Tennis Psychology - improve your performance with Sports Psychology

Sports Psychologists have become more and more popular in the world of tennis. Although, it can be argued that tennis psychology has been present since the earliest days of the sport – with every player thinking about how to get their best performance and to manage the occasion.

The mental side of the tennis is a crucial component of getting the best performance possible in tournaments and training, consistently over time.

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Tennis Sports Psychology can help answer questions such as:

  • What is it that helps a player perform at their best?

  • What can a player do to regain their confidence after a series of bad matches?

  • How can help players continue to attack and persevere when facing tough opponents?

  • How can players manage nerves and stress ahead of key matches, when the spotlight and pressure is on?

  • How do players get ‘up’ for the matches against what is perceived as a lesser opponent?

  • How can a player let-go of missed opportunities and bounce-back much quicker than they usually do?

  • How do players maintain focus and refocus when they lose concentration?

  • How can players cope with a step up (or down) in tournaments?

Tennis Psychologists can help in other ways too. For instance, I can help you as a player to understand your reactions to injury: the frustration, anger or dip in mood. The fear and worry about the rehab progress – or lack of - concerns about how quickly you will return to training and playing, and worries about whether you will ever return to your previous level of tennis performance. Then there are fears about reinjuring the same area again, and so on.

As a Sports Psychologist with Clinical Psychology skills, I can help players to navigate life events and stresses. These are the kinds of events that happen to all of us (relationship difficulties, bereavements, family illnesses…), including professionals at the top of the sport. These types of outside tennis stresses can really negatively impact on wellbeing and performance.

I, and some other psychologists, offer help at all levels of tennis. For instance, I often offer support to younger players in the Academies and junior squads to develop further and to overcome challenges that are experienced at an early stage in their careers.

I can also help coaching to better understand the psychology of the game, how they coach, the players they coach, and to cope with the pressures that they are under as a coach.

As you can see, I can help with much more than just thinking more positively.

On this tennis psychology page you will:

Free Tennis Psychology tips

Here are some tennis psychology tips to help improve your tennis performance and to show you a little more about the types of help I offer. The first section provides some quick sports psychology tips for your tennis, then you'll find a longer section on goal-setting for tennis.

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Below you will find sport psychology tips for helping you to:

  1. Boost your motivation for playing tennis

  2. Increase your tennis confidence

  3. Manage match nerves

  4. Develop powerful imagery and visualisation skills to help your game

  5. Develop better concentration for tennis

 

 

1. Boost motivation for playing tennis

A. List the factors which motivate you to play, train and play matches.
 

These prompts might help:

  • What do you gain from training/playing/tournaments? (e.g., fun, hard workouts, the camaraderie of your clubmates, better health, a competitive outlet, skill development etc.)

  • What do you still want to achieve in tennis?

  • If you didn't play tennis, what would you miss or lose-out on?

  • Why did you originally take-up tennis and led you to focus on tennis more seriously?

  • Why are you still playing tennis?

 

B. During training and matches, think about and observe what you like and do not like about what you are doing. Write these down.

 

Highlight the most important reason(s) from A and B. Keep these in mind. Your motivation and drive for tennis should receive a boost.

2. Increase your tennis confidence

 

In the situations where you are being negative or lacking confidence, allow yourself to become a little more aware of the thoughts (i.e., self-talk) you are having. If a thought is negative and unhelpful ask yourself:

  • Am I thinking accurately?

  • Is this thought helping me?

  • Can I see things in a more helpful and accurate way?

  • What would a more helpful thought be?

  • Can I express my thought in a way that includes what I want, not what I don’t want (e.g., “I can..” or “I will…” rather than “I won’t…” “Don’t…”)?

3. Manage tennis stress, anxiety and nerves

 

When you notice muscular tension, nerves, stress, anxiety or worry, when on or off the court, try the following:

  • Take a deep breath in, until your chest is filled

  • Hold for 5 seconds

  • Then let your breath out slowly, for 5-10 seconds or so, while thinking to yourself the word relax (or calm or easy)

  • As you do so, notice your body becoming more and more relaxed, as tension leaves your body

  • Repeat this process 5, or more times, each time deepening the experience of relaxation and confidence

 

If this is a problem area for you, make sure that you get my Stress Management program, a full hour of audio, available straight-away via download. (If you prefer this on CD, then get in touch.) Read more details on my programs page.

4. Develop powerful imagery and visualisation skills for your tennis

 

This can help increase your ability to create, store and draw on powerful images:

 

Part A: Imagine you are home, sitting in your living room. Imagine looking around and taking in all the details. What do you see? What shapes? What colours? For instance, what furniture do you see? What is the shape and texture of each piece of furniture? What does the chair that you are sitting on feel like? What sounds do you hear? What is the temperature like? Is there any movement in the air? What do you smell? Use all your senses and take it all in.

Part B: Later, when you are at home in your living room for real, go and sit on the chair you had imagined in the exercise above. What do you see, smell, hear and feel? Do you notice details that you didn't call to mind, when you imagined your living room scene?

Repeat A (and B again if you like) and discover how your ability to generate accurate, detailed and vivid images improves.

5. Develop better focus and concentration for tennis

Here's a little taster of how to improve your focus:

Develop cue words that trigger the correct focus when you need it.

How?

List the key aspects of your tennis performance that you want to maintain. Next, write down the individual words or short phrases that capture the essence this aspect of your performance, happening in an ideal or perfect way, likely including the perfect movement, your position or posture, and maybe also what you want to be thinking or feeling.

Here are some examples: "smooth shot," "stand tall," "follow through," "let's go," "keep chasing," "relax" or "do it."

