I once had a client who was the best under 12 year old tennis player in Europe.

He then became the worlds #1 under 14, under 16 and under 18 and felt invincible.

But when he started playing  smaller events on the ATP Tour, like satellite tournaments, futures, challengers, he started to struggle.

He no longer faced kids, he was playing real men.

So even though he was practicing several hours a day, he was losing match after match. 

Often, he would be extremely disappointed, because he was really not climbing up the rankings at the speed he would have liked to.

And he definitely wasn’t climbing the rankings at the speed that his team and many tennis experts had been predicting.

But then after winning the Davis Cup for Serbia with his teammates in 2010, something shifted:

For the first time in his life, Janko Tipsarevic decided to set himself a goal for the upcoming season:

To become a top 20 player by the end of 2011.

Janko was never lazy as a tennis player.

He would spend up to 5 hours a day on a practice court fine tuning his shots and improving his fitness.

When I asked him why he suddenly chose to set himself a big bold goal, this is the answer he gave me:

I was always a tremendous worker.

But now I stopped being a coward.

I was willing to feel the stress and disappointment that comes with setting goals.

2011 would become Janko’s breakthrough year, in which he made the jump into the top 10 of the ATP rankings for the first time.

Suddenly, he was multiplying his income and playing on the big show courts.

But why did setting goals have such an impact on his performance?

Janko explains why defining a bold dream transformed his tennis as follows:

I feel that a big bold dream is like a cloud which is hovering over you.

I don't think it's something which should put pressure on you in that particular moment of a set and break on a tennis court.

But I believe that this big cloud needs to be always present in your life.

You need to always see it, especially after a match, because how you play is not nearly as important as what you will do the next day.

And I always say this to all of our players at my academy.

Okay, you lost, what are you doing tomorrow? Because it's not about how hard you can hit once. It's about how many times you can get fit and get up in terms of a match.

In other words, setting a bold goal was like watching a "cloud" that would direct him what to do on the tennis court, especially after experiencing setbacks.

Don’t get me wrong:

Janko was a very committed tennis player already way before making that decision to become a top 20 player.

But without a clear goal, there was also no reason to be too disappointed after a bitter loss.

And there was no time-sensitive pressure to focus on how to instantly improve.

This all changed once Janko announced that he wanted to become a top 20 player by the end of the year, the race was on.

If he lost a match, against a lower-ranked player, he knew he was off track.

There was no time for excuses.

He felt driven to learn his lessons, prepare even better for his upcoming tournaments and quickly regain momentum.

This is how he took his career to the next level!

But Janko is not the only top tennis player who believes in goal setting.

When asked how we reconquered the #1 spot after dropping outside the top 100 players of the ATP ranking, Agassi gave the following answer:

I didn’t know if I’d be the best again or if I was any good anymore, but I knew I could be better than I was today. So I planned my work and then worked my plan every day, hours of work. I wrote down tangible goals every day and didn’t sleep until I accomplished them.

In other words, he focused on setting daily goals.

And even at the age of 38, Roger Federer still sets himself ambitious goals:

This is what he said while practicing in Dubai about the 2020 season:

I need to train really hard, and that will obviously be a goal of mine, trying to win one of the five big ones ( one of the Grand Slams or the ATP Finals in London), plus the Olympics.

How to set goals for 2020

If you have set New Year's Resolutions in the past, and then struggled to follow through with them, you may wonder if goal-setting really works.

The problem is that there are many types of goals, it can seem difficult to understand exactly how we are meant to define our goals to maximize our success chances.

For example, you might ask yourself:

Is it better to set big audacious goals, like becoming a top ten player, winning a major tournament, or becoming the best player of your club?

Or would it make more sense to focus on more realistic "SMART"- goals (which are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based goals), like aiming to hit 10 second serves in a row, without missing?

You might also wonder if it is better to set results-based goals, like winning a match or a tournament?

Or if it would make more sense to go for process-based goals, like practicing backhand drills for 30 minutes every day so that you turn a weakness into a strength?

To help you answer some of these questions, I want to share with you my simple six-step Breakthrough Year Goal Setting Process.

My wish for you is to prepare for an awesome 2020 without feeling overwhelmed or stressed out.

All you need is a pen and paper.

Step #1: Create a Big, Bold Dream

As a tennis player, it’s great to have big dreams.

So I encourage you to constantly visualize your big ambitions:

Maybe you want to become a great college player.

Or play professional tennis.

Or even win Grand Slams.

Whatever it is, you want to think big.

As the famous Vincent Peale quote goes:

Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you will be among the stars.

