LA Tennis Examiner – July 8, 2011 – Rich Neher – Reviewing “Smart Tennis – How to play and win the mental game” by John F. Murray, Ph.D., 1999, 237 p.
Ever since I heard legendary tennis teacher and researcher Vic Braden (jokingly, I assume) say, “Tennis is 100% mental”, I became interested in tennis books written by experts in the mental aspects of the game. My reviews of books in that genre have allowed me great insights in the mysterious and often masochistic ways our own mind is trying to sabotage our tennis game.
The Inner Game of Tennis, written 1974 by Timothy Gallwey, ended up #5 on my Top 10 all time favorite list of tennis books and I have since realized that numerous serious coaching professionals are followers of many of Gallwey’s teachings. Dr. Allen Fox’s book Tennis: Winning the Mental Match (Overcome your emotions, fears and nerves and build confidence for success in life and on the courts) specifies 3 big problems in tennis: Anger, tanking, and choking. He discusses those problems and suggests ways to overcome them, in addition to a bunch of real helpful tips for winning the mental match.
More recently I came across a booklet written in 1999 by John F. Murray, Ph.D. that caught my attention because Vic Braden is quoted on the back cover as follows: “Smart Tennis is a must for players at all levels – from the beginners to Wimbledon champions! An outstanding book for understanding and improving your mental game.”
Dr. John F. Murray has an extensive background in playing and coaching tennis, writing and lecturing on sport psychology and tennis, and providing psychological services. A graduate of Loyola University (New Orleans), Murray is certified by both the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) and the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR). He taught tennis in Munich, Germany, before joining the Peter Burwash organization and teaching in Europe, Hawaii, North America, and the Middle East.
Dr. Murray’s accomplishments are numerous, like his contribution to the psychology of tennis, an award winning sport psychology column titled Mental Equipment. He is also a member of Division 47 (Exercise and Sport Sciences) of the American Psychology Association, and of the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology.
The author welcomes the reader to an “exciting personal journey… to help identify your own strengths and weaknesses to help you win the game against your toughest opponent – yourself!” He adds, “As a tennis player and coach I was often dismayed by the lack of high-quality materials on the mental aspects of the game.” Murray also discovered there were few qualified sport psychologists with an understanding and love of tennis to communicate this knowledge. “To my knowledge this is the first written by an author combining expertise in tennis, sport psychology, and clinical psychology. This book shares my enthusiasm in all three disciplines.”
The first chapter is all about understanding your personal needs. The author’s so-called Whole Person Approach is represented by the acronym ACES, four ways in which mind-body skills are expressed in tennis and other performance situations. ACES stands for Actions, Cognitions, Emotions, and (physical) Sensations.
Tennis Mind-Body Checklist (TMBC)
Designed to help the readers understand themselves better, the TMBC consists of 100 questions with simple True/False answer requirements. A point matrix helps create a Skills Profile and an ACES Profile, en route to finding a Need Type.
Example: If the lowest score on the ACES Profile is E (Emotions), and the lowest score on the Skills Profile is C (Confidence), the resulting Need Type is E-C. The abbreviated description of E-C amongst the 20 listed Need Types reads: You should examine your feelings on the court and how they affect your expectations for success. For example, after winning an important game, you might be elated and need to guard against overconfidence. If you lack confidence, you might re-create feelings you had during previous successes. You will find help for this in Chapter Four!
Subsequent chapters provide direction for improving identified areas and further enhancing areas of strength. Chapters 2-6 are discussing related issues, such as Staying Focused, Your Mind-Body Time Machine, Confidence, Energy Control, and Goal Setting. Example: Under Steps to Eliminate Fear, Dr. Murray writes: When struck by fear during a match, realize that your opponent probably feels the same way or worse. Focus concretely on what you are going to accomplish and then just do it. Practice beginning matches at 15-40, 4-5 in the final set. Learn to love this challenge. Maintain an aggressive style of play rather than becoming tentative. Your best tennis comes when you are relaxed, poised, and full of belief in your abilities. You cannot control the outcome and you cannot always win, but by confronting your fears head on you’ll develop greater confidence.
Competition Management Playing Smart Tennis
I enjoyed Chapter 7: Competition Management Playing Smart Tennis, because I am being assured as my self-understanding increases and mind-body techniques improve, playing smart tennis becomes more natural. I also learn that my automatic pilot takes over and allows me to perform naturally. In Tennis Nutrition 101 the author warns that too many carbohydrates (pasta, breads, fruit, veggies) can lead to a sugar crash and complete exhaustion. Fats provide a more long-term energy source. Balance is the key to healthy nutrition. Both food quantity and quality should be closely regulated.
At the end, after teaching how to cope with injuries, the writer expands on tips and tricks during and after the match, such as point and changeover routines, momentum management, challenging your eyesight, explaining a match outcome, and taking stock of your mind-body skills. One of Dr. Murray’s students sums it all up. I am more excited about tennis than ever before, not only because I made it to the semifinals but because I have finally found the key to mental toughness. Sport psychology teaches you to ignore the distractions and concentrate instead on becoming the best you can be!
One of Dr. Murray’s biggest supporters is retired touring pro and former Top 20 player Vince Spadea. Born in Chicago and now residing in Boca Raton, Florida, Spadea was under Murray’s coaching care for 10 years. He says: “Dr. Murray was great in helping me come back from the longest losing streak ever of 21 straight losses, and we worked for ten years together on a fairly regular basis. He traveled with me to the 2007 Australian Open, and as my appointed coach (filling in since I was not with my regular coach) I beat Igor Andreev – a top 10 player – in straight sets, and we had other big wins together as well. Many of the same mental coaching principles he used with me can be found in his book Smart Tennis, but it was more than knowledge that really helped me get back to 18 in the world and top 10 in the champions race, it was also the fun and passion of having a common mission and goals with my sports psychologist … of constantly coming back to the mental game, and practicing it with imagery and other techniques. Smart Tennis players are wise to take the mental game as seriously as they do technique and physical strength.
I like this book because it gives me so much more than any book on stroke production or doubles strategy ever could. It focuses on my own abilities to make a change and cope with challenges on the tennis court. It is like a secret weapon in my arsenal of fighting tools on the tennis court. It is like the book I don’t ever want my opponents to read.
Dr. Murray’s web site is located at www.JohnFMurray.com and you can send an email to Dr. Murray at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the world of tennis sports psychology.