Test-out a word or phrase during at practice and matches, evaluating which one(s) evoke the best focus and help set up the movement or performance you want. Find a couple of these. You don’t need a long list. The fewer the better.

Next, identify something that will act as trigger or cue for these words. For instance, you might place a mark on your hand or racket, or wear an elastic band on your wrist, or wrap one around a finger. Then, when you notice your trigger, this will trigger you to think the words that you have already worked-out that help.

 

Not only does this help you to focus on helpful aspects, it can boost your confidence too, which will have a beneficial impact on your performance.

 

If you want more tailored help for any of these areas, then get in touch. We can then organise Sports Psychology assessment of your tennis performance and address your performance limiters.

 
 

How to set effective goals for your tennis

 

There is substantial research linking effective goal setting to improved performance. Goal setting can help increase focus and give purpose to your training, helping you to train smarter and harder, leading to greater improvements.

 

Most players know that goal setting is important, but many don’t set them, or if they do, they set them less than optimally. Many set the same ‘woolly’ or vague goals each year. Which in all likelihood, were not achieved in the past year. We often hear these goals stated along the lines of:

  • “I’m going to do better in matches this season”

  • “I’m going to play better”

  • “I’m going to lose weight”

  • “I’m going to get fitter”

 

These statements are good, because they indicate helpful intentions. However, this isn’t enough, because:

  • How will we know that we have reached our target? These goals don’t have a finish line

  • When is the deadline for these goals? There is no stated timeframe.

  • Also, there are no review dates to check progress towards the goal, which isn’t ideal.

It would be better to set SMART goals – which you have likely heard of – or  even better, SMARTER goals.

SMARTER stands for:

  • S – Specific (your goal can be clearly described)

  • M – Measurable (you will know if and when you achieve it)

  • A – Action-orientated (you will be doing something to make progress)

  • R – Realistic (with your skills and resources, it can be achieved)

  • T – Timed (you have set a deadline or end point)

  • E –Exciting (this goal really gets you fired-up)

  • R – Reviewed (you set regular review dates to assess progress towards your goal)

How well do the goals stated above stack-up against the principles of SMARTER goal setting?

Not very well, I’m sure you will agree.

The best types of goals for sport are these 3 types:

  1. Outcome goals relate to your final position or result (e.g., to win a tournament, or qualify). Outcome goals can be motivating but achieving them is usually determined to a large extent by factors outside your control (e.g., what players you are drawn against, how others performs) and therefore can often lead to disappointment.

  2. Performance goals are more useful because they are based on your own performance and are unaffected (or affected only to a small degree) by other people. Example: 70% of first serves in.

  3. Process goals concern what you are doing at that particular moment. These may include physical aspects (e.g., level of tension), your behaviour (e.g., level of effort, movement), your thoughts (e.g., helpful, focussed on relevant factors), and your emotions (e.g., helpful ones such as excitement and enjoyment).

Most players spend too much time thinking about and focusing on outcome goals. They place some emphasis on performance goals. And rarely, if ever, do they focus on process goals. This is the exact reverse of how it should be.

By focusing on process goals – what you are doing moment-to-moment – you will have your greatest chance of achieving your performance goal, which then builds your chance of reaching any outcome goal that you have. This applies both to training and matches.

 

So, make sure you set process goals and focus mainly on them.

 

What else is there to say about goal-setting? A fair bit. Next, let’s think about time periods and our goals.

Set goals for different timeframes: short, medium and long-term for tennis

It is best to have goals that have a range of deadlines. For instance, first set a goal for your year or season. Once you have this, then set three sub-goals for within your year or season. These sub-goals will, when achieved, put you on the road towards your big goal for the year.

Then look at shorter timeframes, setting performance goals for every 3-4 weeks, or so. These goals will then inform your focus for your day-to-day practice sessions - your performance and process goals.

 

You will always be working towards a goal, with all goals liking like steppingstones to your longer-term goals for the season and which give greater focus, purpose and results from your training.

If you would like further help with generating your key goals and on setting up training to improve your tennis performance, then get in touch.

Manage your tennis nerves and stress

Your frame of mind has a big impact on how you play and the outcome of your match (the score and your enjoyment).

 

Much of this depends on how stressed you are when the match starts. By stressed, I mean:

  • How much tension you hold in your muscles. Muscular tension will impair your movements and biomechanics – causing you to miss-hit.

  • How much adrenaline is coursing through your veins. Some is good, too much will put you out of your comfort zone, the zone you are familiar with, distracting you from your play as you wonder what on earth is going on with your body.

  • How negative your expectations are. Are you expecting things to go badly, to start poorly, miss easy shots, serve badly, let yourself or others down, make a fool of yourself…?

 

Pre-match tension builds in the hours and even the days before an important (to you) match. Your mind, diet and sleep all become affected by your rising levels of stress. How you manage this lead-up and the match will have a big impact on the two most important areas:

  • Your performance

  • Your enjoyment and satisfaction with you play

 

If you wait until competition day to start managing your stress, you will almost certainly be too late to do anything really effective about it. If you would like to manage your competition stress better, to feel less nervous and more confident, then I have the solution for you. This solution is my Sports Stress Management Audio Programme or arranging a Sports Psychology consultation.

 

My full sports psychology stress management programme tackles the three important areas:

  1. Physical tension (with not just one, but three proven physical relaxation techniques)

  2. Stress-related thinking

  3. Unhelpful stress-related behaviour (what you do or don’t do)

 

Go to the Program page to learn more and to order.

 

Dr Victor Thompson

Clinical Sports Psychologist

Tel (UK): 07979 622537

help@sportspsychologist.com

© 2018 by Dr Victor Thompson