Without a doubt, the key to tennis is consistency. Whether you are hitting the ball straight to your opponent or going for a winner, your hitting must be consistent. But this physical consistency also requires mental consistency. It is crucial, therefore, to understand and explore the mental side of consistency.
What is the key to consistency? Concentration! This is the ability to stay focused on what you are doing for long periods of time. Whether playing a match or practicing, the more you are capable of staying focused, the more consistent you will become.
You may be thinking, "Okay, I'll buy that. Concentration is the key to consistency. So, how do I get concentration?" If you're hoping for a magical pill you can take for concentration, prepare to be disappointed. Truly, some players do want an external remedy, person or influence to make them concentrate. They believe that they have no control over their own concentration and that this mystical thing called concentration is out of their hands and requires something outside themselves to activate its properties.
Whether you like it or not, you must turn inward to develop and sustain concentration. The truth is, the key to concentration is self-discipline. You develop and sustain concentration through your self-disciplined process of making good decisions. Every time you play, you are responsible to exercise that self-discipline. This, in turn, improves your concentration, which improves your consistency.
Mastering concentration through self-discipline requires you to make good decisions on the inside to neutralize challenges on the outside. This means you must concentrate not only when things are going well, but also when you are losing, having trouble or even when you are tired. Many times during practice I have heard players say. "I'm tired. I can't concentrate anymore, it's time to stop." Time to stop! That is the time to start! But in their minds the tiredness is forcing them to stop concentrating; it is not their fault. Here is where self-discipline should step in. Here is the perfect time for them to reach into their mental arsenal, make an internal decision to keep plugging, and forge forward.
The great golf legend Arnold Palmer said it best: "The secret of concentration is the secret of self-discovery. You reach inside yourself to discover your personal resources, and what it takes to match them to the challenge."
Before you can develop match play concentration, you must first train yourself to concentrate in your practice sessions. After all, how can you discover your personal resources to meet competitive challenges if you do not challenge yourself in your training sessions?
The beauty of repetition training is that the repetition itself demands extreme self-discipline and concentration. Moreover, your self-disciplined decision-making process is challenged constantly throughout your steady routine of repetition training. Can you continue to concentrate and make good decisions week after week, month after month, through the good shots, the bad shots, feeling tired and just not playing well? If you can, the inner resource of concentration will be yours!
I have had players tell me that match play concentration becomes easier because of the rigors of their monthly practice routine. Concentration simply becomes a habit! This is just one benefit of massive repetition and a consistent vigorous training program. Repetition training is the perfect tool to challenge the self-discipline aspect of a player's mental attitude. Consistency in tennis demands it!
If a player through self-discipline can develop concentration, a bonus mental attitude awaits him or her. Jack Nicklaus, another golf legend, said, "Concentration is a fine antidote to anxiety." How true it is! Once a player's concentration improves, that player becomes so lost in his or her thoughts that relaxation follows as a byproduct. How great is that? Relaxed play happens automatically!