The Mental Game

All sports have 4 main areas – technical, tactical, physical and mental.Tennis is no exception and the mental part of tennis is usually the deciding factor that tips the scales in the match.

Why is the mental part of tennis so challenging? How come we see so many intelligent, successful adult people cursing and throwing racquets on the tennis courts?

And even if they control themselves we can easily spot that they are emotionally upset. There are three main reasons for that:

1. Playing time and dead time
Tennis is a combination of playing time and “dead” time. The playing time is very demanding on the player’s mental abilities since the ball travels fast and the player needs to decide quickly for his next action. A player has to make around 1000 decisions in a typical match. Before the player has enough experience and these decisions become automatic, he makes many mistakes.

The other part of the tennis mental game is when a player is not hitting the ball and this time can be 60-90% of the whole time the player is on court. In this “dead” time a player can start thinking negatively or about things that distract him. This causes him to become too emotional and / or lose concentration which of course negatively affects his game. This is the crucial time for good mental tennis advice that can help the player get back on track.

2. Little changes – big mistakes
Very small differences on the racquet face can produce big differences on the other side of the court. For example – if you change the racquet face for only 1 degree, you change the landing spot of the ball for 40 cm. Combine this with a moving little ball, trying to hit it on the move while swinging your racquet and it becomes obvious that it’s a small miracle that we are actually able to play this game. No mental tennis advice can help you in this situation except to really focus on seeing the ball well.

3. Inner and outer events and critical situations
There are all sorts of events – inner and outer ones – that disturb the player’s concentration, his arousal (emotional state) and his effort. Outer events can be: the wind, sun, noise, opponent’s perceived cheating, umpire’s mistakes (bad line calls) and others. Inner disturbing events can be thinking about negative consequences of losing the match, thinking about other areas of life – like relationship or work. There are also tennis situations that the player perceives as stressful and also situations that seem “easy”. If for example the player wins the first set, he may relax too much and immediately allow a determined opponent to get ahead.

All these troublesome events and demands put a lot of pressure on the mental tennis part of the player’s game. Knowing the basic terms and ways of tennis psychology is a great foundation. A player is then able to use the tools of sports psychology which help him to stay focused, to control his arousal and help him in other ways to find his ideal mental state. But the most important thing is that the player has lots of experience with mentally tough tennis matches that slowly but surely improve his mental toughnesss. He also learns – either from experience or from other sources – the most important mental tennis tips and advice that keep him in the winning mindset.

Unless the player realizes the importance of the mental part of tennis, he may be caught in a never-ending loop of losing matches in critical situations or reacting too negatively to certain events that happen in the match. Mental preparation starts already on the practice court with various drills that improve the player’s mental game. Then the player needs to know and apply simple but very effective ways of sports psychology that enable him to get in the best mental state just before the match.

The player then needs to apply these tools during the match and also know many mental tennis tips and information to be able to stay positive, giving his best and have a realistic approach to winning. Match analysis is the part where the player sees what worked well and what were his mistakes. He learns from them and is motivated to improve his technical, tactical, physical and mental tennis game.