Trust: Mental Toughness for Tennis Players

Tennis Psychology

Trusting Your Skills in Tennis

How much practice time do you think about technique and how to hit good shots?

In Tennis Confidence video 1, I discussed the “academy mindset” and how young tennis players get trapped into a training mentality, which can lead to choking in matches.

This mindset is OK for some of your practice, but not all of your practice time…

Two mindsets are important to playing to your potential in practice:

  1. The training mindset, which you use in practice when trying to improve your game.
  2. The performance mindset, which you use for matches when trying to perform your best and you are not worried about “how to” hit a good shot.

This leads me to a recent question that I received in my tennis psychology survey:

“Why is it that I hit better when I don’t think about my technique? My shots are worse when I try too hard to think about how to hit.”

The problem starts in practice when you spend too much time in the practice mindset working on your strokes. Some of this is critical to your improvement, but you don’t want to get trapped in this mindset when you play. And that’s the mental game challenge.

Can you trust in your skills learned in practice when you go play matches?

You have to perform your best in matches, not hit perfect shots.

Let me digress for a moment…

As you progress through the stages of learning a motor skill, the skill becomes more refined and more consistent. With overlearning – or a ton of practice – you can perform the skill without much thought.

It just happens and you react to what’s happening on the court. At the advanced or expert stage of learning, your skills are well-learned, which allows you to play virtually on autopilot. This level of learning allows you to think more about strategy and targets instead of how to hit a good shot.

With a well-learned forehand, you can make a good stroke without thinking about how to make a good stroke because of your prior practice. But you get in your own way when you try to “coach” yourself through the shot (well-learned skill), thus reverting to an earlier stage of learning. You regress to a learning stage instead of playing shots based on instinct or practice.

You get in your own way because you are giving your body too many instructions or “verbal commands” such as how to follow through properly, as Tim Gallewey would argue.

Your Tennis Psychology Tip For Today

You have to simplify your thinking on the court when you play. You have to trust what you have practiced.

I refer to this as the study and take the test analogy:

You study hard (through practice) and then take the closed-book test in matches. You test the effectiveness of your practice in competition – you don’t continue to study in competition.

One option is to perform with simple feelings or images instead of coaching yourself with verbal commands. For example, maybe you focus on tempo or balance only instead of all the “how-to” of stroke technique. Less is often better when it comes to how many thoughts and feelings you play with.

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