TENNIS MENTAL GAME: HOW TO BE MENTALLY TOUGH AND PLAY YOUR BEST WHEN BEHIND


Do you want to be able to play your best when you’re behind? This is a key skill that every tennis player needs if they want to achieve their potential.

Why is this so difficult? What often happens during these times is players change their focus and what they are thinking. You might start thinking “I need to win this game,” “I have to play better” or, “I can’t make any more mistakes.” Players get more and more negative and self-critical the further they get behind. You put more importance on each point and the score as you feel you have to because, you are so far back. You put pressure on yourself to perform even better or do something extra special. You lose focus on how to play well and instead focus on the outcome/score.

This mindset and change in focus gets you more frustrated, especially if you don’t start to play better and win more points. There is more self-doubt, you might get upset, and become more tense. Focusing on how much you want to win and come back means you play overly aggressive and try too hard. This causes you to play worse. Tennis players have told me during these times they become very tense in their shoulders/arms which affects their shots, their footwork goes away and they can’t think clearly.

If you can’t play well when you are behind in a match you make more mistakes, have lower confidence and you can’t get out of the negative cycle of thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Worst of all you are going to lose faster and feel the disappointment of not showing your potential.

If you want to avoid this, be resilient and play your best when behind; follow the 3 Mental Muscle Training Tips below:

1. Focus on one point at a time: Don’t get ahead of yourself. Let go of mistakes quickly as you don’t have time or points to waste. Focus on playing your best for every single point. This way you will play your best as your mind is completely focused.

How can you do this? Use a refocusing routine if you get distracted by the past/future or can’t let things go. This is a mental routine containing specific steps that quickly help you refocus and play one point at a time. Use a pre-serve routine so that you can focus on serving your best for each point. This should be a well-developed mental and physical routine that gets you in the zone before each serve and enables you to serve your best when you need it.

2. Keep confident: In order to overcome tough situations such as being behind in a match, you need to keep your belief and be confident that you can perform your best. Keeping confidence means you are in a positive mindset and are more likely to use positive/helpful thoughts, have positive emotions and use positive behaviors and play. This all leads to you staying aggressive, going for your shots, keeping relaxed and loose and, playing your best. You will give yourself the best shot to win from behind.

How can you do this? There are many strategies to improve confidence. Some of the best include: Remembering past performances when you came back to win from behind, developing a list of your strengths to review, visualization of you performing your best and, positive/helpful thinking.

3. Focus on the process not the outcome: Even though you know you are behind and you are aware of the score, you don’t need to focus on this when playing. Remember you can’t control the score or your opponent, you can only control you and how you play. Focusing on the process and on things in your control is the optimum way to use your energy. This can be your game plan, specific focus points or your goals for the match.

What do you focus on when you are playing your best? It could be nothing, your breathing, a few technical points or few positive/helpful thoughts. Figure this out ahead of time (maybe during practice or from one of your best matches) and use this to refocus whenever you become distracted by the outcome/score.

Summary

You need to be confident and resilient to overcome situations such as playing when behind. It takes a strong mind to not allow the negativity and self-doubt to creep in. Use the key points below to improve your mental game and play your best when behind in a match.

Key Points

  • Focus on one point at a time

  • Use a refocusing routine

  • Stay confident and avoid being self-critical or frustrated at yourself

  • Use techniques such as remembering past successful performances, strength lists, visualization and positive thinking

  • Focus on the process of how to play well

  • Ignore the score/outcome

If you would like more customized tips and an individualized mental training plan you can Contact Me here. You can also find out more about my services and why you should work with me on my Services Page here.

If you want to get more tips and exercises, sign up for my free newsletter here. You will receive my free e-book: Top Ten Mental Mistakes Athletes Make In Competition: What Every Athlete, Coach and Parent Need To Avoid To Improve Mental Toughness. Plus you get the strategies top athletes use to become mentally tough and get an edge over their opponents.

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Zoe Littlewood, M.A. -
Sport Psychology Consultant & Mental Skills Coach

Zoe specializes in working with individuals, teams, parents and coaches to produce performance enhancement, mental toughness and a winning mindset.