During a tennis match you spend 80% of your time doing things that are NOT playing points!
Activities like: waiting to serve or receive, time between points and change of ends. At these times, your thoughts and emotions about the game can help OR hurt your performance. Most professional tennis players spend their practice time on those things that only take up 20% of the match—hitting balls and playing points. They may overlook mental skills training.
Champions know that these psychological aspects of the game greatly influence the results. They “train” their thoughts and emotions to help them compete better.
- Your mental abilities will improve and toughen with practice, just like you get stronger with physical training.
- Practiced mental skills become your weapons—they can be relied upon to be effective and help you play your best tennis in times of great pressure, such as on break points down or match points.
- Train YOUR greatest asset, your Mind Power, and reap the rewards.
The tennis court is a place full of challenges and problems that include:
- Bad line calls
- Environmental distractions (like wind)
- Your opponent
- Being injured
- Distractions in the crowd
Players who are mentally tough and have Mind Power consistently keep fighting under pressure. Mind power allows a player to rise above these difficulties. It lets her stay cool and focused on court and to show competitive spirit, confidence and resilience (an ability to bounce back quickly when things go against her). This ability steers her towards more victories, and gives her grace in defeat.
DO YOU “CRACK” UNDER PRESSURE?
Players often complain that they play great in practice, but they cannot reproduce this superb play in matches. They may show mental and emotional “cracks” when they play in match conditions:
- TANKING: Players “tank” as a way of psychologically withdrawing to reduce stress and anxiety. These players stop putting in maximal effort, “give in” or find reasons for not trying, such as injuries, equipment problems (the balls, courts) or environmental factors (umpires, heat). Players who “tank” don’t give 100% effort AND do not accept responsibility for the outcome. They also risk a penalty for unprofessional conduct.
- ANGRY OUTBURSTS: When things don’t go her way, a player may react with anger. Some players say anger helps them get “fired up” in the match. Anger can be directed inwards (telling yourself you are dumb or useless) or outwards (to your coach, fans, umpires). Anger is negative energy and often results in a loss of emotional balance AND the match.
- CHOKING: When you almost have the match is when fear can strike. Choking is playing poorly due to fear. It is more likely to happen if you lack confidence or self-esteem, have an overly involved support team and if you worry about choking.
If you experience any of these responses, you will benefit from learning mental toughness skills.
TOUGHEN UP! FIGHT!
The sign of a player with Mind Power is that she shows mental toughness in her matches, no matter what the scoreboard says. She accepts responsibility for her actions on court. She does not retreat, make excuses, have a temper tantrum or complain. She fights.
FIGHTING: This player accepts and loves the battle and will fight with 100% effort until the last ball. Win or lose, this player thrives on pressure and learns from every match.
THE CHALLENGE RESPONSE
You know how it feels when you are playing great. The ball is huge, you hit the lines with precision, your feet fly over the court, you anticipate where the ball will land; you feel energized, calm and confident. This is the Challenge Response, or the “Ideal Performance State” (IPS). This state is a complex set of biochemical changes in your body. Research confirms that it exists for every athlete in every sport. It is a combination of:
- Physical relaxation
- Mental alertness
- Emotional calmness
- Low anxiety
- High energy
Many players experience this state during their careers; however it takes a Champion to consistently be able to activate it when under stress or pressure. (Read more about the IPS in the Physically Speaking topic, In the Zone.)
THINK, FEEL AND ACT TOUGH
Players who have developed effective Mind Power use skills which enable them to trigger positive, helpful emotions and elicit the IPS in match conditions. They can:
- Change from a negative to positive emotional state
- Manage mistakes and failures
- Cope with crisis and difficulties
- Act “as if” they are calm and confident
Take the Toughness Challenge. These tips will help YOU tap into your Mind Power and reach your potential:
- AWARENESS: To acknowledge your weaknesses is the first step to overcome them.
- HONESTY: The truth can be hurtful sometimes so we may hide it with tactics like denial, excuses, distractions and repression. Until we face the problem with truthfulness, we cannot get tougher.
- LOOK AND ACT TOUGH: Show on the outside the way you want to feel on the inside. When you act “as if”, your biochemistry responds “as if”. You feel challenged and you will soon feel tough “for real”.
- CHANGE YOUR THINKING: The way you think affects how you feel and how you respond to situations. Reframe your thinking from negative to more positive patterns. Use positive energy thoughts to drive your success: “Yes!” “Come on!” “I love the battle!”
- TAKE RESPONSIBILITY: You are in control of, and can train, the skills you need to set free your Mind Power.
- PLAY IN THE PRESENT: Focus on this point, this game. This helps you let go of the outcome (the score) and to focus on the process of playing each point.
- DECREASE THE PRESSURE: Learn and apply skills to help you stay calm—slow breaths, use rituals between points, practice relaxation strategies on- and off-court.
- ENHANCE PHYSICAL HEALTH: Proper rest, recovery, training, nutrition, hydration and attention to any injuries are vital for you to be mentally tough.
- PRACTICE AND PREPARE: Your patterns of match behavior are set in practice sessions. Give 100% effort to your physical and mental skills in every practice. This helps them to be automatic and reliable. This boosts your confidence in a match.
- VISUALIZE: Mentally rehearse your positive tough responses to difficult situations. (Read the topic, Visualize Victory)
- COMMIT TO THE FIGHT: To love the battle, you must commit to it. Put 100% effort into every contest.
ENHANCE YOUR MIND POWER by consulting with a qualified psychologist or counselor with expertise in sports. He or she can help you with your mental toughness training. Speak to a Primary Health Care Provider (PHCP) or the Director Athlete Assistance to learn more.
The information provided within this Physically Speaking topic is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, psychiatric, psychological, health care or health management advice. If you have any health or related questions or concerns, please consult your physician or other qualified health care professional.
Thanks to Dr. Jim Loehr, for use of information from his book, “The New Toughness Training for Sports.”