Habits for Tennis Success: Training the Mindset and Skills in Practice

July 18, 2017 07:53 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 10th habit is that the best players engage in the mentality and the competitive behaviors they are planning to use in matches. The mental game plan that will be deployed should always be practiced, evaluated and refined in a training environment.

Habit 10: Training the Mindset and Skills in Practice

The mindset and behaviors or skills of a top player are not a “show” or “tricks.” The on-court mindset and presence of a player is an extension of who they are as a person. Therefore, in making any change to the mindset or skills in matches, a player must practice this in training multiple times over time. 

Furthermore, simulating and then using the mental skills to create the mindset a player wants is the best form of preparation for matches. It creates the best chance that the mental skills and the mindset will transfer from practice to the match.

A very important aspect of training the mindset and skills in practice is working on performance cues and routines. These are the “nuts and bolts” of a player’s mental game. Thus, top players are encouraging themselves during training with many of the same performance cues they will use in matches. 

Successful players understand the performance cues that unlock their best performance. Cues like “in control,” “trust it” and “go for it,” as well as tactical cues, help the player direct his or her focus on appropriate cues. These cues become the anchors to which players bring their focus back to throughout the match. Again, think of this as creating a competitive, composed, confident mindset.


The best method for transferring the mental skills and the mindset you want during a performance is through routines. Routines create a way of going about a competition – specifically, a mindset and a rhythm. 

But do you really want to try to find this mindset and routine during an important match? Of course not. So you must practice it. This will help you prepare to use your mental skills to your performance advantage and create a more consistent mindset.

Please review Habit 7: Package Mental Skills into Routines to learn more about the different types of routines. Importantly, if you are working on a yellow light routine of breathe and believe (taking deep breaths, accepting and letting go of any concerns, and then bringing in the performance cues), you must practice this so it is prepared for the pressures of competition.

Coach Action

Coach, have players visualize their best performances and then list the cues that describe their optimal performance state.  Also, have them mentally rehearse playing their game and incorporating chosen performance cues. Allow these to be the focal points pre-match. Integrate these performance cues in to green and yellow light between-points routines. 

When training routines and use of mental skills in practice, talk about making the practice as match-like in intensity as possible. Each ball has to count. Finally, give players time to work through their routines in drills and in practice matches. Avoid consistently coaching while they are doing their routines. They need time to work on their routines without interruption.