We all have deep-rooted incorrect mental habits that hinder us from learning and playing tennis to the highest of our ability. Unknowingly we make decisions based on these habits and often sabotage ourselves. Knowing some of these habits and slowly changing these patterns can pay huge dividends in future matches. Good and bad mental habits begin in our everyday lives and carry over into the tennis arena. In this lesson I will cover three of those incorrect habits.
Habit one - Winning consumes your thoughts.
Are you thinking, "What is wrong with winning being at the top of the list? We all want to win!" I agree, but when winning becomes so deeply rooted in a player that winning takes priority over learning, you have a problem. In practice you will do whatever it takes to win, even if it's incorrect. If you attempt a new strategy or technique and lose, you have trouble coping with defeat. As a result all your decisions are based solely on whether or not you win. Improving is secondary. Being consumed by winning can wreak havoc in a drill, a practice match, or even when you are practicing alone on a ball machine! You become your own worst opponent!
I have had drills where one or two players could not do the drill because it meant they might lose. I'm serious! They simply could NOT put themselves at risk of failure, even if it were just a practice drill. The crazy thing is that the drill was for their own benefit. Talk about sabotaging yourself! One day you will be in an important match and you will need a technique or strategy that you refused to learn... then what? I know, you can blame your partner, the sun, the grip, your shoes, your mother-in-law, etc.!
Yes, you want to win, but being obsessed with winning to the point that it hinders your future improvement is foolish. It's time to make some changes!!!
Habit two - You blame everything but yourself!
There are so many different things to blame in tennis. This habit can go on forever! You have the weather, the net, the court, the balls, the racket, the people watching, your shoes, your opponents, a bad line call, your grip, your opponent's attitude, your partner's attitude, your partner, your strings, on and on! Of course blaming all of these things gets you absolutely nowhere. Ultimately it distracts you from focusing on the task at hand... beating your opponents.
Now, I'm not saying that some of these things to blame are not legitimate. Often you may be right, but who cares! This is what you have to work with on that day and that's that! As the great golf pro Bobby Jones once said, "You play the ball from where it lies." No excuses, no complaining - you just quickly orient to the conditions you have been given. For some reason tennis players think they are supposed to play the way they think they should play. If it does not go the way they intended... something is wrong and they cannot win! LISTEN CAREFULLY. What happens, happens! Adjust and keep moving! Adjust and keep moving! Changing what already happened is NOT an option... it's over! Done with! Fini! The end! Adjust and keep moving!
Habit three - Playing passive tennis!
You are going through all the motions on the tennis court but mentally you are playing passive tennis. You are letting the ball come to you instead of mentally staying prepared to advance to the ball. You are tentative and cautious, letting the game stay one step ahead of you. You are in the match and you are playing but you are not INITIATING, you are RESPONDING. Things just seem to happen!!!
This is tricky. You and you alone will know how you mentally are playing. Most players watching will think you are doing fine. You may even advance to the net playing aggressively. Again, going though all the motions does NOT mean you are playing active tennis. Playing aggressive tennis is how you think! I have seen many players come to the net in their drills, and play offensively aggressive tennis with a passive mindset. It happens all the time!
You must train your mind to play active tennis. The first step is to constantly stay mentally alert to play the ball. Go to the ball, advance to the ball! Do not let the ball play you, you play the ball. An axiom that has been around for years in the sports field, but one that is often neglected: PLAY THE BALL. All the rest of the principles to play mentally active tennis will fall into place by themselves. Buy one, get a dozen free!
In conclusion, remember that you change these habits slowly, working on them constantly, little by little. Baby steps - always the best way to learn!