by Dr. Robert Heller
Tennis legend Jimmy Connors is quoted as saying that, “ Tennis is 90% mental.”
Chris Evert once said, “I have always been known for my mental toughness and determination. Those qualities have probably won me a lot more matches through the years, matches I could have easily lost.”
As tennis players develop their strokes, strategy and physical conditioning, the one area that is often mentioned but seldom taught is their “mental game.” As players become more and more skilled in their sport, it’s most often their mental skills that determine the outcome of a match.
When I ask players in my clinics and workshops how important they consider mental skills to be in determining the outcome of a match between two relatively equally skilled players, they often answer between 75% and 95%. I then ask them what percentage of their practice time do they devote to working on their mental skills. The answers range between 0 and 5%. Initially, I was surprised by the response. As I thought about it and reflected upon my own tennis training as a player and later as a professional tennis teacher, I recognized that I had never received any formal training in this area, neither from my coaches and instructors nor from my professional teaching association.
I learned about enhancing performance and managing pressure from my training as a psychologist and to some extent, through analyzing my responses to competitive situations over a long period of time.
Over the past 20 years, the field of sports psychology has grown and emerged as a critical area that needs to be studied and mastered if an athlete is to reach and play at his or her true potential.Thankfully, over the past several years, there are more sports psychologists available to work with players, parents and coaches and more training going on to educate teacher’s and instructors about the importance of mental skills and how to begin incorporating basic skills in their lessons and on-court work with players.
In this monthly column, I will try to bridge the gap between theory, research and practice to provide you with practical skills, methods and ideas to help you perform at your best under pressure.
If there are particular areas of interest, specific topics or questions you would like answered, please contact me and I will do my best to address them in this column.
Until next time.
Dr. Robert Heller is a psychologist, sports psychology consultant and certified tennis instructor based in Boca Raton, Florida. He is the author of the 2-volume mental conditioning CD-Rom program, “TENNISMIND.” For information on sports enhancement training, workshops and other services, contact him at (561) 451-2731, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.thewinningedge.usptapro.com.