sports psychologist & clinical psychology

MENTAL FITNESS FOR JUNIOR TENNIS PLAYERS

Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Mar 1, 1996 – Dr. John F. Murray – At what age should junior tennis players be introduced to the principles of Sport Psychology? The answer certainly varies by individual, as maturity level and intrinsic motivation play huge roles. Having just returned from a mental training seminar I conducted at the ATP Tour International Headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, I am more than ever convinced that it’s never too early to begin providing Mental Equipment.

I was invited by Ricardo Acuna, Assistant Tennis Director of the ATP Tour site, to address 50 of Florida’s top juniors within the 10-14 age divisions on mental skills training. Upon arriving, I was impressed by the quality of the complex, home of men’s professional tennis and the training center for the world’s greatest players. It features European red clay, grass and hard courts, state of the art fitness facilities, spa and video equipment, an elegant dining area, and a championship instructional staff headed by ATP Tour Director of Tennis Brian Gottfried.

Ricardo, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist and Chilean Davis Cup star, is an extremely enthusiastic tennis coach and gracious host. Over lunch, we discussed a variety of topics including psychological skills, training philosophies, and the need for a greater attitude of “teamwork” among juniors.

The weather was brilliant as I prepared to arm these gifted competitors with mental weapons for the 21st century. Shortly after lunch, I was confronted by a massive swarm of mini tennis players in the main grandstand. Ricardo interrogated the horde in an attempt to identify who had coated the locker room door knob with chocolate ice cream. Succumbing to Ricardo’s relentless stares and threats of eternal banishment from this tennis Eden, the trickster fell to fear and guilt, confessed, and cleared the path for Mental Equipment.

My talk was interactive, flowing from issues and needs expressed by the group. Although I expected some difficulty maintaining their focus for a full hour, surprisingly little tear gas was necessary! Topics for discussion were easily generated and questions arose on a variety of issues (e.g., performance enhancement, coping with cheating, coping with outside pressures).

The event was not all business, as some of the older juniors decided that imagery, described in my talk as “making movies in your mind,” could be used for more devious (and probably interesting!) purposes than preparing for a tennis match. It was also amazing that one bee had the power to simultaneously remove 20 juniors from their seats (so much for mental toughness!). On the whole, their attention level and involvement was impressive, and several juniors came up to me afterwards and commented that they had learned a lot.

At days end, Ricardo gave the group a test to determine whether they recalled the 5 tools of Mental Equipment provided earlier. To my delight, everyone scored 100% in recall and Ricardo called the talk a success.

This was a fun and productive weekend and I look forward to taking Mental Equipment on the road again. Included are some photos of my trip to Ponte Vedra.

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