Off-court mental skills training is essential and must be integrated into the player training. It should be viewed in much the same light as fitness training, tactical or video analysis. The mental skills such as concentration, emotional control or confidence, can also be improved with specific off-court training. Here are some practical off-court mental skills activities that you can perform to consolidate the good mental habits you have to simultaneously develop on court.
Goals and Motivation
Plan for success
You should set mental goals that are challenging yet realistic
Identify the steps that need to be taken to ultimately possess outstanding mental skills
Set goals for every practice and match
- Fill a simple goal-setting card for every practice session and every match
- After the practice or match, record if the goals were achieved and review (with your coach) potential reasons why or why not.
- List the mental skills that are most important for successful tennis performance
- Rate your proficiency in each of the mental skills listed. Attribute a score out of ten to each skill with ten being outstanding, five average and one poor.
- What are the three mental components of your game to improve?
Make a success poster
- Create a poster of exactly how you want to play, what you want to achieve, and how you want to look
- Go through tennis magazines to find pictures of your favorite tennis players that reflect just that.
- You can add reinforcing messages that your coach constantly tells you and good quotes to keep you focused
- When complete, it should be displayed in a prominent place so that you see exactly what you want to achieve each and every day.
- Compile 4 or 5 of your favorite songs that stimulate confidence and enjoyment or stir emotion similar to those they experience when playing your best tennis. Listen to them several times a week – on your way home, to tennis, in the car. Visualise outstanding tennis whilst listening to your music. The goal is to trigger your ideal performance state whenever you listen to it or play one of the songs.
- Keep a daily log of your practice, training, match, physical condition …etc. It will help you maintain motivation and focus.
- Write down 3 reasons why you play tennis
- Provide an insight into the type and timing of the words and images they conjure up to motivate yourself
- You can attend a yoga class to perform some basic asanas and shift focus from the physical nature of the exercise to controlling your breathing rate and rhythm.
Progressive muscle relaxation
- Practice progressive muscle relaxation (where you contract then relax groups of muscles).
- Practice 10-15 minutes every day
- Sit comfortably in quiet surrounds and focus on one object (e.g. the seams of the tennis balls)
- Hold your focus for as long as possible
- Practice breath control: slowly inhaling through your nose and filling your stomach (not chest) with air.
- Think of a point behind your navel and say ‘center’.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth and consciously relax your body’s muscles.
- As you exhale, say ‘relax’ and let your body do just that.
- Repeat the centering technique for five minutes or until you have a good feel for it
Combining breathing techniques
- Combine long inhalations with short pauses and long exhalations to the count of ten and
- Energising breathing (performing short and intense inhalations along with immediate and brisk exhalations)
- You recreate problems or challenging situations that you may face in matchplay (playing in front of a big crowd, rain delays, disputed line calls … ).
- As part of the role play, you practice the coping strategies you would use to deal with the situations effectively.
Become an actor
- You can use your body to help rid yourself of negative emotions like fear and discouragement as well as to demonstrate your confidence and composure. To practice on the court you can picture the player you want to be and act like that player.
Catch your thoughts
- The conversation you have with yourself, your self-talk, is very important for shaping your attitudes and beliefs. What you focus on is what you get and for your self-talk to be of benefit you have to control it, not just when you are on the court. Catch your thoughts using questions like: Are you always positive? Do you doubt yourself?Do you speak with confidence? … etc. Then write your positive and negative thoughts and counter each negative thought with a positive one.
Assessing your physical fitness
- In order to feel confident on the court, you should be in the best physical condition possible. Conditioned tennis players go into matches knowing they won’t fade in the third set. So, rate your level of physical fitness and determine when and how you will improve.
- Acknowledge yourself for the great things you are doing. You can make a ‘confidence list’ with your achievements, strengths, and inspirations. You can create a ‘success’ file or book with your personal victories and successes that you can combine with photos of people you admire, articles … etc. You can find a gesture or a keyword you will repeat every time you play a great point. You can simply ask yourself at the end of each day, ‘What did I do well today?’ or ‘What did I learn today?’
