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How To Make The Best Of Your Talent

How To Make The Best Of Your Talent

Hi, I’m a junior player who’s just started playing tournaments this year.

All my coaches as well as kids and my parents say I’m fantastic and could be top 5 in the nation if I could play that way in matches.

I used to play top kids in practice and beat them badly. But recently in a low level tournament, I lost to a kid who was EXTREMELY BAD:) he lost to alot of other kids who aren’t very good and I lost to him 6-4 6-3.

It seems as thought I am the weakest and dumbest tennis player ever mentally and during matches; I’ve never come back and won from a set down. For me, it’s either win in straight sets or lose in straight sets.

My question is do you have any tips for me with my kind of tennis mental problem? Is there any way that I can overcome this mental weakness and be positive and relaxed during matches?

Cause I feel like I’m letting my coaches, parents, and myself down when I play like that.

What you describe is one of many obstacles talented players face. Roger Federer faced the same problem when he was younger. (You might want to read his biography – The Roger Federer Story: Quest for Perfection)

Here’s what happens: you know you’re a VERY good player. You know it, your coaches tell you, your friends tell you and you can compare your tennis to the game of the rest.

You see you are better and so your EXPECTATIONS are very HIGH.

So when things don’t go according to your expectations – meaning that you don’t play fantastic tennis, maybe just an average game – then you become very disappointed.

The reality is different than the story in your mind – of good you are.

The solution?

1. Know that even though you are good, you are NOT PERFECT. Your ability to play best tennis is NOT constant. Your body and mind don’t perform at 100% every time you play tennis.

And in tennis even if you are better than someone, the real difference is just a few %. If you lose those percent on a “bad day”, you WON’T be able to play that fantastic tennis you are used to.

2. Respect the game of tennis. You haven’t analyzed tennis much yet. You are still young.

Once you start thinking about the complex movements that need to take place and all the calculations that take place in your mind before hitting the ball, you’ll see it’s almost unbelievable that we play the game.

Not to mention the infinite number of tactical possibilities that you can play and yet you still choose with very high probability the right ones.

If you understand all that, you should be HUMBLED and GRATEFUL that you can play such a complex game that well.

And sometimes, this game is even TOO DIFFICULT for you to play without problems.

In other words, your ego needs to subside a little bit. Yes, you are good, but NOT that good to master the game of tennis anytime and any place and against anyone.

The reason why the best players in the world are the best is because they fight on bad days and try and make the best of them despite being unable to play their best tennis.

They still make it to the quarter-finals or semi-finals (In most cases but not always. Remember Federer losing to Canas twice last year and once to Volandri?) and get valuable points that at the end of the year give them the edge against the rest.

3. You say: “Cause I feel like I’m letting my coaches, parents, and myself down when I play like that.”

Here’s a very important thing you NEED to do. Let your coaches and parents read my answer to you and ask them what they REALLY expect from you.

If they expect WINNING, then ask them if that is really within your control.

Can you win if you want to? Can you always play your best tennis?

Maybe they haven’t thought about it and they put unrealistic expectations and pressure on you.

Or maybe you just mis-interpret their support for you.

What EVERYONE should ask you to do and expect from you is to give your best in the current situation. If it’s a bad day, so be it. Now try and make the best of it. If you have to lose, OK, then lose like a fighter.

Give your opponent the toughest resistance you can before they can shake your hand. Even if you lose, your opponents will respect you for the fight you put into the match.

And if they don’t, then don’t take their opinion seriously. They need to grow up and mature.

In summary:

When things don’t go your way and you see that you play “just average” tennis today, ACCEPT that. The game of tennis and life is more challenging than you would like. 😉

It is that tough. Win when you don’t play your best – see it as a challenge – and then you’ll really feel confident.

Play average tennis and grind it out. Win with your fitness if you have to. Win with your mind if you have to. Win with your footwork if you have to. Win with smarter tactics if you have to.

If your strokes are not at your best, find another way. There are many. 😉

And if you eventually lose, you’ll know you gave your best. That’s the game of tennis. It’s not only about winning, it’s also about knowing how to lose as a champion, learn from the experience and respect all other good players of the game.

Related posts:

How You Can Always Finish The Practice In A Positive Way
Useful Resources For Tennis Parents
Dealing With Parent Pressure
4 Ways To Ease The Stress Of Competition For Tennis Juniors
How Should a Very Talented Tennis Junior Play The Game?

Essential Tennis Instruction – FREE Video Lessons on How to Improve Your Serve

This entry was posted on Sunday, February 10th, 2008 at 4:39 am and is filed under Mental Tennis. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “How To Make The Best Of Your Talent”
Jim Says:
February 10th, 2008 at 8:30 am
I also find that when I lose matches I try to come back, but my mind just keeps saying, it’s all over. Your gonna lose.

I keep trying to stay positive but during tournaments I keep losing to people who stink. It’s squandering my talent and making me sad on and off the court. Any suggestions?

[Reply]

Tomaz Says:
February 10th, 2008 at 8:32 am
Yes, it’s a WAR in your mind. It’s a war between the negative voice and the positive one.

