3 Reasons You Underperform in Matches

Tennis Psychology

Boosting Confidence in Tennis

Many tennis players – junior, club, and professional – have asked the same question in my recent tennis psychology survey for players, coaches, and sports parents. So I need to clear up something… Several players want to know how tennis psychology strategies or the mental game of tennis can help them improve their game.

I guess the importance of the mental game in tennis is just too obvious to me. I must be too close to my own mental game lessons. But I know how important the mental game of tennis is to your performance and consistency in matches.

When my students improve their on-court performance with mental game coaching, it’s evidence enough to me.

Several club and tournament players asked me the following question about their mindset for tennis:

“Why don’t I play as well in matches as I do in practice? For example, I hit groundstrokes well in practice, but in matches, I don’t get the same power or consistency.”

Here’s another question about the same issue:

“Why can’t I play my best tennis in matches, but only in practice?

Well, this is the number one sign that your mind game is getting in the way during matches. Your performance and consistency will decline in matches when you can’t get out of your own way and play like you train. Understanding tennis psychology and your mental game will help you overcome this challenge…

Do you see any of the following changes in your performance or strokes when you move from practice to matches?

  • You don’t have the same consistency in matches as you do in practice.
  • You play it safe and dink the ball over the net instead of hitting your normal powerful shots.
  • You feel more tense and controlled in matches compared to practice.
  • You focus too much on the result or score when playing matches.
  • You become afraid to lose and thus tighten up in matches compared to practice.
  • You hold onto a big lead and start to play tentatively in matches.
  • You try to hit perfect shots, over-control your strokes, and thus lose your normal rhythm.

Do any of these on-court confidence killers sound familiar to you? If you said “yes” then your mind game is getting in the way.

What’s no so clear is what’s causing these mental game breakdowns in matches; it’s individual to each player. Tennis players under perform for many reason. Let me discuss the most common mental game reasons for not playing as well in matches as you do in practice and how your mind game misfires.

1. Fear of failure. I want you to understand that this is a broad term in sports psychology and can be caused by many issues such as perfectionism, worry about embarrassment or letting others down, for example.

2. Trying too hard to win. If you have fear of failure, you might try too hard in matches and it backfires on you. When you try too hard, it leads to over control and tension on the court.

3. Lack of confidence in matches. Many tennis players that are more comfortable with their practice routines don’t have the same confidence level in matches. They have too much doubt about their ability in competition. If you are low on confidence, you play safe and tentative.

Keep in mind that these are only three reasons (big ones) why you might not perform as well in matches as you do in practice. I know of others, which I will write about in the future.

Do you have a question for me on sports psychology and tennis? Please take my tennis psychology survey.

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If you’re not performing up to your potential in matches, most likely your mental game is holding you back. Are you so frustrated with your performance you feel like giving up? Does your confidence evaporate when you play in tournaments? Are you tired of working hard in practice and not getting any results in matches?

We can help you uncover the beliefs and attitudes that keep you from performing to your potential.

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2 thoughts on “3 Reasons You Underperform in Matches”

  1. For team players who are just learning the game but must compete at the junior varsity level, what are some confidence builders they can work on even though their game is still at an early stage?

  2. Make sure you give new players success experiences – don’t make practice too difficult. Also, reward them for what they are doing well instead of focusing on what they are doing wrong. You can also teach them how to use positive self-talk and imagery to boost confidence…

    Patrick Cohn

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