Change your words
- Changing your words has a powerful effect on your self-confidence and your emotions. Let go the negative words and adopt a more positive talk. It will change your perspective and will allow staying focused and calm.
- You don’t need to compare yourself to others. Just look at the bigger picture. Here, your list of goals, your personal roadmap, is important to help you continue to focus in your performance and process goals rather than the outcome.
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- Playing in the now is maybe the most important skill in tennis. Everything in your training and preparation should focus on developing this skill and not thinking about past mistakes or future success. Think of what you can do to really play in the present, in the now (breathing, … ).
Create your own concentration exercises
- You can focus your attention on a tennis ball you placed in front of you and just let your thoughts coming and going. You can repeat a positive word or sentence. Focus on your breathing, feeling your body, the air in your nose … etc. You have many ways to focus your mind and take time to improve your concentration. Create your own exercise!
- In a comfortable position, close your eyes and relax. Start to focus on what you hear then pay attention to what you feel, your sensations. Then turn your attention to your thoughts and emotions. Finally, when you open your eyes, focus on an object in front of you.
- You can use visualization both on and off the court. You have your very personal way to visualize. You can visualize yourself executing a stroke, your best sequence on the court, or just being confident. To improve your confidence, you should direct your visualization on specific situations like playing well and overcoming stress, performing your pre-match routine … etc.
- Visualise your future as you want it to be. Imagine what it would be like to win the Australian Open. How would you feel? Try to really feel it, in your body. Try to feel what it is to be a champion, a winner. Be familiar with this sensations and feelings. Make them yours.
- Monitor your daily stress level so you will prevent overtraining and burnout.
- You can use the video to analyze your mental skills. Take time to review a video of one of your match and take notes of your body language, then discuss with your coach or your mental trainer to find ways to improve your behavior and confidence.
- Write down your routines. But not only your routines when you win easy, also your routines after a bad mistake, a bad call …etc. Then discuss with your coach to find solutions and new routines what fit your game and your style, especially under pressure and stress.
- Resting is also part of your training. But as most of players, that’s the part the most neglected. You need to recover, rest and relax. Write down the components of your recovery plans (routines between matches, relaxation, sleep … ).
- Plan some time out of the court! Don’t forget to celebrate your achievements – small or big and to have fun along the way. You can do a list of everything you like to do out of the court, and schedule at least one or two each week between your training sessions.
- Take a nap to rest and refresh your body and your mind. Nap is very useful in reducing fatigue and increasing alertness.
Before a match
Routine for the day before
- The pre-match routines are very important. They will increase your familiarity, build consistent and confident thoughts, increase your feeling of control, and improve your concentration. Your pre-match routine is more than just what you do immediately before your match. Your plan should account for your equipment, your sleep, your travel, what you eat and drink, … etc.
Pre-match visualisation the night before
- To visualize at least the night before your match is important. The best, of course, is to visualize every day either to improve your technique, either to improve your best sequences and shots.
Routine the day of the match
- Write down what you should do on match day. Your routine will prepare you for your emotional, mental and physical performance. There is no single pre-match routine but it should include both physical and mental warm-ups. Think also to include a specific time to eat, for your visualization and your warm up.
- You should always enter your match with a game plan that includes your performance and process goals.
Routine between match
- What you do between match is important too. Write down your usual routine, or create your own for your next match.
After a match
- Develop your own post-match routine. It will optimise your recovery, both physical and mental. You are usually very emotional to evaluate the match just after playing. Wait at least one hour after your finish your match. Try different post-match routine after your pratice matches.
- Review your match performance in light of the goals you set beforehand. Always focus on performance and not the outcome. After your review, you should have learned at least one thing or identified one area in your game to continue to improve.
- Recreate specific situations that arose in your match. It facilitates your learning and improvements.
- Again, keep a log or diary of the match with your feelings, your performance, your sensations …)