You have two approaches:

1. Fight the negative voice. It’s a tough battle and it never ends. Sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t.

2. Ignore it. 😉

How can you ignore it?

Let me give you an example: let’s say you ask your friend to do something for you. (Wait for you in front of the school after the class or something like that.)

So your friend is there 10 times but then suddenly one day he is not there.

Do you TRUST him the next day to be there?

Probably not. You can have 10 positive experiences and only ONE negative to lose trust. So even if he says he will be there, you WON’T believe that statement.

Do the same with your negative voice!

Can you find an example when your negative voice was WRONG? That it was telling you that you will lose and you still won?

DON’T trust it anymore. It can be wrong. You NEVER know.

Your voice claims that it knows the future. (and that it’s not worth putting the effort) But hey, you can prove it wrong.

Now…

Is it worth it for you to put all the effort JUST IN CASE your negative voice is wrong?

The choice is yours.

Another view is this: Let’s say your voice is right and you will lose. How do you want to lose?

Think about it.

Best, Tomaz

P.S. You mention squandering your talent. You WILL squander your talent a few times in your life. You are still learning and you will never be perfect. But that’s not called squandering your talent. It’s called life.

[Reply]

jack Says:
August 19th, 2008 at 4:16 pm
thankyou ,
i have the same problem with getting up-tight and hearing the ‘voice’ , telling me to give up .
i have a tennis match tommorow , i will try these techniques . i have great beilive in them , my coach tries to teach me to do it . i try my hardest to use it and when i have managed to do it , its pulled of .

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How Expectations Affect Your Determination To Win

How Expectations Affect Your Determination To Win

Hi, over the last few years I have been improving my game both physically and mentally, but recently its been downhill.

I used to get on the court and mentally fight out regardless of the outcome.

Now I seem to give up after the first hurdle and get niggling injuries here and there which prevent be from giving it my all physically on a tennis court.

I can’t seem to find an explanation for this mental lapse.

When I’m ahead in the game early on, I have this belief that my opponent will turn it around.

Before I never used to look back and approach games with confidence that I am the better player.

One reason could be expectations.

Before you saw yourself as not so good player and you had nothing to lose so you just played.

Now you might think that you are a much better player and that you always have to prove that and cannot afford to lose to lower ranked (or not so good looking – stroke wise) players.

These expectations make you tense, you play lower than you are able to and then you can predict the outcome; you not playing so well and your opponent playing well.

Not fighting means, that you see no reason to exert yourself if there is no way you can win this.

And you also sense the future outcome which will be disappointing again.

These future images in your mind already sap the energy out of you.

Solution?

Accepting that:

you are not perfect
that you cannot play your best tennis every day
that if other players are good that doesn’t mean that you are bad!
that this is the nature of sport – top players losing to some lower ranked players (Federer – Volandri?, Federer – Canas?, Mauresmo – Vakulenko? )
Once you accept reality and that it doesn’t mean that you are somehow less worthy, you can play with high determination and motivation.

What these losses give you is feedback.

They show you where you need to improve and what are your weaknesses. But that doesn’t have to hurt.

I have an experience of losing a match to a player and not liking him because of that.

That lasted for a few months. But I realized in that match that my backhand slice was not really good.

So I practiced slice a lot.

Because of my better slice, I won many matches later and learned how to defend well and play drop shots.

I then realized that I am grateful to that player for showing me what I need to work on.

He just played a match exploiting my weaknesses.

It’s not personal. He would play like that against anyone.

More on expectations and being confident…

Related posts:

2 Ways To Deal With Match Pressure
2 Lessons You Can Learn From The Montreal Masters ATP
How You Can Always Finish The Practice In A Positive Way
Can You Guarantee A Win?
How To Master The Approach Shot

Essential Tennis Instruction – FREE Video Lessons on How to Improve Your Serve

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 18th, 2007 at 10:48 pm and is filed under Mental Tennis. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “How Expectations Affect Your Determination To Win”
Mental Differences Between Hewitt And Gaudio | How To Play Better Tennis – Tips From A Professional Tennis Coach Says:
July 14th, 2011 at 3:01 am
[…] shows how unrealistic his expectations are and how he blames himself for losing the […]

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How To Mentally Approach Playing A Weaker Opponent

How To Mentally Approach Playing A Weaker Opponent

Hi Tomaz,

I got the manual about a month ago, and it is absolutely fantastic. I have a question for you.

Mentally, at stages it’s normal to have negative thoughts towards playing somebody who is way way way weaker than you.

I know I would beat the person most easily, but do have some negative thoughts about the match going all wrong if I had to play him, that I would get nervous/lose/be mentally broken, …

I would like some advice.

Playing a much weaker opponent has its traps and may not be as easy at it seems.

1. You can underestimate him too much which means that your judgment of his tennis skills is wrong.

This happens when your ego blinds you. 😉

It also happens when you just look at his strokes but you don’t actually know how he plays.

