We often discuss controlling the controllable in the sport of tennis, usually referring to preparation before arriving to the competitive court. One of the simplest and most efficient ways of doing this in today’s tennis is through developing your mental fitness. World-renowned tennis specific psychologist Dr. Anthony Ross of Mentally Tough Tennis explains mental fitness, or toughness, as two things:
►the ability to take best advantage of our physical, technical, and tactical skills in matches
►enjoying the competitive process where winning is just the icing on the cake that makes the process of competing just that much better.
But why is developing mental fitness so important? Often, players have the physical, technical, and tactical skills but don’t win because they can’t apply these skills in matches due to a lack of mental toughness. This is because our physical, technical, and tactical skills are reliant on our mental toughness - without it players just can’t win no matter how good the other elements of their game are.
So physical, technical and tactical skills are pretty much worthless unless mental fitness is also in place. This makes mental fitness the most influential element of successful tennis, and also for how a player improves over time. With this in mind, here are the four key skills we need to become mentally fitter:
Before completing an activity in practice, or before competing in a match, we should check in on our purpose. This includes the goals that we want to achieve and also the values that make= competing enjoyable and rewarding.
To compete well, we need to be skilled at aiming and maintain our attention in the present moment.
Before beginning each rally in practice, or a point in matches, we need to commit to processes that continually increase the chance of success.
And finally we have the most important skill of all. If we want to be mentally tough, we need to develop what can be called emotional fitness. This is the ability to respond well to the unintentional difficult thoughts and feelings like outcomes, thoughts, nerves, and frustration that frequently show up as we compete.
Together, these four key skills improve a player’s ability to appropriately control attention and commit to helpful actions, regardless of the difficult thoughts and feelings that they are experiencing.
If you listen to Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Bianca Andrescu or, recently, Victoria Azarenka, you will hear them referring to the importance of mental toughness through the ability of acceptance of what’s happening and most essentially the ability to display tolerance under extreme conditions. It is essential your training programs address the process of becoming more mentally fit when on the court each day and with a constant awareness this is an area that can be developed especially well when not needing a court.
Conrad Singh is the Chief Operating Officer of Tennis & Director of Coaching at Centercourt Club & Sports. He has held Head Coach and Director positions in Australia, England, Japan and China, and has been involved in professional tennis player development for well over two decades. Singh came to Centercourt from Shanghai, China, where he helped to develop a top high-performance player program, which saw more than 200 athletes train under his system.