Players who are serious about improving their tennis game spend time practicing and honing their physical skills.  They run the miles, lift the weights and spend hundreds of hours improving their serves, returns and backhands.  Unfortunately, many players don’t put the same amount of thought, preparation and practice into their mental game.

Developing the mental aspect takes the same amount of discipline and commitment as the physical one.  Mental and emotional toughness doesn’t come naturally to most people and just like any other skill it can be learned.  Establishing an effective mental game takes practice – lots and lots of practice.

The skill of mental and emotional control is vital to enjoying and winning the game.  A player can lose because of mental and emotional lapses during the time between the points, despite their physical training.  That roughly 30 seconds has caused all professional and amateur players to lose points, sets, matches and tournaments.

Female-Playing-TennisMental control leads to emotional control because, for most people, thoughts affect feelings and feelings affect behaviors.  For example – in between points a player starts thinking, “I can’t believe that last shot.  I should’ve had it.  I’m awful.  I should quit tennis.  I’ll never be any good.”  It takes 5 seconds to think this, imagine the emotional upheaval a player can cause themselves in 30 seconds.

These thoughts lead to feelings of despair, hopelessness, helplessness, frustration and others, all of which are detrimental to staying calm and in control.  The player then steps up to the line, serves, double faults and the cycle starts all over again in the next 30 seconds.

Calming rituals are crucial to stopping this destructive pattern.  One of the hallmarks of elite players is their emotional control on the court.  They’ve established habits between points that are as important to their game as a killer serve.  These are routines they’ve honed through thousands of hours of trial, error and practice.

Players who’re trying to establish calming routines of their own, often get bogged down in the “what to do” rather than the “how to do it”.  They’re looking for the perfect method.  But, there’s no magic ritual, they’re hundreds of things a player can do between points to stay calm and focused.  A calming ritual is personal and it can take awhile to find an effective one.

The “how” is the most important component in establishing a ritual, because that’s where the actual work is.  The difficult part is replacing the old destructive habit with the new productive ritual.  Most people underestimate how powerful a habit can be.  They’re started without conscious thought and reinforced over years.  Therefore, a habit won’t be replaced in months.

Yet athletes, who’re results oriented, get discouraged when it doesn’t happen right away.  They set goals that are too big or complex and their timeline for success is unrealistic.  They’re unable to meet their goals because they try to do too much, too fast.  The “how” of mental and emotional control is to start small, have patience and expect uneven success.

Calming is the goal and simplicity is the way to achieve it, the ritual shouldn’t be complicated.  Start with 1 – 3 behaviors that fit your personality and experiment with them, singularly and in combinations.  Practice them in small measured increments.  For example, you might set the training goal to practice the ritual between 10 points, become proficient, and then set it for 20 points, and so on.

Initially, when you meet the goal evaluate the effectiveness of the ritual and adjust it as needed – until its rote and you’re doing it between points for entire tournaments.  In theory it’s simple, but in real life it is extremely hard to follow through.  But, champions are the ones who do it in spite of it being difficult.

Because they know success breeds success when you set and meet small goals, which are built on small goals already mastered.  They accept the challenge, establish their ritual and improve their game.  But, more importantly, they discover that the fun and their love of tennis comes back when they’re able to play calmly.

Contributed by Nicole Abbott – writer, educator and psycho-therapist

About The Author

Ron has started several businesses around technology and communications. He founded the WorldWide Tennis Association to use his technical skills to improve tennis players ability globally to compete, get ranking and have fun without unnecessary barriers.