There are many great tennis PLAYERS who don’t HIT the ball that well. Remember Brad Gilbert and his Winning Ugly? 😉

What works best is that you actually lose a match because you underestimated your opponent and you learn from this experience.

2. You think about what would be the consequences of you losing to this player.

I see two approaches how to deal with this situation:

a) Become aware of your thoughts and change them.

Imagine playing great tennis, giving 100% even though your opponent will not automatically make you play 100%, hitting effective shots, not looking for shortcuts (hitting winners when it’s not the right time) and winning the match.

The key is your awareness.

If you realize what you are thinking, you can change it. Negative thinking makes you feel in doubt, indecisive and this affects your performance.

It can become self-fulfilling prophecy.

b) Accept losing a match to a weaker player as a realistic possibility.

The first thing that comes to my mind is Roger Federer losing to Guillermo Canas twice and once to Filipo Volandri this year.

They are not close to his level, but he is only a human with imperfect mind and body. We all are.

When you accept the possibility of losing and see it as a part of your tennis journey, then you won’t feel pressure.

You can only give your best and cannot control the outcome.

Even if you play a much weaker opponent you cannot guarantee with 100% certainty that you will win.

That’s sports and that’s why it’s so interesting for people to watch.

They actually like to see surprises. It’s what all the media reports if an upset happens.

So this is reality.

You feel pressure because you don’t want this to happen.

There are many unwanted things that happen in tennis and life and even though you don’t want them to happen, you can accept them.

Once you do, you won’t feel pressure and that allows you to play your best tennis and thus minimize the probability of those events actually happening.

Related posts:

How To Always Bring A Steady Game To My Matches?
How To Keep Focused On The Game? Just Do It!
Winning In Practice But Losing In Matches
Dealing With Bad Patches Of Play
How To Stop Losing Against The Same Opponent

Essential Tennis Instruction – FREE Video Lessons on How to Improve Your Serve

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 28th, 2007 at 12:35 am and is filed under Mental Tennis. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “How To Mentally Approach Playing A Weaker Opponent”
Alistair Says:
September 7th, 2007 at 11:17 am
How do u beat a hakker who is good at finishing short balls?

[Reply]

Tomaz Says:
September 13th, 2007 at 10:18 pm
Alistair, that’s a very general question and it’s tough to answer. Try to be more specific. But if someone is good at attacking, you need to attack them first and play the game that they don’t like.

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Winning In Practice But Losing In Matches

Winning In Practice But Losing In Matches

Hi, I am an excellent tennis player under 12.

When I have my training I always play excellent, but when I participate in tournaments I lose to players which I beat easily in the training.

This is a big problem, can you help me?

Hi,

I admire your courage to admit your weaknesses and look for solutions at this age and thank you for the trust.

Follow the link at the end to this blog where I discuss related mental challenges in another article.

I suggest that your parents read this too since sometimes I go into deeper psychology and they may need to explain some of the things to you.

My quick answer to you is: even if you are a good player, you will sometimes lose to not so good players because that’s what happens in sport.

I’m sure you remember Federer losing 3 times this year to Canas and Volandri and they are both far weaker players than him.

When you accept that sometimes you are going to lose and it’s not such a big deal, then you’ll play easier.

The other thing is that you keep thinking about losing the match.

STOP.

Stop those thoughts and imagine how well you play.

As soon as you catch yourself thinking about losing or playing badly, CHANGE the thinking to good play and winning.

Related posts:

How To Mentally Approach Playing A Weaker Opponent
How Expectations Affect Your Determination To Win
How To Make The Best Of Your Talent
Why Tennis Players Fail To Convert On Match Points
How To Beat Rafael Nadal On Clay

Essential Tennis Instruction – FREE Video Lessons on How to Improve Your Serve

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 30th, 2007 at 9:13 pm and is filed under Mental Tennis. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Winning In Practice But Losing In Matches”
Rafa Fan Says:
November 20th, 2007 at 6:11 am
Hello. I am 18 yrs old and i have a great problem! hehe. I always play the final of the championship in my country against the same player. The number 1 seed. He is 1 year young dan me. He is small than me, slower, and weaker. He bases his game on playing back 1000 balls every rally forcing me to go for too much and make the error. Kinda like Fed and Rafa situation. I find myself that I can serve 95% 1st serve in training, and den in the match I cannot hold serve once!!! And the whole tournament and the week before I cannot lose serve and hit 15 aces a match. I also find that in training I am able to relax and beat this guy, but in the match with the whole atmosphere that there is at his club where we play, and the stupid thoughts that come into my head telling me to play some things that I never train (mind you he plays exactly where I am not comfortable, slows down the game etc). I have lost to him 4 times in a row now in competition but I would really like to change this, so please someone help its all I think about!!!!!!

Regards

[Reply]

Tomaz Says:
November 21st, 2007 at 10:41 pm
Hi Rafa,

One of the mental traps you fall into is “How am I going to beat him?” After you play for a while it seems more and more obvious that this will be very hard and thus you get frustrated.

