How to practice mental toughness on court
These tennis groundstroke drills will improve your fighting spirit, make you give all your best and teach you about momentum in the game. The scoring systems in these drills are the key to motivation and perseverance.
The Spanish fighting drill
If you've ever wondered why the Spanish players are able to fight forever on clay, then this drill will make it clear to you.
a) Two players play at the time. If there are more, then they rotate and pairs count together.
b) The point starts either from drop feed or with serve.
c) Players play the point and they count how many times the ball goes over the net. It's even better if someone else counts – the coach, the free player – so that they can focus on the game.
d) When the point ends, the winner of the point gets as many points as the number of times the ball went over the net.
If the two players play the first point and the ball travels 8 times over the net before one misses, then it's 8:0 for the winner. If they play the next point and play the ball 27 times over the net and the other player wins the point, the score stands at 27:8.
We can see that every point counts the same as the number of balls that went over the net.
Play to 100 or more, depending on the skill level of players.
The player fights more and more because he knows the value of points increases. This is very similar to actual emotional meaning that players attach to long rallies. If the player learns to fight and to persist in long ball exchanges, he may put a lot of psychological pressure in his opponent.
This drill teaches the players the importance of momentum and concentration until the end.
a) Two players play and the game starts with a serve.
b) The score is only one (not X:Y but just X) and it starts at 0
c) The server's winning points increase the score by +1, and the returner's winning points decrease the score by -1. Example: if the server wins first two points, the score is 2. If then the returner wins one point, the score goes to 1.
d) The first player to reach +3 or -3 wins the game. Then they change roles – the server now returns and vice versa.
e) The whole score is now 1:0 and they play to 3. So the winner wins by 3:0, 3:1 or 3:2.
Players learn to fight and never give up, even when things don't look so well. They can get back in the game faster. Example: if the opponent leads 2:0 and you win 1 point, you've actually pulled your opponent away from winning the game.
In real tennis when your opponent is 40:15 up and you win a point, he can still win the game with the next point. But that is only on the score board. Psychologically the leading player feels as if he is held back and can become impatient. And you know what that means…
The player also learns to focus and fight for the last point, even if he leads 2:0. If he loses the point, he will now need 2 in a row to win the game. In reality most players relax too much when they lead 40:0. This gives good players a chance to catch up.
Two in a row
This is a similar drill to the above one but it is probably even tougher to win, especially with two approximately equal players.
a) Two players play the game with the serve and return.
b) Every point is played twice. The server serves to the deuce side and they play the point. Then the server serves AGAIN to the deuce side and they play another point.
c) If one player wins both points, then it's a REAL point in the game – for example 15:0 if the server won both.
d) If each player wins one point, the score stands at 0:0 and the server serves again to the deuce side twice.
e) When that game is finished they switch roles for serving and returning.
f) Play to 3 won games.
- play no add instead of regular add scoring
- play from 3:3 or 4:4
The player learns to fight for every point. I tell my players that: winning a point is nothing to celebrate (yet) and losing a point is not a funeral. Every point you play is the most important point.
They also learn that to beat a good player in this type of scoring it takes everything you have. It takes effort, patience, concentration and perseverance. That's how it is in reality when you play for something meaningful to you.
Successive points count more
This is yet another very good drill to learn the importance of momentum.
a) Two players play and the point starts either with underhand feed or with serve
b) They play to 21 and scoring goes like this: if player A wins the first point, he gets 1 point. If player A then wins the second point in a row, he gets 2 points so his total score is 3. His next successive point is worth 3 points so the score is 6:0. If player B now wins the point he gets 1 point because that is his first successive point. If player A wins the next point he gets 1 point because his previous succession of 3 points was broke by player B.
The players learn that the more successive points they win, the more they are worth. In real tennis the scoring is different but the emotional perception of the player is very similar. If one leads 5:1 and is caught by his opponent at 5:5, he feels as if he is losing. That's because successive points that you don't win make you feel very powerless. (At least that is true for most players…)
Players also learn that they can get out of trouble faster. If one is behind 15:5 and he wins only 4 points in a row (1+2+3+4=10), he levels the score at 15:15. Again – in real tennis scoring doesn’t go that way, but in player's minds it is very similar. If one leads 5:1 and the opponent gets to 5:3, most players become more tense and anxious.
This is the way to approach playing from behind. Even though the gap seems too big, like at 5:1, if the trailing player can win two games in a row with many successive points, then the leading player will feel as if he is already losing. As you can imagine, playing from that mindset leads to poor results.
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