Tennis: how to master the mental element.

If you’re a tennis player and you find it difficult to manage your stress, your motivation or your concentration during a match, your state of mind can have a negative effect on your performance and your competitive ranking.  In order to manage the issue more effectively, learn to train to boost your state of mind using these simple techniques.


Rituals and routines ! 

These are small movements and mannerisms that you repeat throughout your training without even noticing.  How can they benefit you?

From a mental point of view, it is important to ensure that your brain is operating under the ideal conditions to allow it to focus on your objectives.  By following a routine, you can give yourself reassurance and confidence because you know that everything is in place to allow you to play the point the way that you want.

How can you find a routine?

During a match or a training session, you will no doubt have experienced moments of extreme concentration where everything went just as you hoped it would.  The idea is utterly simple: to move in exactly the same way as you did during these “dream” phases.

Just like some professional players do, settling into a routine can mean taking tiny, subtle actions (such as adjusting the strings on your racquet or tapping the end of your sleeve) or doing something highly conspicuous (such as repeating certain gestures between each point, or skipping on the spot).  The main thing is to find the action or actions that will keep your concentration on the match.

For example, when serving, you could:

Bounce the ball three times before each service;

Consciously focus on the desired effect.

The three Rs: Relax, Release, and Respire.

Tennis is a sport where body and mind are in a state of constant struggle, and that is why it is important to optimise your mental relaxation and to release tension from your muscles.  By relaxing mentally and releasing tension, your game will benefit overall.

Mental relaxation will build your confidence and make your serves and returns more natural, and will in particular make your goals come more naturally on the court.  This will prevent you from falling back into the “red zone,” where you can no longer reach that relaxed, easy style.

Releasing muscle tension will help with every point that you play.  The more relaxed you are when hitting the ball, the greater the speed and power behind your ball.  Releasing this tension will also ensure that you maintain good timing when hitting the ball.  It’s worth mentioning that you can’t release tension just in the upper body; effective footwork involves proper muscle tone and lightness on your feet as well as a relaxed upper body.

How can you work on relaxing and releasing tension?

Three simple tips are as follows:

- Before, during, and after the match, breathe in deeply through your nose and breathe out slowly and deeply through your mouth.  Repeat this three times hourly, as it is essential to ensure that oxygen reaches your brain – and even more so when you are exerting yourself.

- Breathe out when hitting the ball.  During the point, the body becomes extremely tense.  Respiration – the process of breathing and transporting oxygen to the cells - is often the bodily function that is most affected by this tension, resulting in oxygen deficiency.  Consider breathing out, as hard and as deeply as possible, at the moment of impact in order to maximise the amount of oxygen sent to your brain and your body.  Whether this involves a powerful, yet silent breath or a loud grunt, it will help to release the tension in your body.

- The split step.  Between each hit of the ball, when your opponent is hitting the ball back to you, make sure that you take a split step.  This movement will make your footwork more dynamic and more controlled, as well as helping you to retain your focus.  

Goals and strategy are vital!

Would you really step out onto the court with no plan? No ideas at all in your head? That’s not a recipe for maintaining a serene, relaxed attitude, and for this reason, it is important to set goals for yourself and to have a highly specific strategy to follow.  By planning for the match, you will be able to achieve your goals and enable yourself to focus on the essentials.

How to set your goals and implement a strategy ? 

- Create your own strategy: what are your strengths? Your forehand? Your return? If your strength lies in your forehand, follow a strategy that will allow you to dominate the exchange by playing this shot.  Be confident in yourself and your strategy, and always keep it at the forefront of your mind.  Be careful! If your opponent manages to outwit you, you’ll need to adapt and change your approach.  The most important thing is to be sure of which strategy to use, and when.

- Always think ahead to the next point: the next point is always a new point.  Replaying a lost point in your head is the best way to leave the next point unanswered and to lose sight of your matchplay.  Once you’ve lost a point, you can’t change the outcome, so move on to the next one!

Why are you there?

This might seem like a surprising question but it is at the heart of everything you do on the court, and drives your concentration during the match.  You need an answer to this question, because it will determine your level of investment and concentration for your upcoming matches and training sessions.

How do you find a reason?

Of course, you’re the only one who can answer the question and find the fundamental reason why you play tennis.  It could be your passion for the game, a desire to play sport, for your health, for the competition or the challenge, or to help you unwind or have fun.  Whatever the answer, find the one that applies to you and make it your own.

This answer will allow you to take a relativistic approach.  “I know why I’m doing what I’m doing!” This will banish negative thoughts from the court.  This relativistic approach will allow you to gain a sense of perspective on the situation and the way that the match is going – and that can only help your concentration! 

Maximum concentration!

You can’t help but be aware how important it can be to concentrate on the tennis court, and that’s why we’ve suggested a few exercises to help you work on it and achieve the optimal state of mind for your match.

How can you work on your concentration?

- During your training session, each time you hit the ball, say the name of the shot you’re going to play out loud.

Example: You’re about to hit a forehand shot so, as you hit the ball, clearly and audibly say “forehand” out loud. 

- Keep your eye on the ball! But don’t just look at the ball, look at the make of the ball during each shot (probably Artengo!)

- Play with different coloured balls (two-colour balls are available from Decathlon).  The exercise is simple: each colour corresponds to a zone on the court (orange: cross-court and red: down the line) or a shot (orange: forehand, red: backhand).

Take control of important points.

We’ve already covered the mental aspect in detail above, but at THE key moment during the match, what does it all come down to?

Here are a few tips that can help you to manage these important moments more effectively.

- Play your own game: above all, keep your strategy and goals in mind, and play just like you did throughout the match.

- Every point is different, so keep your concentration and never give up on any point.  Whether it’s the first point of the game or love-forty, the next point is a new point altogether.

- Make your own luck and make things change.  Dare to take shots, try new things and take a few risks.  Even if some don’t come off, most of them will help you build confidence and, above all, to win the match.

- Never give up!

Now you know the secrets of the mental element of your game, and all about the importance of concentration in tennis.  So keep your concentration, never give up and, as ever, make sure you have fun!