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Steve Flink: Book by Robert Schewior Is for Serious Players

I have known the author of "Deconstructing Tennis: The 4-D System" for more than thirty years. Robert W. Schewior, PH.D, is an excellent student of the game, a first rate teaching professional, a deep and original thinker, and a man who has devoted his life to tennis. His students are well aware that Schewior asks as much of himself as he does of them. He is a perfectionist who happens to have a mind open to new ideas, a willingness to consider points of view that may contrast with his own, and a philosophy built on a strong foundation of knowledge gathered incessantly across the years.

Schewior's new book arrived in my home recently, and over the past week I devoured it. Let me be unequivocal about one fundamental point: this is not a book for the casual player who has little interest in self-reflection. It should not be read by anyone who is not very serious about becoming a better player and making considerable sacrifices to attain goals. It is not intended for complacent players expecting to improve simply by showing up. It will not appeal to people looking for easy solutions to complex problems. This book has been written by someone who insists that readers work hard to understand it, and take sufficient time to comprehend the content sweepingly.

The author is appealing to people who genuinely care about the sport and realize that the process of gaining ground can often be painstaking. Schewior's book is primarily about the mental game, but not entirely. It is an ambitious project because Schewior understands so much about the game's intricacies. Yet he has devised a system that can work for recreational players of all levels and even accomplished tournament participants. Club players would probably benefit the most from the Schewior's system, so how should it be defined?

Schewior provides the answer to that question lucidly in the book. He writes, "To 'deconstruct' means to get to what's essential. This book will share with you the essentials of exactly what the top pros do with their mental game that can be replicated by you. Any player, from a solid club-level player to a member of the professional tour, can improve by implementing the mental system explained in this book."

Having explained the framework for the book, he then clarifies the components in the 4-Dimensional System (4-D System) as 1) Observe What Happened; 2) Adjust-Plan; 3) Manage Tension [in other words, Calm Down]; and 4) Watch the Ball.

The author more than fleshes all of those areas out in a way that is clear to the reader. For example, he elaborates on "Observe What Happened" this way: "You must train yourself at the conclusion of each point to notice immediately what just happened. The length of the point (number of strokes) and the pattern of play which led to the point-ending shot must be observed and filed for reference. Top players update this information after every point.... you begin to 'build an inventory' of your opponent's favorite shots... each point gives you more and more information about your opponent's tendencies and abilities."

Shifting to "Adjust/Plan", Schewior writes, "You need to ask yourself if you played solid percentage tennis (or not!). A simple plan which has you choosing both a target and a level of risk (racket speed) is then made for the next point. At this moment, a short 'check in' with the score may have you changing the appropriate level of risk for the upcoming point. At extremes in the score, 40-0 or 0-40 for example, the plan may deviate from percentage tennis to a higher-risk alternative."

Addressing "Calm Down", Schewior says, "There are two components. The calming should happen on both the physical level—you will execute your shots better if your body is relaxed—and on the emotional level—you will make better decisions if you are not playing from a place of frustration, anger, stress or fear."

Finally, concerning "Watch the Ball", Schewior writes, "Once you have gone through the first three steps, it is crucial to remind yourself to see the ball into the strings. This is the key to delivering the ball to its intended target. The best laid plans will come to naught if you do not implement the ability to watch the ball once the point begins."

Schewior thus establishes the premise for his book in the very beginning, and then amplifies on his basic definitions to allow the reader a more in depth understanding of a particular philosophy to which he subscribes wholeheartedly. He proceeds to write a chapter on why tennis should be deconstructed, follows with an entire chapter on the 4-D system in much greater detail, and then Chapter 3 is all about "Observe What Happened." The next five chapters are "Formulate a Game Plan", "Calm Down", "Watch the Ball", "Point Importance", and "How to Begin a Match". From there, the last four chapters encompass "Framing Your Expectations", "An Alternative Description of the 4-D system", "Momentum and the 4-D System", and "Summing It Up."

