Tennis is an enormously challenging sport that requires every bit of physical and mental energy and expertise. Tennis mental toughness refers to that psychological side of the game involving proper focus, confidence, emotional control, quick decision making and so much more that all adds up to a strong mental game in tennis.
Issues Frequently Seen in Tennis: Visualization and match preparation, Solid routines in between points, Avoiding a letdown after winning the first set, Concentration and focus.
While Dr. John F Murray is an ex-tennis professional, he prefers to let the good tennis teachers and coaches handle the technical and physical aspects of the game for his clients today. Times change and Dr. Murray’s past tennis coaching principles and techniques will not be as up to date as a current coach who is constantly learning, attending seminars and staying with the times. There are already plenty of cutting edge things to do in the mental sphere in working with any athlete, and this is how the player is best serviced. While we might often do imagery to improve technique or strategy or on-court management and positioning, the original teaching of those more tennis specific aspects need to come from the coach. In an age of specialization, a team approach is optimal and the lucky tennis player will have a good coach, a solid sports psychologist who is also a licensed psychologist, a top notch physical or strength trainer, and someone to handle nutritional or medical issues as well.
The mentally tough tennis player is rarely born with confidence and great goals. These skills and competencies are trained and refined over months and often years of training. This applies too in other sports as there are no quick fixes or mental steroids to immediately make an athlete mentally strong. As with any sport, a solid sports psychology evaluation at the outset of treatment allows the professional to really understand what is going on and to form a smart treatment plan that is often the roadmap of future work together.
Sessions to produce mental toughness may occur in an office setting, at the client site or by phone. With tennis players often at tournaments or spread out all over the world, the telephone and Skype have become much more frequently used to allow the rare true specialists in sports psychology to reach athletes who need help. The bottom line is that any athlete benefits from mental coaching and we are finally light years beyond that notion that if you work with a sports psychologist there has to be a disorder.
As in working with golfers, the model that usually works best is a training approach that views the person as healthy and super-competent, but seeking to be even better mentally. Of course, there are often true mental issues that need to be resolved (e.g., depression, anxiety, anger) and that is why it is so crucial that the sports psychologist also be a fully trained and licensed. Those without a license and extensive training often try to do it all, but they often lack the experience to detect true psychological issues and might not be willing to refer to a more qualified and legitimate sports psychologist if they do recognize a mental disorder.
How soon should a tennis player be introduced to sports psychology? While it is never too late to start, children as young as 9 or 10 have been Dr. Murray’s tennis player sports psychology clients if the child is bright and able to benefit, but sometimes age 11 or 12 is more optimal. If the child is playing junior tennis tournaments, it is definitely time to begin. By starting young, the tennis player learns a lot of the language, about how important the mental game is, and develops routines and patterns that will be with them their entire career. Parents usually love this kind of training because it also helps the children develop greater mental habits and strength in widespread areas such as academics, relationships, and later career pursuits.
A good resource for tennis playing psychology is the book shown in the image above “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game” originally published by the Simon and Schuster subsidiary Josse-Bass, and available in English, Spanish and Japanese.