Workshop: Mental Toughness

During a tennis match, the ball is in play approximately 15 minutes per hour. The rest of the time is spent retrieving balls, changing sides and resting, toweling off, bouncing the ball, arguing the score, etc.

Most coaches only train their players for the 25 percent of the time they will be hitting during a match. How much of your training each day, each week or each season is devoted to the 75 percent of the match time when the ball is NOT in play?

I. Three Areas of Mental Training

a) The “Zone” or Ideal Performance State (IPS)
b) Mental Toughness
c) Sport Psychology


II. The “Zone” or Ideal Performance State (IPS)

— Being able to hit the ball where you want, when you want, how you want

a) Mental Stages During Athletic Performance

i) Tanking
ii) Anger
iii) Choking
iv) IPS

III) Mental Toughness

— Ability to Get and Stay in the Zone

a) Getting into the Zone
i) Imagery and visualization
ii) Rituals or routines
iii) Following a match plan
iv) Warm-up routine (see accompanying article)

b) Staying in the Zone
i) Between-point routines (see accompanying article)
ii) Self-talk (see accompanying article)
iii) Switchover notes and/or music
iv) Use of pre-determined, practiced strategies, tactics and shot patterns
v) Block out Distractions

*Personal problems
*Technical struggles
*Conditions (court, wind, sun, balls, noise)

— These must be experienced in practice matches (even cheating) and solutions should be given and practiced.

If your players experience recurring tactical or mental situations during a match which they have not seen during practice, you have not prepared them to PLAY — only to HIT.

IV) Sport Psychology

— The Process of Teaching Mental Toughness

a) ALL Sport Psychology is tied to Motor Learning –

— Most sport psychology doesn’t understand or address this!!!

i) “See the ball?” — “Be the ball?”
ii) Sport Psychology should help RECALL desired, learned motor performance. It CAN’T create it!
*People learn by doing — they need feedback — use games-based coaching
*Feedback can be: general/specific; negative/positive; intrinsic/extrinsic
*Practice like you play, or you’ll play like you practice
iii) Coach in three different learning environments

*Blocked (for learning new skill)
*Variable (for retaining a new skill)
*Random (for recalling learned skills)

— The Germans call this Learning, Practicing and Training

b) Sport Psychology For Triggering Behavior/Performance

i) Rituals, self-talk, match plans, shot combinations
ii) Above MUST be practiced
*Drills should move from strokes to shots, with progressively more demanding (though realistic) target areas and progressively more negative reinforcement
iii) Rituals SHOULD be built into new skill development at variable and random stages, depending on task *Skill work should start with a tactical goal, and finish with shot work with progressively more demanding (though realistic) target areas and progressively more negative reinforcement
iv) Between-point routines and self-talk — MUST be practiced (see accompanying articles)
v) Written journal — notes for reference during matches
vi) Music
vii) Post-match analysis (be aware of and catalogue feelings during match play)

V) Physiology of Tennis Must be Respected

a) Players need to recover — ATP-PC System
b) Training must include recovery (1:3 work/ratio) — physical and mental
c) Players should practice at the pace they should play

The Philosophy of “Practice Like You Play” Extends to the Time In-Between Points!!!

VI) What is Choking?

— Choking is Fear

a) Reasons for Choking
i) Fear of opponent; score; outside pressure; lack of stroke confidence
— Discuss with players situations in which they choke, determine what the factors that make them choke are and discuss ways to deal with these factors
b) Physical Aspects of Choking and Responses (see accompanying article)
c) Mentally Managing the Score (see accompanying article on “Big Points”)


Mental Toughness requires players to create positive feelings (to get into The “Zone”) and requires them to address negative feelings (which can knock them out of The “Zone”) — FOR THE SPECIFIC PURPOSE OF TRIGGERING LEARNED MOTOR SKILLS!!!

Visualizing yourself holding a trophy over head does not help your brain send the correct message to your muscles via the central nervous system which will result in your executing a particular shot (backhand) in a particular way (with topspin) to a particular area of the court (deep and crosscourt — especially if you’re trying to “visualize” yourself doing something you’ve never learned or done before!!!

BE SPECIFIC with your mental training.

IDENTIFY areas of strength and weakness, understand them and practice dealing with them.

PRACTICE Mental Toughness techniques while learning and practicing stroke and shot skills. Don’t limit Mental Toughness only to pre-match, between-point and switchover aspects of tennis.

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