Habits for Tennis Success: Pressure Test

May 11, 2017 03:31 PM

By Dr. Larry Lauer

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 eighth habit is that they practice like it is a match and integrate the mental training they are doing into matches.

Habit 8: Pressure test mental skills by practicing routines in training with pressure

The goal is to challenge the player’s mental and physical skills with demands similar to those experienced in competition. For example, pushing the player to the point of fatigue and then having him play a tiebreak with a reward on the line is a great way to practice under pressure. This gives the player the best simulation of actual match play. Many top players play practice matches most days of a training week and will also play points prior to tournaments on-site.

Pressure testing allows players to practice mental skills and routines and to become comfortable managing pressure. This enhances the transfer of mental training to matches, which in turn increases focus, confidence, motivation and resilience during matches. Most importantly, this increases “match toughness” or what I would call emotional toughness, the ability to respond in a positive and productive way to adverse and intense emotional experiences.

Think of it similar to lifting weights. Stress is increased until the muscle is broken down. Then recovery occurs, allowing growth in the muscle. It is the same with mental and emotional stress; place the player under stress to develop resilience and emotional toughness.

Testing mental skills under pressure should be the last progression prior to going to competition. Players should also be prepared for these “pressure tests” via the development of their mental skills, creating routines and practicing them in lower-stress environments. At that point, let the player know there will be pressure in some way and hold him/her accountable for using the established routines.

Pressure can be applied in many ways: through targets, creating fatigue mentally and physically, game situations and so forth. Be creative when applying pressure, while being mindful of what is too much and will create a bad outcome.

Coach Action

Creatively use pressure in practice and require the player to use the routine that involves his/her base mental skills. Work with a mental coach to set up on-court exercises that will test the player’s mental skills routines.