As a golfer, the importance of mental strength is often instilled at an early age; it is, after all, the ultimate mental sport. While I played competitive golf, we would spend entire practice sessions working exclusively on mental toughness. It was a key component to our training and improvement plans. This should come as no surprise, as avid golfers devour books about improving their mental approach to the game and most tour-level professionals consult with mental coaches regularly. Golfers just seem to “get it” that controlling the space between your ears is critical to your competitive success.
I realized pretty quickly in my time around tennis, that generally much less emphasis is placed on mental training in this sport. Honestly, this surprised me. Like golf, tennis is also universally recognized for requiring mental fortitude. The scoring system of tennis ensures that performing well in the big moments is essential; you do not have to win more points, you have to win the right points. Additionally, tennis players work incredibly hard to improve even the most minute details of their games, spending hours each day on-court or in the gym. It seemed unfathomable to me that the practice of mental strength was largely an afterthought in this sport.
Although Kevin’s mental toughness was instilled in him by his father from a very young age, it was about five years into Kevin’s professional tennis career before he ever hired his first mental coach. After doing so, he improved from a career high ranking of 30 to 10 in the world over just two short years. Is all of that improvement attributable to mental gains? Probably not, but it is hard to argue with the visible improvements in Kevin’s match composure and performance in big moments.
Your mind is arguably the most powerful weapon you have on a tennis court, but it can also be your greatest weakness. The brain can be difficult to manage; nerves get the better of even the most seasoned players from time to time. During a tennis match, you must maintain calmness and composure but also remain energized and engaged; this can be a tough balance for many players to achieve. However, when actively improved, mental toughness can help you reach your optimal levels of performance and exceed some of your wildest expectations.
I firmly believe that just like performing practice drills and physical exercises, every tennis player, from amateur to professional, should be implementing a component of mental training into their tennis regimen. If you are into self-study, I would encourage you to pick out some relevant books and devote time each day to reading them. There are also a number of online courses to help train your mind. Realife Tennis is releasing a Mental Toughness course in June, that I can highly recommend. If you benefit most from personal interaction, a mental coach might be the best fit for your needs. In my opinion, the best program would incorporate all three of these options in some capacity. With the proper plan in place, you will be on your way to mental greatness in no time.