How to Build Your Tennis Mental Skill
There is a saying that tennis is played in the head and professional players can’t but agree with it. Venus Williams, an outstanding American player, once said, that tennis is 50% a mental game and 50% is about efficient technique and physical training. Definitely, confident strokes and physical skills are essential, but without a mental strength, a player will not be able to win a challenging match and can even lose to lesser players.
Tennis psychology is especially important for junior players, as they have less experience at a younger age, that’s why they are too focused on winning and tend to take the defeats close to heart. Kids begin to struggle mentally, when they start missing and losing shots. However, the good news is that, the mentally tough tennis player is rarely born, these skills and competencies are practiced over years from match to match.
Luckily, it’s possible to train not only physical, but also mental skills. Let’s figure out what mental strength is.
Practice under pressure
Serena Williams, one the best tennis players in history, still uses this exercise to stay mentally strong in a real match. During the training, she complicates the conditions, pretending, for example, that she is down 15 to 40 in a game, or hits the second serve and can’t afford to make a double fault.
Practicing in ‘real-world’ conditions is a great mental method and you can create difficulties for yourself, just use your fantasy. Feeling a little pressure during practice will help to calm nerves on a match day.
“This kind of exercise is implemented during summer training at Cyprus Tennis Camp, in order to help junior players prepare better for challenging years ahead.” — Milenko Strika founder of CyprusTennisCamp.com
Visualization is another mental training technique, that can help the player to gain confidence and belief in himself. All you need is to use your imagination and visualize yourself playing a perfect match or winning the game. Do this exercise just before going to bed and first thing in the morning to strengthen self-confidence. Novak Djokovic, a top player from Serbia, pays special attention to this training and assures, that programming himself for success on court since childhood, helped him in tough matches in adult career. Never stop believing in yourself and visualize a good outcome of the match, follow Roger Federer’s words “At first you vision it, then you do it”. Sounds easy, right?
A pre-match routine can help you to focus the mind and reduce anxiety at the start of a match. Everyone, who is fond of tennis, noticed that some players, for example, Rafael Nadal, have their own routine before the match. Form your habits, which can help you to concentrate on the game: for example listen to the music, that calm your nerves or, on the contrary, energizes; wrap the racket with a grip by yourself, pack your bag with all necessary things and plan meals before the game.
A “between ball” routine is another helpful advice to maintain focus, sense of calm, and reset between points. Try to relax your mind during these short periods in a game and changeovers, so you can focus at peak levels on the next point.
Don’t be critical to yourself if you missed a shot or did an unforced error, forget about the mistake, otherwise you’ll bring negative thoughts into the next point. Focus on just on the current point, not the previous one, and play it as if it’s the first point in the game. Don’t over analyze things during the match, it can reduce concentration. You can discuss the mistakes and decide what needs to be improved with a coach after a match.
Speaking about mental strength, it’s important to understand that this aspect of the game is mostly in your own hands. Never stop developing yourself, as no one else can get inside your head and fix mental things. It would be useful for you to collect all valuable information from the best books about mental toughness on the market, for example you can read “The Inner Game of Tennis”; explore websites and articles, dedicated to tennis, and do your own research by studying many matches on TV or YouTube channels. It’s also important to have your favorite players on the tour and monitor how they behave and struggle in challenging situations.
Definitely, when it comes to junior players, coaches should understand, that juniors focus on winning too much and for some of them only a win means that they play well; If they lose, self-confidence goes away, while negative thoughts, lack of belief, high nervousness come to mind and can unbalance players for a long time. In order to avoid this, coaches should make the player concentrate on his personal long term development, but not the number of wins. Sometimes the defeat can teach you more than a victory!
Motivation for tennis players can be easily found and lost, a strong mindset that’s what really matters. With the help of these exercises and tips you will convert your mind into a weapon and will be able to win technically stronger players. Just keep working hard and never stop believing in yourself!
Milenko Strika — Founder