How about if you aks yourself a question:”How is HE going to beat me?” Just start with that and see what happens. Here are some more helpful articles about pushers:

http://www.tennisthoughts.com/2007/07/24/how-to-win-against-pushers/

http://www.tennismindgame.com/strategy-answers.html

[Reply]

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How To Avoid Playing Short Balls Under Pressure

How To Avoid Playing Short Balls Under Pressure

When I am under pressure I return the ball short as if somehow I was paralysed.

This is not the norm but occurs more frequently with my backhand.

How can I overcome it?

The most probable cause for freezing is again the lack of decision. Perhaps you are not clear on what to do under pressure.

I assume that under pressure you mean that you are in a defensive position – far behind the baseline or out of the court or on the run.

The general defensive strategy is to play the ball cross court and slow enough so that you can recover back to the middle of possible shots of your opponent.

Another common strategy is to play down the middle and take away good angles of attack from your opponent.

If you stick to these two strategies in 90% of the time when you are under pressure, you’ll do the best you can to neutralize your opponent’s attacking position.

Another reason why you may return too short is because you are afraid to miss. You need to realistically evaluate whether playing short balls and never missing is better than playing deep shots and occasionally missing.

If you play short (and never miss) your opponent can attack you again and there is a high chance that they will eventually win the point.

If you play deep (and miss occasionally too long), you’ll give your opponent some free points when you miss. But when your shot lands in you’ll neutralize your opponent and you’ll have better chances of winning the point.

Which one of these two strategies works better depends on you and your opponent’s skills.

Note that in high level tennis (ATP, WTA) the players almost always choose the latter strategy – play deep and occasionally miss.

When you mention missing mostly with your backhand, it means that you probably don’t trust your shot and just push the ball instead of swinging freely.

What you need to ask your self is whether this works. Is not trusting your shot working well for you? No? Well, then don’t do it. 😉

Stop not-trusting your shot and swing freely. You have nothing to lose since your previous approach of not trusting the shot does not work.

Try trusting it. You can say:”Ok, I am going to hit freely now as if my backhand is really good.”

See what happens and then you’ll be able to make a conscious choice how to approach shots on your backhand side.

Related posts:

Learning From French Open Finalists: Nadal, Soderling, Schiavone And Stosur
Mental And Tactical Differences Between Tennis Singles And Doubles
How To Win Against Pushers
How To Master The Approach Shot
How To Win Against Masters of Drop Shots

Essential Tennis Instruction – FREE Video Lessons on How to Improve Your Serve

This entry was posted on Friday, November 2nd, 2007 at 11:12 pm and is filed under Tennis Strategy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “How To Avoid Playing Short Balls Under Pressure”
Alfee Says:
May 13th, 2009 at 1:43 pm
Great suggestions. Yesterday I played and under pressure I hit cross court for several winners with both my forehand and backhand. Something I rarely did against this opponent and others. One of the thoughts I inculcated was, “Hey, he’s charging the net; he’s on the offensive and has the court advantage…” So, I just stayed low, didn’t focus on my opponent, but rather, kept looking at the ball. As soon as I did this, the pressure to hit under pressure subsided. Federer does this so well by not only keeping his head down, but actually looking behind him after he makes contact with the ball.

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How To Quiet Your Mind During Tennis Practice Or A Match

How To Quiet Your Mind During Tennis Practice Or A Match

There is a very simple technique that will help you quiet the mind during tennis.

It happens often that while we train we start thinking about other things we need to do – whether they are related to tennis or even something else.

We think about money, job, partners, kids, your to do list, the homework, the future – and those thoughts keep entering our mind and they keep distracting us.

We simply cannot focus 100% on tennis and on the current point or the ball exchange. We therefore play poorly and get even more distracted and less focused.

Here’s what to do to quiet your mind: every time you start thinking about something or worrying about something, simply ask yourself:

“Is there anything I can do right now about that – while I am on a tennis court until my lesson / match is over?”

You’ll realize that there is NOTHING you can do while you’re playing tennis to make a change or affect the issue your thinking about.

That way you’ll show your mind that it’s totally pointless to think about anything else on a tennis court besides tennis.

When you do that, your mind will accept this – and stop sending those thoughts.

You can even tell yourself (and your mind), that as soon as the lesson is over, you’ll again be able to worry again. But until the lesson is over, you are totally powerless to do anything about any issue off the court.

Ask yourself this simple question the next time you start thinking about something on court and let me know what happens!

Related posts:

Do Women Worry More Than Men About Future Tennis Matches?
How To Use Wind, Sun, and Heat To Your Advantage In A Tennis Match
Forgetting The Score And Thinking Too Much
Return Tennis Lesson on Squidoo
Hitting In Practice But Missing In A Tennis Match

Essential Tennis Instruction – FREE Video Lessons on How to Improve Your Serve

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 31st, 2010 at 1:45 pm and is filed under Mental Tennis. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “How To Quiet Your Mind During Tennis Practice Or A Match”
tennis partner Says:
November 1st, 2010 at 12:08 am
Great point about being distracted by outside issues such as work, kids, etc. I find that my mind wanders when the score is not close and then invariably, guess what? – it gets close again! Got to learn to stay focused!

