The field of tennis psychology is not just common advice and tactical or mental tips. It is based on general and sports psychology and then applied to tennis specifically.
There are many common elements in the psychology of tennis which can be found in other sports too. An athlete that wants to perform at his peak needs to learn:
1. How to refocus
Many players start the match with good concentration but they drop their level of concentration because of disturbing outside events, pressure situations, emotional reactions to various events and so on. A player needs to learn how to quickly and effectively refocus to be able to play his best tennis.
2. How to control his arousal – to manage his intensity and body energy
A player’s arousal can be too high or too low and in both cases he is not able to play his best tennis. Arousal affects his body and mind abilities – a player may have too much muscle tension and his decisions are usually not tactically intelligent.
Learning to find the »ideal state« is the key in controlling one’s arousal and one of the most important aspects of tennis psychology.
3. What elements of the tennis game can a player control
A player may get upset (and it happens often) about an event that he cannot control or even influence. For example – the noise of the planes flying over the court, windy conditions, court conditions, his opponent’s luck and so on.
By being focused on these events he wastes his energy which could be used on elements that he can control – his attitude and effort, how he intends to play, …
4. How to control his thinking
Negative thinking affects players much more than they are aware of. It affects body abilities in two ways – being aware of them (feeling tension) and being unaware (the pendulum experiment); moreover it evokes negative feelings – emotions that cloud the player’s judgment and affect his body abilities – again.
By being more and more aware of what he is thinking a player can then change his thoughts to a more positive and solution based thinking. The awareness of our thoughts is quite a challenge in the psychological approach to tennis.
5. How to use imagery
Imagery or visualization is extremely useful in almost all aspects of the tennis game. A player can improve technique, strategy, physical abilities and his mental preparation of certain events. Another use of imagery is when a player misses a shot and then quickly sees in his mind how he hit the ball correctly.
Using imagery is an incredibly efficient technique, not only in the psychology of tennis but in everyday life too.
6. How to build confidence
Confidence is one of those elements where tennis psychology can help really quickly and with very simple tools. A player who is not confident will hesitate in his decisions, will be afraid to take risks and his shots will usually miss by just a little. Doubt can be seen in reality as small misses that happen regularly.
When a player builds his confidence he is able to play at his best and doesn’t lose his hope when a big challenge appears.
7. How to find and get rid of limiting beliefs
Limiting beliefs are one of the most limiting and troublesome aspects of human’s psyche. They are mostly deep in the subconsciousness and are sometimes hard to find. A limiting belief for example is when a player believes that he is not good in tie-breaks and he will then self-sabotage himself in those crucial moments to prove himself right.
Having no limiting beliefs means that the player is in total acceptance of everything that happens. Outside events are just events with no meaning. The player accepts them and deals with them.
8. How to empty the mind – Inner Game principles to enter the zone
There are three main principles of the Inner Game – quieting the mind, non-judgment and trusting the body. The player must first learn to apply them in training. And when he experiences these effects in training he knows what to look for in the match. He then plays the inner game – how to perform at his peak.
These are the fundamentals of tennis psychology and by understanding these principles and applying them daily a player develops mental toughness. He knows how to apply the tools and as a very positive side effect gains a lot of self confidence.
He now knows that he has ways of dealing with his own mind and that most of his competitors do not. He is aware that he has the edge in the most stressful situations in the match and that gives him inner strength and belief that he can persevere through tough matches.