#3. MENTAL TOUGHNESS BASICS: Why Do I Always Play Better In Practice?

I had this question put to me recently by one of you young warriors!!!


Why do I play much better when practicing than when I play matches???


The reasons fall into 3 categories:

1. Self confidence (lack of!!)

2. What you say to yourself (i.e. what’s inside your head)

3. Dealing with anxiety or arousal


All of the above three will affect tennis performance. All these challenges are magnified in your case because:

1. You’re young & adolescent 

2. Tennis is an individual sport (except doubles)


Self confidence obviously fluctuates a lot during adolescence anyhow but if you believe that your opponent has a higher rating than you etc then self confidence diminishes and anxiety increases. Also if you attach too much importance to competitions (“everything depends on this match” “Butch will give me a rollocking if I lose” “It’s the end of the world if I lose” “I’m nobody if I lose to this schmuk!” etc etc) then this further increases anxiety and performance diminishes. (see my previous e-mail) Notice how well you play when the pressure is off-e.g. in practice matches or when you’re about to lose the match anyhow and you suddenly play amazing!!!


The GREAT news is that as you play more competitions and become more experienced your anxiety levels will diminish!!


However here are some tips in the meantime which I will work with Butch on and run some mini seminars in the next few months:


It’s based on the mnemonic PRESSURE:

  • Prepare You must psychologically prepare for what you will face during competition and Butch & I will devise some imagery exercises with you
  • Relax various relaxation techniques may be necessary prior to competition in order to prevent over arousal. I will work with you on this
  • Externalise-not all problems are within yourself-it may simply be the case that your opponent is a better player than you or that clay is your weakest surface
  • Stay Positive- Have confidence in your own abilities. Positive self talk!!Banish NATS- negative automatic thoughts
  • Single Minded-Stay focussed on the job in hand. Use this BOTH in training and competition (observe how the professionals train!!)
  • Unite-Work together as a team with your parents, coach, exercise physiologist, nutritionist, psychologist etc
  • Re-evaluate- How important is winning or losing a tennis competition in the real world?? Keep perspective. Develop a mature attitude
  • Extend Yourself- Give your best performance every time no matter how important, or unimportant, the competition is

Hope this helps and if you are interested I’ll work with you on devising some tailor made exercises to help your mental strength during matches.






#2. MENTAL TOUGHNESS BASICS: When & Where Did Mental Toughness Develop?

Mental Toughness has been around in many different shapes and forms since the 60’s. The rise of television allowed ordinary people the chance to watch sporting competitions and athletes performing in all sorts of sports and disciplines and as such both triumphant successes and disastrous failures of all types were viewed and scrutinized by millions.

Questions about how some athletes were able to perform better under pressure than others began to be asked and as such the discipline that surrounded the process of Peak Performance or Mental Toughness was conceived.

However, during this period one person was almost single-handedly responsible for the bringing to public awareness the power of how the mind can influence and alter and improve athletic performance. This man was Bruce Lee.

The Chinese born Lee, captivated and fascinated the entire western world with his exceptional Martial Arts skills. His movies such as Enter the Dragon and Game Of Death which starred famous athletes like Akeem Abdul Jabbar from the LA Lakers and Chuck Norris became achieved huge popularity and cult status and the knowledge of how Bruce Lee trained, worked and lived his life made him an instantly household name as well as a very sought after trainer and guru for not just individuals such as Abdul Jabbar and Chuck Norris but for professional team coaches and athletes.

By the late 60’s early 70’s most professional teams and individuals were hiring Mental Toughness consultants and experts to help their performances and to help themselves through times of stagnation. Courses to help Concentration such as Transcendental Meditation (TM) became very popular.

Since then the arena of mental discipline has grown, developed and evolved into many more specific branches and areas of study and focus. Mental Toughness as a whole became broken up into Four Key Elements with each of these 4 Elements having a Mental , Physical and Emotional aspect to it also.

1. Mental Strengh: Having strong concentration skills and focus, also being Physically strong also. Being able to to handle great emotional stress and sustain your fighting spirit no matter what.

2. Mental Flexibilbity: This is the abiltiy to  emotional and . but this course is designed as a manual or specific set by step procedure that deals all the factors that contribute to Peak Performance.







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