All of the material is well organized, thoughtfully addressed and cogent. In his chapter on formulating a game plan, he writes, "Playing a match is like going to war—the key difference is that victory is symbolic and doesn't result in anyone dying (thank goodness!). There are several components of a well-designed game plan." Later, Schewior points to "three simple rules" in shaping effective game plans: "Rule #1:Barely Winning is Often Good Enough to Win. Rule #2: Never Change a Winning Game and Rule #3: Use a Winning Play Until an Opponent Adopts a Successful Counter-Measure."

When he discusses "Calm Down—in detail", Schewior writes, "It is necessary to calm down physically between points in order to maintain your ability to execute your shots. Hitting your targets is easier when you are relaxed... Better emotional control will enhance your ability to remain within the 4-D System. I am a big believer in 'slow and steady wins the race'. In order to achieve this you must remain focused and calm. Controlling your breath is an effective way to maintain both physical and emotional control."

Schewior writes about the importance of "the game within the set." He asserts, "If the game score is in your favor, it is an important skill to know how to ratchet up your attack by a small but still meaningful amount. Most big leads which you will garner are the result of your opponent making too many unforced errors. Ultimately, most good players refuse to lose by making errors, so at some point you can expect them to go into 'solid' mode. The tennis expression for this is to Refuse to Lose."

The book proceeds clearly and logically. In his chapter on 'Watch the Ball", Schewior writes powerfully, "For many players, the time at contact is all too rushed, much like the childhood game of 'hot potato.' In practice, players should deliberately exaggerate the amount of time which they spend visually at contact. This exaggeration of 'patience within the shot' will help a player to know what it is to look the ball into the strings."

Later in his segment on "Point Importance", Schewior makes a compelling statistical case for a player thoroughly understanding the relative value of each point. We have all heard tennis gurus like Pancho Segura harp on the need for a competitor to have a full awareness of the important points and to play to the score, to know the critical points from the less consequential ones. Schewior writes crisply, "In tennis, in a 50/50 match, the winner of the first point has a 65.6% chance of winning the game. The probability of winning the game increases to 81% once the score is 30-0, and 94% if the score should go to 40-0! Getting the lead within a game also means that point importance has dropped. This is an alternative way of demonstrating how a player can use the score as a way to build confidence."

As Schewior comes down the stretch of his manuscript and moves on to his alternative description of the 4-D system, he explains how players can fall into traps without following strict guidelines. As he puts it, "You may become so focused on your feelings and watching the ball that you are unable to make the appropriate tactical adjustments. By learning to immediately redirect your attention at the conclusion of a point to 'see' what happened, you will immediately bypass the possibility of getting caught up in negative emotions. This process is very similar to that of cognitive psychologists who teach their patients to substitute 'correct' thoughts in place of 'wrong' thoughts that occasionally pop into their heads. The 4-D System helps enormously because it gets you immediately out of your own head and into the world around you."

The concluding chapter provides an opportunity for Schewior to neatly wrap up his thoughts on all of the elements surrounding his 4-D System, and he does so skillfully, writing, "In the end, the 4-D System offers you the following: Approach your tennis game with discipline and you will begin to play with more intelligence, more freedom, more trust, and more courage... it doesn't get much better than that!"

This is an important piece of work, a book that has much to offer players, and an opportunity for readers to reevaluate themselves and their entire approach to what they want to achieve on the court. But I urge everyone to understand that this is not a book to be examined superficially or briskly. It is far too serious for that. It is a book that makes you think, and your journey through the pages will require time for reflection. Frankly, it is not an easy book to digest because it is an intellectual exercise. To get the benefit of Schewior's wisdom, read it once, absorb what you can, read it again, and see where that leads you. If you are a player deeply devoted to the game and yearning to get better, "Deconstructing Tennis: The 4-D System" is a book you just might want to keep in close proximity at all times.

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