“Getting your head in the game”
HOW MUCH OF TENNIS IS MENTAL?
Although tennis is first and foremost about hitting serves and forehands and backhands, people often wonder what portion of tennis is mental.
‘Tennis requires a huge degree of mental strength,’ says sports psychologist Professor Andy Lane of the London-based Centre for Health & Human Performance. ‘Winning and losing is very often done by the finest of margins and a player’s mindset can often be the deciding factor.’
Although the mental side of the game is important, players have to be competent in four different areas: physical, tactical, technical as well as psychological, according to performance consultant Roberto Forzoni.
‘I strongly believe that, in any sport, the better your psychology, the more you are going to enjoy that sport, and the more you are going to achieve in that sport,’ said Forzoni, a former national performance psychology manager of the British Lawn Tennis Association who worked with former world No 1 Andy Murray.
How can you improve your mental toughness in tennis
Losing from a winning position is never fun. Which begs the question: what is going on when a player “chokes”?
Players who choke are likely to be struggling with ‘a lack of ability to stay focused on what’s important,’ says Forzoni, a former football player, coach and manager who has also worked with numerous professional football clubs.
For example, a player who takes the first set easily may already be thinking about winning the match instead of staying in the present. Or a player can be so disappointed about hitting a bad shot, or losing a game or a set, that he or she loses focus and can’t stop thinking about past mistakes.
‘We call it “living in the past or the future” and the secret is to try and get back to the present all the time,’ adds Forzoni. ‘The quicker you can do that, the better. When a player chokes, they generally take their eye off what’s happening in that particular moment.’
So instead of dwelling on previous poor shots or missed opportunities- and instead of worrying about what might happen in the future if you lose the next point - the key is to focus on “the now”. Feel the court beneath you, the racquet in your hand, maybe the sunshine in your face - and the shot you are making for the ball that is in play, in this moment. Learning to focus on the here and now - not allowing the mind to be distracted by what might happen, or what has happened - but instead learning to focus on what is happening now.
Performing at your best involves a combination of applying good technique to your shots, well reasoned preparation and tactics to your game plan - and a positive and disciplined mental approach throughout your match. Remember, even the best players in the world don’t win all the time, they lose as well! But success comes from recovering quickly from disappointment.
The likes of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal take some time to reflect on and learn from their losses - and then completely shrug them off. They then set about focusing on planning and preparing how to move forward and be better for their next match.
For more tips on building inner resilience, check out our page - Mental Toughness
See what you think of this video, with tips on motivating yourself, both for tennis and life ….