[Reply]

Alex Says:
November 8th, 2010 at 4:00 pm
This sense of “accepting” is like a magic trick in tennis mental game. Once I was chocking to close the set, but I just said to myself “I am chocking, it is ok, just play” After 3 points I started to feel way less nervous!

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Do Women Worry More Than Men About Future Tennis Matches

Do Women Worry More Than Men About Future Tennis Matches?
This is related to the previous article about losing to players you have never played before. The main reason is that you may worry and not believe in yourself when you play an unknown opponent.

I came across an interesting article which may give you even more information about worrying and the difference between men and women.

Why Women Worry So Much explains that women are more likely than men to believe that past experiences accurately forecast the future.

The main reason why our mind wants to predict the future is survival. It has been hardwired for millions of years to learn from dangerous situations and adapt.

What you need to do as a tennis player is to IGNORE the predictions.

What also helps is to think about your prediction after your matches and see whether it was TRUE.

Once you realize that it’s not 100% true, you can stop trusting it.

How many times does someone need to lie to you before you lose trust?

I don’t know about you but I need that only once to happen.

After that I don’t believe much what that person has to say.

Once I saw that my mind predicted something which DIDN’T happen (and I relied on my prediction to play differently) I LOST ALL MY TRUST in the predictions of my mind.

Yes, my predictions which also include worrying.

This resulted in much less thinking, less worrying and better concentration of what is happening NOW.

And the consequence of all that was better play and higher probability of winning. It’s the worrying that increases the chances of the event you actually don’t want to happen.

Once you stop thinking / worrying about it, you increase the chances of a positive outcome.

Related posts:

How To Quiet Your Mind During Tennis Practice Or A Match
How To Avoid Playing Short Balls Under Pressure
Winning In Practice But Losing In Matches
How To Master The Approach Shot
Winning Is NOT Your Responsibility

Essential Tennis Instruction – FREE Video Lessons on How to Improve Your Serve

This entry was posted on Saturday, September 29th, 2007 at 2:26 am and is filed under Mental Tennis. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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How To Quiet Your Mind During Tennis Practice Or A Match

How To Quiet Your Mind During Tennis Practice Or A Match
There is a very simple technique that will help you quiet the mind during tennis.

It happens often that while we train we start thinking about other things we need to do – whether they are related to tennis or even something else.

We think about money, job, partners, kids, your to do list, the homework, the future – and those thoughts keep entering our mind and they keep distracting us.

We simply cannot focus 100% on tennis and on the current point or the ball exchange. We therefore play poorly and get even more distracted and less focused.

Here’s what to do to quiet your mind: every time you start thinking about something or worrying about something, simply ask yourself:

“Is there anything I can do right now about that – while I am on a tennis court until my lesson / match is over?”

You’ll realize that there is NOTHING you can do while you’re playing tennis to make a change or affect the issue your thinking about.

That way you’ll show your mind that it’s totally pointless to think about anything else on a tennis court besides tennis.

When you do that, your mind will accept this – and stop sending those thoughts.

You can even tell yourself (and your mind), that as soon as the lesson is over, you’ll again be able to worry again. But until the lesson is over, you are totally powerless to do anything about any issue off the court.

Ask yourself this simple question the next time you start thinking about something on court and let me know what happens!

Related posts:

Do Women Worry More Than Men About Future Tennis Matches?
How To Use Wind, Sun, and Heat To Your Advantage In A Tennis Match
Forgetting The Score And Thinking Too Much
Return Tennis Lesson on Squidoo
Hitting In Practice But Missing In A Tennis Match

Essential Tennis Instruction – FREE Video Lessons on How to Improve Your Serve

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 31st, 2010 at 1:45 pm and is filed under Mental Tennis. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “How To Quiet Your Mind During Tennis Practice Or A Match”
tennis partner Says:
November 1st, 2010 at 12:08 am
Great point about being distracted by outside issues such as work, kids, etc. I find that my mind wanders when the score is not close and then invariably, guess what? – it gets close again! Got to learn to stay focused!

[Reply]

Alex Says:
November 8th, 2010 at 4:00 pm
This sense of “accepting” is like a magic trick in tennis mental game. Once I was chocking to close the set, but I just said to myself “I am chocking, it is ok, just play” After 3 points I started to feel way less nervous!

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The Key To Playing Tennis In The Zone And Why It’s So Hard To Do That

The Key To Playing Tennis In The Zone And Why It’s So Hard To Do That
The following is an email exchange between Arturo and me discussing playing tennis in the zone…

——————————————————————

Arturo: I played a tournament right before Christmas. Both matches were interesting.

In the first, I could see the weaknesses and my opponent tried to put pressure on me but I had too many answers for his attacks. He started to play better in the second set and I could hear the doubts and fears creep in.

But I simply let them go and started to play well again. In the past, I might have fought these thoughts more.

But now I simply acknowledge them and then move on. I also try to really relax on the toughest points.

