Published: 18/05/2010 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Outlook
Emerging tennis star Tanaporn Thongsing shines at Thai tournament
Congratulations to Tanaporn Thongsing on winning the women's title of the Thailand Tennis Championship 2010 recently held at Siam Bayshore Resort and Spa, Pattaya. One of the people behind her success - apart from her own determination, her parents and her coach - was her psychology coach, Dr Surachart Nunbhakdi.
Tanaporn Thongsing (2nd right) celebrates winning the 2010 women’s title of the Thailand Tennis Championship with her psychology coach, Dr Surachart Nunbhakdi (left), Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi and Krissada Sukosol Clapp.
Fifteen-year-old Tanaporn has been playing tennis since she was small, but started to get serious at the age of about 9. After having listened to one of Dr Surachart's lectures, Tanaporn's parents came to see him, saying how she had been improving to a point, then for some reason she had reached a plateau, and often got frustrated and irritated when she couldn't play well.
Upon talking to Tanaporn herself, her parents as well as her coach to assess their attitude and willingness to change, he agreed to take her under his wing.
"Competitive tennis is 95 percent a mental game rather than just a sport," explained Dr Surachart, a dentist by profession, but a competitive tennis player in his spare time. "However, this aspect is never picked up by coaches in Thailand, not even with the national teams. Thai athletes have so much potential, but they always seem to burn out before they get to the top. Psychological coaching can help them achieve their potential."
Dr Surachart came to this conclusion through his own experience. Having done both coaching others and played tournaments himself, he realised he was suffering so much during competition. Competing at international level in the senior league - he once reached 105 in the world rankings - he got so depressed before a tournament.
"I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep," he remarked. "So I began to read up on the subject. I joined a training programme run by the International Tennis Federation, and found that it was quite a normal phenomenon, but no one ever talked about it. The higher you climb, the more you suffer from nerves, fear, anxiety, depression."
He began to give lectures on the subject, and although a lot of people listened, only Tanaporn's parents came back to him for advice. Since Tanaporn was still very young at the time - only 12 years old - Dr Surachart had to coach her mother who, in turn, taught her how to adjust her attitude and build up her spirit. The aim, said Dr Surachart, is not to compete for the prize, but to compete for the thrill and enjoyment of the battle. This way, winning is not the "be all and end all" of a match.
Tanaporn had to be trained on how to walk, how to breathe, how to control her feelings. Hecklers were even used to throw her off-balance, so she could learn to control her emotions and practice concentration. The letters "A", "B" and "C" were written on her racquet to remind her during every break to be Alert, Breathe and Concentrate.
Her coach had to cooperate by not pushing her to the limit. And even her parents were given guidelines on how to be behave during and after a tournament. They were not to overreact if she won the match, they weren't even supposed to clap or shower her with praise or celebrate.
"Our aim is not getting the trophy," insisted Dr Surachart, "but enjoying the competition for what it is. It's just another match."
Tough, but that's the way it is. And it seems to be working, as Tanaporn managed to beat a lot of other players much older and more experienced than her. And now she has left school to turn pro, this is going to make all the difference.
"Physically, Tanaporn is tall and strong. She hits the balls hard, but now she has to learn the why's and wherefore's of each shot as tools to vanquish her rival," noted Dr Surachart.
Not only is he coaching her in her mental capacity, he is also helping adjust her racquet to customise it for tournament, something that has so far been ignored in Thailand.
"I weigh the racket, measure the balancing point, calculate the swing weight, and add a lead balance to enhance the impact."
"Tanaporn is definitely going to be a new phenomenon in Thai sporting history," he noted as Tanaporn embarked on her new career with a match in India.