This is the best time of the year in Florida. The weather is great and the Citrix Tennis Championships (Delray Beach) and Ericcson Open (Key Biscayne) are soon upon us. The Citrix starts March 5 and the Ericcson March 19. Since my offices in West Palm Beach and Boca Raton are so close to these events, youll find me there most of the time charting matches, consulting with players and coaches, and simply enjoying the fierce rivalries. Im covering these events as credentialed media for the Tennis Server this year, so come by and say hi if you get a chance, and give me some ideas for the next Mental Equipment column!
There is nothing more competitive in sports than two top tennis players dueling in the sun and wind with every ounce of their physical and mental strength to gain a slight advantage of positioning or momentum. These players are true modern gladiators, blasting serves at more than 130 mph and crafting precision volleys and passing shots that make the most accurate laser-guided weapons of the Gulf War appear crude in comparison. In short, tennis is a great sport requiring tremendous skill and smarts.
While professional players, top juniors, and even high school players routinely utilize the services of sport psychologists, Id like to encourage players at all levels this month to get more professional about their tennis. If you love your sport and are serious about improvement, there is no better way to go about it than combining your coaching with the regular services of a sport psychologist.
While in years past the word "psychologist" was associated with "mental problem," nothing can be farther from the truth today when talking about "sport psychology/performance enhancement." In fact, most of the athletes I work with are "super healthy" individuals looking to gain a competitive advantage. This is what makes my work so enjoyable and positive. While I am always attentive to more serious clinical issues when they arise, most of the time we cooperate in a joint venture to enhance well-being and the opportunity for greater success.
The younger generation of tennis players understands more readily how important sport psychology is to top performance. This is just one example of the evolution of performance. Have you ever watched an old tape of a 1970s basketball game? It looks like a neighborhood pick-up game compared to 21st century standards! The same is true in all sports. Skill levels are constantly evolving, and mental skills training is one example of how players evolve to higher and higher levels today.
How Does it Work?
Lets assume you are not an elite level tennis player and you wonder how this whole process of seeing a sport psychologist works. Lets take a closer look at the stages involved.
In our first session, I like to spend time together to get to know you, your history and how you respond to a variety of questions and situations. This involves an interview, questionnaires, and a series of tasks that enables me to gain greater insight into your particular strengths, weaknesses and needs. With all the data collected, I am able to generate a complete history and report outlining a strategy to make you a happier and better tennis player.
After the evaluation, we spend time in the next session reviewing what was found in the evaluation. Your feedback regarding my findings is important too. Together, we refine this information and discuss priorities. We next devise a game plan to address your particular needs. This is based on your specific situation and goals. Follow-up sport psychology counseling is often suggested.
Sport Psychology Counseling
This is where the real work and progress begins. Starting with what is needed most to help you reach your goals, we address each topic one by one, and collaborate to achieve greater understanding and improved use of the proper mental skill for the situation. Plenty of exercises and homework is assigned, and each time we meet we review your progress and continue toward advanced development.
I also like to watch you play a real match once, or several times. By taking many notes on your reactions to a variety of situations, the picture becomes even clearer, and there is a real basis to make significant strides.
Performance may improve rapidly, but it may also take some time, as new learning often comes with an increased level of awareness before it becomes automatic. If you are nearing an important competition in the next couple weeks, the approach is much different than if you have three months or even a year to get where you are going. Just as tennis strokes, balance and footwork need to be regularly practiced, skills such as positive self-talk, and proper focus need the same, and perhaps even more practice.
Make sure you utilize the services of a qualified sport psychologist. It is best seek a professional at the doctoral level of training with a license to practice psychology and an extensive supervised background in sport psychology (sport sciences and psychology). There are many "so-called" sport psychologists, but the buyer should beware. Make sure to check academic and training credentials carefully.
When all is said and done, there is no doubt that this exciting profession and science will add to your understanding and enjoyment and lead you to higher levels of performance. I hope to see you in Florida at the tournaments! Until next month