to do that again.

Q: Did you set out to have a career in tennis, or did it just evolve?

A: It just evolved. My plan was to teach at a university, do research and play tournaments on the side.

Q: It takes years to acquire the skills to play top quality tennis, how about the ideals you point out in your book?

A: The ideas in my book can be put to use immediately, although it will take time, years maybe, to fully integrate them and get full benefit.

Q: Anything you feel you left out that you'd now like to now have in it?

A: This book contains 90 percent of everything I know on the mental game. It will be my last book on the topic, although I still have a number of articles in me.

Q: Any changes you'd make in today's game?

A: I'd advise players to practice playing net more and look to finish more points (when they get their opponents off balance) at the net instead of letting them escape with a high, deep ball.

Q: What are your future goals or things you'd like to achieve?

A: I have no substantial goals left in tennis that are dramatically different from what I have been doing. I do have another book I ought to write on psychology itself. The field has floated a great many crackpot ideas that have received widespread acceptance that are not only unproven, but destructive. The "self-esteem" theories, educational ideas, child-rearing practices, etc. being among them.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional who has 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at choward4541@q.com or 928-642-6775.

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