Two Mindsets for Tournament Tennis Players

By Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D.

I see two types of tennis mindsets in tournament players when it comes to their approach to playing points. A tennis mindset for success is the player who focuses on winning points and executing good shots.

The other type of player who has an avoidance mindset focuses on not losing points and not hitting bad shots. In tennis psychology, we call these two types of mindsets: (1) A player who strives for success and (2) a player who thinks about avoiding failure.

Which tennis mindset do you think will help you play your best? Of course, the mindset of the player who thinks about winning points instead of worrying about losing points. I came across this quote from Andre Agassi about winning points, which I though was interesting:

"It's shocking how little there is to do with tennis when you're just thinking about nothing except winning every point." ~ Andre Agassi

Agassi was obviously an aggressive player that scraps and scrapes to win every point. He didn't think about how not to lose points.

But I want to make a clarification. My philosophy of the mental game of tennis is that players must focus on one point at a time. Winning the point is the product of thinking about hitting a good shot or executing well. Thus, putting all your attention into winning does not help you focus on execution of each shot.

So what I think Agassi is really saying here -- you must focus on what you want to do (such as hit good shots to win the point) instead of what you fear doing, a basic tenant in sports psychology for tournament tennis players.

You might be thinking, "Why would you ever what to think about not losing points?" You might be surprised to learn how many players focus on not hitting bad shots. Players who make mistakes early in a match can tighten up by avoiding more errors! If you do this, you play more cautiously, tight, and are scared to play with freedom.

How can you focus more on winning points instead of avoiding losing points? You have to retrain your mind to focus on successful execution. I'm not talking about grinding on your technique here. I'm all about focusing on the performance cues will help you execute your best...

For example, you can't hit a good serve thinking to yourself "don't double fault again." This sends the wrong signal, picture, or feeling to your body. In this case, you have to focus on feeling and seeing - in your mind - a successful serve.

You could prompt yourself: "See a good serve, focus on my target and trust that I can hit this serve" - a much more positive approach! You'll find that the body responds better to positive images and feelings instead of the "don't do this…" images and feelings in your mind.

Here's another tennis psychology tip for you... Before the start of the match, set one of two positive objectives, called mini-goals, you want to accomplish in the match. They must be stated in the positive instead of stated negatively.

For example, don't set a mini-goal to NOT make any double faults in the match. Instead, you might set a mini-goal to pick the type of serve and focus on your target before every serve.

Note: Dr. Patrick Cohn, author of "The Confident Athlete," is a leading sports psychology coach for athletes worldwide. For more information, visit Sports Psychology for Tennis Players, Coaches, and Parents



Win More Matches When It Matters Most

Most tennis matches are decided not by a better stroke but by a better tactical play and by a stronger mind.

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