In the second match, I played an older experienced player. He was very good but he had played a long match before mine and it was at night. Both factors made his match play drop a bit.

I had the advantage of having played on the same courts at night last summer. I knew that it was hard to see and simply tried my best. And then it just happened… I got into the zone.

My opponent tried all sorts of tricks. He went to the restroom a couple of times. He told me I might win Wimbledon if I hit shots like the last one (a backhand that hit the net and fell over for a winner). I simply acknowledged everything he did and let it go.

I relaxed and simply tried to focus on every point and hit every ball. He also attacked me but I always had an answer.

In fact, on one shot I surprised myself. He came in on my forehand and I ran over and simply looped a passing shot short into the service box. It landed on the line. I was trying to pass him but it ended up being much better than I thought it would be. He tried it again and I put up a topspin lob.

My son was watching and I asked him what I looked like. He said I was in the zone.

I wasn’t celebrating or getting angry. I was showing no emotional response. I was simply focused on each ball and each point.

My opponent for the third match did not show up and I won the whole tournament (it was round robin).

I won a tournament in the main draw (not consolation). The first time since I started playing competitively three years ago.

Now I really understand what Nadal means when he says that he played his best tennis on the most important points.

I wish I could express what it feels like but it really requires practice. Knowing how to relax and how to let yourself play your best.

I simply let go.

My goal for 2011 in tennis. Learn to simply relax on the most important points. Whatever happens, happens…

P.S. Why are there so many internal battles going on in a player’s head? That is the question that I ask myself.

It seems to me that dealing with this would help players immensely. Thanks for getting me on the right road.

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Tomaz: Great to hear that you played in the zone. And yes, it happens when you let go of the outcome.

But this can happen when our ego doesn’t get involved – or when we don’t have any insecurities – which may not have to do with tennis actually.

If you don’t judge yourself negatively when you lose and you’re not dependent on other people’s opinion, then it doesn’t hurt when you lose. It’s no big deal.

And once you’re not afraid to lose, you can let go of the outcome.

See, for most people it’s exactly the other way around and they can NEVER get out of this loop.

They NEED the win to cover up their insecurities. They are afraid to lose because that MEANS something painful to them.

There’s a painful belief / story behind losing.

Therefore they force the play and cannot let go of the outcome – therefore they cannot play well and they LOSE – and it’s what they feared the most really happens.

It’s the self fulfilling prophecy and it’s painful to watch – especially with juniors. But also with all other players.

They look for their confirmation of how good they are in the win and because they are so dependent on this win they cannot let go of the outcome, they play tense and they lose.

It’s the spiral of doom – that’s how I call it.

The key is to believe in yourself BEFORE you have the proof – the wins. 😉

The key is to heal your insecurities internally by thinking things over and appreciating yourself for the good work you’ve done and for the fight you’ve just taken. Then you are ok with yourself.

The “I am not good enough” pain that keeps pulsating inside of each of us subsides and you feel “I am good enough.”

“I am a good tennis player and a loss doesn’t make me a bad player or even a not worthy person.”

“I am a good tennis player but today someone was even more skilled in this sport.”

“It’s just a test of skills and it has NOTHING to do with who I really am.”

“I am a worthy person and appreciated and respected among my peers regardless of my results in tennis.”

These kinds of thoughts and eventually beliefs WILL enable you to let go of the tennis matches as your source of covering up insecurities.

You will deal with your own insecurities outside of tennis and then a tennis match is nothing else than an event where two people test their skills.

It doesn’t mean anything painful to lose. Sure, you’d prefer to win but losing match feels more like a nuisances – like a red light stopping you in traffic for a minute. You don’t dwell on it and it doesn’t affect you in any painful way.

Once you have this mindset, you’re not afraid to lose and then you simply PLAY. You play to win and you take your chances and there’s no doubt or hesitation in your movement and shots.

There’s no tension – you see the situation, your subconscious analyzes it with lightning speed and the response comes instantly and you simpy follow the first and only idea that comes to your mind – whether that’s playing down the line, approaching the net, playing a drop shot or any other tactical decision.

You play in the zone which means you don’t interfere with your conscious mind with the decisions that arise from the subconscious. Your conscious mind’s task is only one – staying focused.

Now compare this explanation of how to play in the zone and how entangled the areas of tennis and life are and you’ll understand that for most people what I just described above is never attainable in their life.

Their conscious mind is too active as they have been in their “head” all their life.

They didn’t just “play” games as kids, they didn’t train any sport professionally where in time you develop a very strong sense of FEELING your body and accurate body awareness.

You stop thinking and start feeling.

That’s the pathway to the subconscious as the conscious mind (Self 1) is turned off and we just “listen” with all our SENSES what our body is telling us.

And if you’ve played any kind of sport professionally or semi professionally for 5 or more years, you must have experienced many loses. Eventually you realize that these are just loses in a game of sport and that they are NOT life threatening.

But you need to lose many times especially at a younger age when your ego is not that involved and you simply see it as a play. Of course, parents and coached are the key to giving the right perspective to the kid.

This perspective gets transferred then to your perception of tennis matches as an adult.

