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Mental Equipment
June 2000 Article

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Identifying & Exploiting Mental Weaknesses

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Dr. John Murray

First … Your 5 Year Review

As this article completes the 1st five-year installment of Mental Equipment (July 1995-June 2000), I sincerely hope you’ve become a stronger and healthier competitor. I’d like to know how mental skills have helped you over the past 5 years. Perhaps you’ve risen from an NTRP 2.0 to 4.0, junior high to college player, or top junior to ranked pro. Or perhaps you’ve developed in another important area of your life by applying the principles of confidence, goal setting, or anger control. I want to hear from every one of you! Please drop me a message using this form. I’ll award one person The Mental Equipment Most Improved complete with an entry into the Wimbledon main draw. Actually…you’re on your own with the Grand Slams, but I will highlight your accomplishments in the July Mental Equipment!

While most of the emphasis to date has been on how to win the essential inner battle by adding strengths to your own game (e.g., confidence, focus, positive self-talk), remember that your opponent is also engaged in a continuous inner struggle. Being aware of your opponent’s inner strengths and weaknesses is as important as knowing whether their forehand or backhand is better. It requires sensitivity and smarts to analyze your opponent’s mental state, but this awareness allows you the ability to exploit mental weaknesses when you see them. Let’s look at three very common types of player and how to exploit them:

The Negative Player

Some players are easily prone to getting down on themselves, complaining about line calls, criticizing the opponent, or even slamming the weather. They do not really enjoy tennis the way they could, and their baggage is your meal ticket. They may display negative body language, make frequent sarcastic comments or become easily angry (but rarely like Bobby Knight!).

Keys To Exploit: This is the easiest player of all to rattle because they are already engaged in a fierce battle against themselves! These players are easily distracted, so the key is to play very consistent tennis while giving them as much to think about as humanly possible. Keep the ball in play, but give them many different looks. Mix up the service direction and spin, change ball exchange patterns and pace, and vary your own match rhythm (sometimes walk up to the line slower, sometimes faster!). While giving them a lot to think about, stay extremely calm and focused yourself. By all means, never feel responsible for your opponent’s antics if they challenge you, and refuse to be pulled into their unhappy or intimidating struggle. You’ll usually find that this player self-destructs. Be courteous and go on to the next round!

The Impatient Player

Some players don’t understand that a tennis match is just one single point repeated many times over. They want to finish you off quickly and get back to their busy lives. They may be stressed, anxious, or bored, or don’t really understand tennis, but don’t let this become your weakness too.

Keys To Exploit: Take care to monitor and control your own pace against these players. If they rush up to the line and try to serve before you are ready, hold your hand up, put your head down, and wait until YOU are completely ready. Take your time before you serve, and take your time on changeovers. They want to rush you into submission, but are actually susceptible to major problems with attention and make impulsive shot decisions. Subject these players to your own self-determined style and pace. Rush the net at times to see if they have the patience to return low or lob, or if they need to finish you off with a passing shot. They will make many errors since they are rarely "in the moment." They fail to devote the care needed for each point. Master this player with your own precision and focus, and take the attitude that you’ll stay out on that court 4 hours if necessary!

The Boring Player

There is another type of player on the tennis court … the absolute bore. The dull player brings nothing exciting to the table, may wear drab clothing, or may lack attractive shots. Don’t be fooled! This player is very dangerous, especially if he/she keeps every ball in play. It is important to realize that these people have no desire to impress you, go quietly about their business, and often eat your lunch!

Keys To Exploit: Forget about being entertained and be careful not to fall asleep! The main thing to realize is that you are in a battle for your life. Tennis requires a relatively low level of intensity, focus, and consistency, not always flash and creativity. These players don’t care what you think and often have a steady game. You might underestimate their real power because they do nothing except win. Even at the highest levels, the player with the fewest unforced errors often prevails. What the bore may lack, however, is imagination. They may stubbornly cling to predictable patterns of play and fail to adjust to change. To exploit this weakness, you’ll need a sharp memory to quickly assess their tendencies in a variety of situations. Once you’ve discovered this … you gain the edge. If they suddenly become animated and interesting, you’ll know you’ve got them!

French Open 2000

Here are my humble predictions for the French Open:

Men’s Champion: Magnus Norman; 2nd Choice: Gustavo Kuerten

Womens Champion: Sandrine Testud; 2nd Choice: Conchita Martinez

Smart Tennis Sport Psychology Tour 2000

At press time, there are already 8 days booked for my summer sport psychology tour in Europe. Please see the updated Tour 2000 page at: http://SmartTennis.com and let me know if you would like to attend or host a sport psychology workshop!

I’ll see you next month!

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Mental Equipment Archive

If you have not already signed up to receive our free e-mail newsletter Tennis Server INTERACTIVE, you can sign up here. You will receive notification each month of changes at the Tennis Server and news of new columns posted on our site.

This column is copyrighted by Dr. John Murray, all rights reserved.

Dr. John F. Murray is currently a licensed clinical psychologist and sport psychologist in Florida. In addition, he is a tennis professional (having taught tennis internationally in North America, Hawaii, Europe, Middle East), formerly certified with both USPTA and USPTR. He has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and masters degrees both in Clinical Psychology and Exercise & Sport Sciences from the University of Florida. He maintains a personal web site at http://www.johnfmurray.com/.

Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to John by using this form.


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