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The ABC's of a Tennis Pre-service Routine
by Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D.
Master Mental Game Coach

A pre-serve routine can help tennis players improve consistency. A pre-serve routine combines both mental and physical strategies prior to the execution of a task such as a serve or return of serve. The preparatory behaviors of a routine are excellent tools to help you focus on one shot point at a time. It is an extremely useful tool to refocus attention when distracted. The pre-serve routine is a merging of mental and physical preparatory behaviors that blend into one long behavior, (such as planning and focusing skills) at the same time you physically set up for a motor task, which helps athletes analyze, plan, prepare, and confidently execute motor skills.

Whether you are a recreational or professional player, to get the most out of your serve you must develop a systematic method of mentally and physically preparing yourself. This means using a pre-service routine. All great players have a routine when they approach the service line. A routine may includes physical things like aligning to the target, bouncing a ball and looking at a target. It also includes mental activities like "seeing" and "feeling" the serve you want to hit. The purpose of a routine is to warm-up your muscles and mind for the upcoming serve. It sets your focus for the serve and helps you develop rhythm.

The physical parts of a preserve routine vary from person to person but include some important fundamentals such as:

  1. Warming-up the muscles used in the serve by taking a practice swing or practice ball toss.
  2. Taking your stance and aligning to the target.
  3. Setting the tempo for the shot by bouncing a ball or rocking back and forth.
  4. Visually engaging with a specific target you want to hit to.

To prepare yourself mentally, you want to be confident with your actions, trust your stroke, and focus in the present moment and where you want to hit your serve. Some important elements of the mental part of the routine include:

  1. Make a decision about where you want to serve to and the type of serve you want to hit. Be decisive with what you want to do.
  2. Program yourself for success by "seeing" in your mind's eye the flight of the ball with the proper trajectory.
  3. Believe in your skills and be your own coach by using positive self-talk like "this is going to the target."
  4. Let your natural swing out. Trust the swing that you have practiced--put yourself on auto pilot and don't guide your swing.

A routine should be tailored to your style of play and personality. If you are a fast player, then you should adopt a faster routine. If you are a deliberate player and need more time, you should adopt a slower routine. In addition, the mental part of the routine depends on how you learn best. Some players learn and perform better with visual images than others. Some players are better off rehearsing the shot with the feeling of the movement. If you think primarily in visual images, then you want to program yourself by seeing the ball fly to the target and seeing yourself hitting it to the target. If you think primarily with feeling images (kinesthetic), then you want to rehearse the feeling of the swing that will produce the desired outcome. Of course, you can program yourself by both "seeing" and "feeling" the shot if you use both visual and kinesthetic modes.


Dr. Patrick J. Cohn is a master mental game coach who works with athletes of all levels from junior to professional athletes. Visit Peaksports.com to gain access to over 500 exclusive mental game articles, audio programs, and interviews with athletes and coaches to enhance your tennis potential: www.peaksports.com/membership or call 888-742-7225.

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