Through many matches played and by feeling and not thinking one is able to experience tennis in the zone and enjoy every moment of it.

The ultimate goal of mental preparation for tennis is NOT to know more techniques from sports psychology.

It’s to know nothing and simply be in the moment – turn off the mind and let the subconscious mind and the body play the game while your only task as Self 1 is to focus and allow the uninterrupted flow of information (feeling your body, feeling the racquet in the hand, feeling the contact of the shots, being aware of the position on court, being aware of the situation and your opponent and simply being alert) to enter the brain.

Then trust Self 2 and your body to do what’s necessary in each moment to achieve the task you’ve set up to do – win the point. Play the best shot in each situation that brings you one step closer to winning the point.

Because in the zone you’re not really aware of the ego goal of winning the match.

All you see is just this one shot you’re making and you’re barely aware of your intent to eventually win the point.

It is there somewhere in the background guiding you towards the final goal but it does not interfere with the total focus on each and every moment of the ball exchange.

Only when the match ends you feel like “coming back” to reality and your ego – Self 1 – wakes up because without it we wouldn’t even communicate with other people. 😉

It’s our personality and with it we function in society.

The key to tennis in the zone is to turn it off for the duration of the match and simply feel and be in the moment – experience every moment fully and observe the ball.

Let the rest happen and when you get the first idea in your head from the subconscious just follow it without hesitation or doubt.

The door to the zone opens and you finally play tennis the way it’s meant to be played…

Related posts:

How To Break Opponent’s Zone Play
Hitting In Practice But Missing In A Tennis Match
When Roger Federer Enters The Zone
Analyzing Your Effort In Tennis Matches
How To Stop Losing Against The Same Opponent

Essential Tennis Instruction – FREE Video Lessons on How to Improve Your Serve

This entry was posted on Saturday, January 8th, 2011 at 10:34 pm and is filed under Mental Tennis. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “The Key To Playing Tennis In The Zone And Why It’s So Hard To Do That”
Bob Leedom Says:
January 31st, 2011 at 10:19 pm
It’s been many years since I last read it, but this (very good advice) sure sounds like a summary of Timothy Gallwey’s “The Inner Game of Tennis”.

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Mental Tennis | How To Play Better Tennis – Tips From A Professional Tennis Coach

Trained Tennis Players And The Rest Of Us
Thursday, July 21st, 2011
I just played in the National Tournament (for club players) in the over 50s age group.

I had the bad luck of playing the #1 seed – who is actually one of the top 3 players in the world in this age group.

But I am a 3.5/4.0 player and my opponent beat me easily. She made few mistakes. My best serves were not good enough & there was no apparent way to get to the net. She won 0 & 0.

I am not sure what I learned from this experience. It felt humiliating? Embarrassing? Playing the top seed in front of a crowd of her friends and other players etc.

So tomorrow I have a consolation match against a mortal – someone I might normally be competitive with.

Any advice on recovering from the shell shock of playing the #1 seed and pulling together an aggressive game for tomorrow? I am trying to remember why I was excited to enter this tournament. (more…)

Posted in Mental Tennis | 5 Comments »

How To Break Opponent’s Zone Play
Thursday, June 30th, 2011
Sometimes your opponent will enter the zone and play their best tennis which will be at much higher level than they usually play on.

The recent win of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga over Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarter-finals was a great example of that.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeats Roger Federer in Wimbledon 2011 QF
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeats Roger Federer in Wimbledon 2011 QF (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Once Tsonga was 2 sets to love down, he felt he had nothing to lose. He started to go for shots and was not afraid to miss.

He simply entered the zone and Federer was unable to take him out of the zone.

Actually, in my opinion Federer never tried to break Tsonga’s zone and I am not sure he even knows that such an approach exists. (more…)

Posted in Mental Tennis | 4 Comments »

The Key To Playing Tennis In The Zone And Why It’s So Hard To Do That
Saturday, January 8th, 2011
The following is an email exchange between Arturo and me discussing playing tennis in the zone…

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Arturo: I played a tournament right before Christmas. Both matches were interesting.

In the first, I could see the weaknesses and my opponent tried to put pressure on me but I had too many answers for his attacks. He started to play better in the second set and I could hear the doubts and fears creep in.

But I simply let them go and started to play well again. In the past, I might have fought these thoughts more.

But now I simply acknowledge them and then move on. I also try to really relax on the toughest points. (more…)

Posted in Mental Tennis | 1 Comment »

How To Quiet Your Mind During Tennis Practice Or A Match
Sunday, October 31st, 2010
There is a very simple technique that will help you quiet the mind during tennis.

It happens often that while we train we start thinking about other things we need to do – whether they are related to tennis or even something else.

We think about money, job, partners, kids, your to do list, the homework, the future – and those thoughts keep entering our mind and they keep distracting us.

We simply cannot focus 100% on tennis and on the current point or the ball exchange. We therefore play poorly and get even more distracted and less focused. (more…)

Posted in Mental Tennis | 2 Comments »

Is Losing The Desire To Win Tennis Matches Bad?
Tuesday, August 31st, 2010
I have a (probably) mental tennis question to ask. I’m 45 years old now.

