Habits for Tennis Success: Develop the Mental Skills Foundation

February 13, 2017 01:11 PM

By Dr. Larry Lauer, special to USTA.com

The best tennis players separate themselves from the rest not solely because of talent, but because they have excellent habits that lead to their success. It seems that world-class tennis players have a number of habits that they do in their own individual ways, but that are similar to the 10 Habits for Tennis Success.

The fifth habit is to develop foundational mental skills.

Habit 5: Develop the foundational mental skills of process goal-setting, relaxation (deep breathing), visualization, and positive and productive self-talk.

It can be very hard to tell what professionals are doing mentally and emotionally to create an optimal mindset, but if you look closer (especially between points) and listen to them in post-match interviews, you can see that they are using mental skills. For example, Novak Djokovic clearly practices deep breathing, and it often becomes more pronounced as he is in the pressure moments.

Not just for the pros

As you do in grooving your strokes, with mental skills, you want to develop a base or a foundation for how you compete. Your base mental skills and routines allow you to compete optimally. The purpose of these skills is to create greater consistency so you are fully ready to play the next point with focus, in the moment, with a plan that you believe in and are determined to execute.

What are the base mental skills and attributes?

  • Confidence
  • Stress
  • Anxiety and energy management
  • Relaxation
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Self-talk
  • Visualization/imagery
  • Goal setting
  • Motivation
  • Resilience
  • Emotional control

Which mental skills should players develop as a part of the foundation?

In general, the goal should be to develop as many tools in the toolbox as possible. That way you can handle a variety of situations in multiple ways. Furthermore, you are developing mastery over the different areas of mental performance, which helps to create an excellent competitor. From there, mental training should be customized to the individual needs of the player.

To be more specific about the mental skills foundation, players should develop mental skills of breathing, positive and productive self-talk, visualization/imagery and goal-setting, and be able to adapt them to the multitude of demands they will face in their journey. These mental skills are then integrated into practice and matches via routines and creating stress in practice.

This development comes from the daily practice of these mental skills, creating a resilient, confident mindset. Players will limit their development without mastering mental skills!

In training, we must simulate the mental process that occurs in matches.

Players must compose and relax themselves so they can think clearly about the next point, game and set with belief, positive energy, focus and readiness. Therefore, players should be learning to set process goals (vision of their game), using relaxation, visualization, and and positive and productive self-talk.

Relaxation is the main form I teach because we all have to do it. Visualization is important so players can see their game under pressure. And positive and productive self-talk is important to managing the mindset, creating belief, staying determined and focusing on the next point’s strategy.