Mental skills available on the practice court
Tennis is an individual sport where all attention is totally focused on the player. There is nobody else to blame for easy mistakes so player has to possess high-level of mental skills to successfully compete on the tennis court. Preparation for the tournament starts weeks or months before and player has an opportunity to improve many skills needed to beat the next opponent. Knowing that mental skills are necessary in tennis, players should practice these skills with the same amount of time that they spend on forehand or backhand skills. In this article, we will focus on discovering and implementing mental skills into regular practice sessions.
Many different sports can be called „mental” because of the importance of these abilities. Looking at tennis, it is clearly visible that without decent mind’s preparation, it is much harder to achieve top results in competition. As we know, individual sport puts a lot of pressure on the player so he/she has to survive these uncomfortable conditions to finish the match as a winner. Additionally, knowing that real time of playing tennis is about 20-30 % and the rest of the time is filled with breaks, it should force us to start working on mental skills.
A lot of athletes believe that working on mind’s abilities is unnecessary for healthy and successful players at the young age. They perceive that player goes to the psychologist only if he/she has significant problems „inside the head”. Nowadays, this false perception is starting to fade away but there are still plenty of unconscious athletes that have to be directed on the proper way with coach’s help. Every player has to work on mental skills because it is part of tennis development. Without good endurance, decent serve’s technique or broad knowledge of tactical opportunities, player diminishes his/her chances for winning because opponent will quickly use these weaknesses to capitulate so we can’t forget about mental side to work on. It is crucial to understand that we need mental skills not only during tournaments but even more importantly on the practice court. Spending more and more time on implementing mental abilities into sessions before the tournament will make our chances bigger to use these skills effectively during the competition.
There are many situations while practicing that can be used to improve mental skills without creating any specific drills to achieve these goals. Awareness and willingness to work are 2 necessary things to make development complete. Let’s see what we were overlooking till now:
Control your emotions
Controlling thoughts and emotions is not an easy job for every competitor; especially for young players who are maturing. First step to improve these skills is to understand how emotions influence our actions. Players have to be aware that negative thinking provides tension and random decisions while positive approach leads to being calm and confident. Knowing that thoughts can have an influence on our next shots, athletes have to practice these skills on a daily basis to prevent situations where emotions rule the world. In the history of tennis, we have experienced many matches on different levels where player A was winning but after one lost point, he/she couldn’t play anymore at the same desired level. This is a clear example of inability to deal with thoughts and emotions and it shows how mental this sport is. To avoid situations like that, players have to start improving emotional control during practices by saying positive words after mistakes or performing between the points’ rituals to feel positive and safe. Coach should always point out when players „lose their head” on the practice court and explain that we are not here to improve only forehand but to make a difference in all tennis-specific areas of performance.
Fight like a lion
Fighting spirit is the skill that many coaches look for in possibly future stars. Young players expect quick results so only some of them are willing to give their best effort if the award is not visible at the first glance. Looking at Rafa Nadal, it is clear that fighting for every ball can take you to the top level and help you beat many players with similar skills to yours. Too often players don’t understand that running after every ball makes our chances bigger to hit the ball over the net and it gives your opponent another chance to miss. This greater pressure can result in beating opponents not because we have better technical or tactical skills but it happens because we are giving our heart. During the practice, players have plenty of opportunities to learn how to fight like a lion. Honestly, only balls that are hit into the net are not possible to get by the player; every out ball should be chased and responded to develop not only lion’s fighting-spirit but also to work on speed and endurance. If you are not able to push your body to run after all balls, do you think you will be able to fight while trailing 1:5 in the final set?
Players around the world mistakenly believe that time on the tennis court has to be used only to improve technical and tactical skills. Unfortunately, they don’t see some simple opportunities to get the most of every situation and become much better player by using more effective approach. Everyone knows that mental skills are of utmost importance in tennis but not too many are willing to work consistently on these areas. Without spending decent amount of time on developing solid mental skills, it is impossible to improve faster and achieve top level of performance. Quality will always be more effective than quantity so implement all tennis areas (technical, tactical, physical and mental) into your practices to fulfill your potential. Next time you are on the court, control your emotions and fight like it is your last match in life. You will quickly discover the difference between the regular „YOU” and the professional „YOU”.
About the Author
Marcin Bieniek is a tennis coach from Poland and a former professional player (Polish National Juniors Team). He is a certificated tennis coach by the Polish Tennis Coaching Association and the Professional Tennis Registry. Marcin has worked with many of the top 20 Polish Juniors and the top 150 players in the world.