I played in two singles tournaments (NTRP 5.0 and above) in the past two months. The first time, I beat a title contender in semi and got cramped, so had to forfeit the finals.

The second time, I beat a top senior player in the first round 9-7, beat a 34 years old 5.5 player 8-4 in the second round.

In all these matches, I played above my “daily” level. I saw the ball clearer than usual, my legs moved almost by itself and my body moved through every stroke, and my volleys were all phenomenal (I played an extreme net rushing style : the way Stefan Edberg and Pat Rafter played).

The problem is – the next morning, in the semi of the second tournament, I played against the same guy I beat in the last semi. But this time, I lost 0-8!!

He didn’t play that better, but I experienced a strange feeling. First, I missed all the easy volleys (hit the frame, dumped it to the net, sent it wide, long, anything that lost the point). And I still felt so relaxed that I didn’t care to increase my focus.

I didn’t care to raise the consistency. I just felt so lazy to fix it. My opponent, however, was on fire as he really expected a revenge.

I didn’t plan to play loose. I went there intending to play as usual, but the eyes, hand, and body don’t seem to get along like the afternoon of the day before. And I didn’t do any thing to fix the problem. So the result was logical.

And I didn’t feel bad or upset being beat 8-0. I knew I could play much better but realized that – on that day I could lose to any 3.5 player.

This is my first lost in 5-6 matches after beating many reputed players. And I don’t understand why I didn’t try to fight (well, I have digged deeper and have come back to win matches before, but not this time).

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Posted in Mental Tennis | 3 Comments »

Example Of How Tough Tennis Can Be On The Mind
Tuesday, April 13th, 2010
Marin Cilic defeated Igor Andreev today in Monte Carlo but there was a game at 4:1 in the second set that can demonstrate what kind of situations happen in tennis and how mentally tough one has to be to overcome those.

Marin Cilic backhand
Marin Cilic backhand – Photo by MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images

It was 4:1 for Cilic and he was also serving.

Here are 3 critical situations where Marin Cilic had basically won the the point but immediately “lost it” because of some external factor which he couldn’t control: (more…)

Posted in Mental Tennis | 2 Comments »

Tennis Serve Toss Expectations And The Reality Of It
Sunday, March 14th, 2010
Dear Mr. Mencinger: Great blog and website. I need your help, please. I am an active club player. 31 yrs old playing my best overall game (good groundstrokes and volleys).

But for the last 2 years, my serve toss has been a struggle. I thought it was technique, but I have served well in the past. I tend to start serving well and then the moment I miss one toss, doubts kick in.

My tossing arm feels paralyzed and I forget what my toss motion (and overall serve motion) looked like. I start changing things out of nervousness. (more…)

Posted in Mental Tennis | 3 Comments »

I Don’t Like Competing In Tennis And Hurting Other People’s Feelings If I Win
Sunday, February 21st, 2010
I’ve been playing tennis for about two years. I’ve always liked it but I’ve never liked the competition aspect of it.

I just don’t understand the need for competition. All is see in it is to see who is the winner and who is the loser.

I find happiness in hitting the ball over the net not winning a match and then hurting the other person’s feelings because they lost. I love drills, practices, fake matches (when you don’t score) but I don’t like tournaments.

This past tournament I was favored to win. My first match was last night and I knew that I could beat the other girl 6,0-6,0. But I didn’t. Instead I got onto the tennis court and barely moved my feet farther than three steps. I hit balls I knew were far out.

I can hit well, I have good technique and am actually quite good but I don’t like the competition part. I try very hard in practices, lessons, and drills. Maybe i don’t like competitions because I already know I can beat the people so I find no use in proving it.

I really want to play more tennis but the only way I can is if i compete. But I hate competing and never want to. Is there something you recommend that I do?

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Posted in Mental Tennis | 5 Comments »

Analyzing Your Effort In Tennis Matches
Monday, January 4th, 2010
One of the main reasons why you lose games and eventually matches is because you don’t give 100% of effort all the time.

You may feel down, frustrated or disappointed (you’re in a low activation state) or you may feel angry, upset or nervous (you’re in a high activation state). In either case, you’re not giving 100% of effort at that moment.

You may also feel somewhat tired and your body’s natural response is to save energy. If you’re not mentally strong enough to overcome those impulses, you’re again not giving 100% of effort. (more…)

Posted in Mental Tennis, Tennis Coaching | 1 Comment »

How To Always Bring A Steady Game To My Matches?
Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009
I play tournaments every week but i can’t seem to bring my game together on match day.

At training i play great but in matches i only play a good point once every two games.

One day i beat the number 4 seed the next day i lose to a hacker. How can i always bring my steady and aggressive game to my matches?

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First, you can’t always bring your steady game. Top players don’t win all the time.

We are humans and not robots – we have good days and bad days.

The more you accept bad days as something normal, the sooner they will disappear and the less they will appear.

What you resist, persists.