Lately, I’ve been following a series of interviews featuring well-known tennis coaches. One recurring question is: What are the key skills possessed by top tennis players? Coaches frequently highlight a crucial skill: mentality, the ability to navigate emotions. I agree with this viewpoint, yet I wish to expand this skill into a broader trait known as adaptability.

Lastly, I’ve been reflecting about the adaptation skills Finnish players are developing while playing under nearly perfect court conditions. After observing the Senior and Mixed National Tournament in Jyväskylä, which was held outdoors, I believe it’s the perfect time to share this blog post. This post delves into the impressive adaptability displayed by both humans and exceptional players. We’ll also contemplate whether the Finnish padel environment might unintentionally hinder the development of adaptability skills.

Homo Sapiens: Masters of Adaptation

As we embark on the captivating journey of evolution, a deeper understanding unfolds about our species. Why do we behave the way we do, our physical forms, our social interactions, and more become clearer. One of the most intriguing aspects is our extraordinary capacity for adaptation. Throughout history, we’ve faced diverse challenges like wars, scarcity, epidemics, heartbreak, and harsh weather. Our ability to adapt has endowed us with remarkable resilience.

However, in recent decades, we’ve constructed environments that are safe, comfortable, and predictable. These secure settings inadvertently hinder our inherent ability to continuously adapt. Think about the routines of daily life: waking up at the same time, having the same breakfast, and dwelling in a consistently warm home. We drive to work in our cars, arrive at the office, take the elevator, and sit in comfortable seat, enjoying predictable meals at the same time every day. This pattern persists throughout the day, minimizing surprises.

While it’s natural to seek stability and avoid randomness and unpredictability, it’s crucial to remember that our growth as human beings historically arises from the drive to explore, navigate uncertainty, and adapt to a range of contexts. We don’t need to return to times of constant threat; we live in the best era. However, it’s worth considering whether excessive comfort and predictability are making us mentally and physically weaker.

Finnish Predictable and Optimal Conditions

So, what relevance does this hold for padel? Ultimately, a game of padel thrives on unpredictability. Even when you know your partner, your opponents, the location, and the type of ball you’ll play with, the outcome remains uncertain. Padel inherently thrives on unpredictability.

However, it’s possible that the environments we’re creating in Finland tend to diminish some of the positive aspects of uncertainty. In the city where I reside, regardless of the club I play on, the expected conditions remain largely consistent. Mondo carpet courts, consistent LED lighting, clean glass walls, courts with big doors and space enough to allow external game and familiar fellow players characterize most matches. Moreover, the inclination towards indoor play, due to challenging weather, heightens predictability and creates more stable conditions compared to the inherent unpredictability of outdoor conditions. Some players even avoid outdoor play during summer due to the perceived difficulty.

While playing in perfect conditions is undeniably enjoyable and comes with numerous benefits (Finnish C-category players play outside the court better than A-category players in Spain) I’m uncertain whether it’s the best scenario for fostering resilience and an adaptable mindset. So, when we compare these conditions to those I’m accustomed to as a Spaniard, we find two vastly different contexts, particularly in terms of court conditions. If you haven’t played in Spain, the environment often involves switching between indoor and outdoor play, encountering different courts, and using varying ball types. Court conditions might include sand, slippery glass, and a range of carpet textures. Additionally, the abundance of players in Spain means you’re likely to face different opponents frequently, contributing to the continuous development of adaptation skills. Even more challenging conditions are present in Argentina.

Though it’s not a direct comparison, as the contexts of Spain or Argentina differ significantly from Finland due to the weather, as a passionate padel coach, I find myself pondering how I can help Finns develop adaptation skills by creating less optimal conditions. I observed the National Senior and Mixed Championship last weekend. While it’s understandable that Finnish players might find outdoor play challenging due to their limited exposure, I’ve come to believe that the perfect conditions found indoors might, at times, be counterproductive. Despite the sunny weather and temperatures around 22 degrees Celsius with minimal wind—a nearly ideal outdoor playing environment—I heard numerous complaints both on and off the court about wind, sun, brightness, and more. Even though 80% of players were wearing caps and sunglasses, they still struggled with elements like the sun when missing a shot.

Enhancing Adaptation Skills for Coaches and Players

It’s crucial to acknowledge our desire for certainty and comfort. However, as I mentioned earlier, this inclination can weaken our ability to thrive amidst change. Since we can´t change the conditions of the weather in Finland and we must play indoor during most of the year, what other steps can you take to embrace uncertainty and adaptability as a player?

  • Diverse Playing Locations: Firstly, aim to play in different venues whenever possible. If that’s not feasible, try varying the courts within the same club. This adjustment will introduce changes, such as different lighting angles and court layouts.
  • Embrace Variety in Partners: Secondly, consider playing with different partners. I’m always amazed by how some players tend to stick closely to their regular padel group. They prefer the familiar comfort of playing with their close friends. While this camaraderie is valuable, there are notable advantages to partnering with a range of individuals.
  • Stepping Beyond Comfort Zones: Thirdly, playing alongside more skilled individuals will push you out of your comfort zone. It’s equally valuable to engage with players who might be perceived as less skilled. I find it intriguing how selective players can be when choosing rivals or training partners. They may express dissatisfaction with certain players’ pace or skills, yet these players might surprise them in competitions.
  • Exploring Both Sides of the Court: Fourthly, make an effort to play on both sides of the court. How is it that someone with less than 1 year of experience already labels themselves as an A or B player?
  • Embracing Ball Diversity: Fifthly, vary the type of balls you use. Different brands offer distinct characteristics, and the more attuned you are, the more pronounced these differences will feel.
  • Embracing the Finnish Summer: For Finnish players, take advantage of the summer season, even if outdoor play is less comfortable. Embrace the opportunity to develop your game by playing outside whenever possible.

There are countless ways to step out of your comfort zone. What about coaches? What can they do to enhance players’ adaptation skills? Coaches should consider the level of unpredictability and uncertainty they introduce in a session. Regardless of skill level, players benefit from facing certain levels of uncertainty. This mindset shift is essential and contributes to a culture of adaptation.

  • Modifying Rules: Coaches can manipulate the task by altering rules. For example, you might require players to serve with their second service or restrict certain moves like smashing or approaching the net. Modifying conditions helps players think differently and adapt to varying situations.
  • Environment: Experimenting with court size, racket choices, and ball types can significantly impact players’ ability to adapt. While varying courts might not always be feasible, altering court conditions, even slightly, can make a difference. You can make the court bigger or smaller for some of the player, you can come up one day with very shitty balls and the next day with new balls, or even in the same training you can mix them.

In Conclusion:

As we look to those who excel in various fields, one common theme emerges: their willingness to confront challenges and adapt. While you may not aspire to reach the top of the ranking in padel, the path to improvement involves embracing change and uncertainty. This journey might not be effortless, but the rewards are significant.