We have all watched in amazement as the Bryan brothers -- who just won their sixth title at the Miami Open to give them a whopping 118 titles overall, 16 of which are majors (can you say 1’st round Hall of Fame pick!) -- have gone on to make tennis history. Sure, Bob and Mike are enormously skilled players with a long history (like, since birth:) together, but there have been some decisions/life choices they have made off the court that have helped them achieve their unparalleled success on the court. Today we’ll hone in on a few of those decisions/life choices and see how they can translate into making you a better doubles player!
Bob and Mike were brought up valuing respect: respect for others, respect for the game of tennis and respect for themselves. This is evident if you consider they are two of the most liked players amongst their peers on the ATP tour. Combine that with all the community-based things they do off the court, like their Bryan Bros. Foundation that supports kids in need in California (and throughout the world), and you can see why they get so much respect. It’s because they give so much respect. When you watch them play together, the on-court respect they have for each other is palpable. There are never any eye rolls or empty looks off into space after the other brother makes an error. Instead, you’ll see nothing but positive reinforcement and respect. We’ve all seen nightmare scenarios play out on the doubles court due to lack of respect. I once played in a mixed doubles event and the guy on the other side of the net must have decided that winning was far more important than having fun, because in no time at all he was running directly in front of his partner to hit a balls that were clearly hers. Needless to say, they lost. And I’m pretty sure she didn’t invite him to play in any more mixed events! Respect can also be conveyed in your timeliness. If you consistently show up to work late, you are showing your boss and your company a lack of respect. Well, the same holds true for tennis. If your partner and your opponents are waiting 10-15 minutes every time you’re supposed to have a match, you’re saying to them you don’t respect them or their time. This surely will not pay dividends on and off the court!
We all know that good communication is the foundation to any good relationship, whether it with your spouse, child, friend or doubles partner. While being twins offers an almost ESP-like form of communication between the two, Bob and Mike don’t hesitate to pick up the phone when they are away from each other in different parts of the country. Sometimes it’s for nothing at all, just a brief check in, but it keeps them connected and feeling confident. On the court, they have the seeming ability to know what the other will do in advance. Their communication lines are basically hardwired from so much time spent together. This isn’t to say that we should all start stalking our doubles partners on a Sunday night to discuss trivial randomness in an attempt to help our doubles games! Instead, we can work on just being there for each other, whether it for a friend or doubles partner. On the court, good communication will put you and your partner in the right place every time!
- Being Present
Ah, the spirit of The Inner Game of Tennis strikes again! If you haven’t read that old classic, give it a try, it’s about being present! Being present is all about quieting the mind. This is more valuable than ever in today’s over-stimulated world. When Mike Bryan was going through a divorce in 2017 it was a tough period for him emotionally. What he didn’t realize at the time was that those negative emotions from off the court were carrying over onto the tennis court when the Bryans were competing. Suddenly he became unreliable in clutch situations, and a temper began to flare when things weren’t clicking. That all changed once he realized what was going on. Taking time to be present, through meditation or other methods can vastly improve your emotional and physical state. If you arrive to your tennis match with a laundry list of to-do’s cycling through your head and your brain is processing a million things other than the tennis in front of you, your A-Game will likely be left in the trunk of your car. One easy tip to keep you present on court is to concentrate on your breathing. Bringing your focus back to breathing in between points will help your heart rate moderate, and will allow your body to perform at its best.
- Knowing Your Limitations
We all try to set certain limitations for ourselves. Some of these are for health reasons, others are socially driven, etc. It’s a way of keeping ourselves in check and living a balanced and healthy life. In 1998, after a stellar collegiate tennis career at Stamford University, the Bryan brothers entered the pro tour with tons of confidence about their future playing both singles and doubles at the highest level. However, a couple of years into their professional careers both Bob and Mike came to the realization that they would likely never make it to the top of the singles field. Both had losing records in singles and neither had won a title. They decided that perhaps if they focused exclusively on doubles they could do something special in the tennis world. Nineteen years later their decision based upon their limitations has obviously proven to be very successful! Having an awareness of our limitations is as essential in everyday life as it is in tennis. As it is often unpleasant to be around someone who doesn’t know their limitations when it comes to going out on the town, the same can be said when on the tennis court. I recently played a doubles match where my partner was either oblivious to his limitations or stubbornly ignored them. Point after point he would go for shots that would be difficult for Roger Federer to execute! 99% of those points ended on his error. Not only did the match go easily to our opponents, I also had a less than enjoyable time playing with my partner. I felt like if he was going to continually go for risky shots and lose, I might as well try to end the point while I could get a racquet on the ball. That didn’t prove beneficial for either of us.
Respect, good communication, being present, and knowing your limitations. If you are mindful and practice improving these aspects of your character, it is sure to help you both on and off the court!