Visualizing is powerful because it helps you gain clarity about what it is you really want, and become very familiar and excited about this dream. This is why I suggest you visualize your big dreams as frequently as possible, and not just as part of your New Year’s Resolution process.

For example, if you hope to play or even win Wimbledon one day, envision yourself winning a big match on one of the feature courts, and then celebrating with your coach, your family, and friends, right after the match.

The more vivid you can picture the details of your win, and the more intense you can experience the emotions you would feel after achieving your dream, the more effective your visualization will be.

So make sure you really experience emotions of joy and excitement when you picture yourself winning a big match on Center Court.

This is something I see top players do all the time.

Step #2: Define your 12- month Goal

Once you know your tennis-dream, you can reverse engineer smaller and more realistic short term goals.

For this step, I’d like you to think about where you want to be by the end of 2020.

To keep things simple, choose ONE goal for the upcoming season.

Something that would have a very positive impact on your career.

This is when you need to decide if you want to focus on a result based goal or a process-orientated goal.

Let me share with you how you can make that choice:

Choosing a Process Orientated Goal

If you are still developing your foundational shots, like your forehand, your backhand, serve and volleys, choose a process orientated goal for the next 12 months.
This could be something like:

  • Improving your second serve by practicing a kick serve 30 minutes every day.
  • Developing a reliable backhand that does not fall apart when you face pressure, by scheduling daily backhand drills.
  • Practicing your net-game consistently so that you start feeling confident to approach the net every time you have a good opportunity.

The reason you need a process orientated goal is that while working on your basic shots, your match performance may go down.

In fact, this is what happened to Pete Sampras as a junior player when he switched from playing a two-handed to a one-handed backhand.

He started losing to weaker players, but it didn’t matter, because his longer-term vision was to improve his game.

So focusing on results would be very frustrating and counter-productive.

But even with process orientated goals, it helps to track your progress.

To do so, I recommend you define a specific performance-based outcome that will tell you by the end of 2020 if you have actually achieved your process-orientated goal.

For example, if you want to improve your second serve, your performance-based outcome for the year might be to play a practice match where each player only has one serve and be able to hit 20 consecutive serves without missing.

If your one-year goal is to master your backhand, you might set a performance-based outcome whereby you can hit a drill consisting of 20 consecutive backhands without missing.
I want to add three caveats to your process-orientated goal:

First, choosing one goal does not mean you should not work on other aspects of your game. Instead, it merely defines one area that you are prioritizing, and that will seriously lift your game.

Second, depending on your current level, you might set a broader process-orientated goal.
For example, you might decide that for 2020 you want to improve all your groundstrokes.
Or, you might choose to get into the best shape of your life.

The key is to define measurable performance-based metrics that will tell you if you have achieved your goal.

Finally, I encourage you to play matches and tournaments on a regular basis, to help you train to develop a competitive spirit. While your focus shouldn’t be on your results, you still want to experience match situations and make it a habit to always give your very best.

Choosing a Result Based Goal

On the other hand, if you have already developed solid foundational skills, you are ready to measure yourself against other players and hence set yourself a result based goal.

So like Janko, you might set choose a ranking goal- this could be your national ranking, the ITF junior rankings or the professional rankings.

Or you might decide to focus on winning a specific tournament, or a certain number of matches.

In any case, you want to set a goal that will feel challenging but is not completely out of reach.

So for example, if you are a young player who is still growing, I would set a goal that relates to your age category.

If you are already dominating your age group, you can set your target with the next category.
Again, I am not saying you shouldn’t compete against older players or even adults, but rather that you should avoid judging yourself based on results against taller and physically stronger opponents.

Once you have defined your goal, I recommend you write it down and review it regularly.
Studies confirm that people who write down their goals and review them on a regular basis, achieve them much more frequently.

So if your goal is to be inside the top hundred of the ATP rankings, you would write something like this:

By the end of 2020, I will be ranked inside the top 100.

Then, take a moment to imagine what it would mean to you if by the end of next year you actually achieve your goal.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • How would my life change?
  • How would my confidence grow?
  • How would the people around me feel?

The more benefits you can envision for your goal, the easier it will be for you to mobilize the time, effort and resilience to take some serious action.

Step #3: Determine the skills you need in order to achieve your Goal

OK, once you have defined your one-year goal, determine what skills you need to master in order to achieve it.

For example, if you set yourself the process-orientated goal of developing a very consistent second serve, you may want to learn various types of serves, like a flat serve, a slice serve or a kick serve, and practice them through daily drills.

You might also want to work on the explosiveness of your serve and fine-tune some of your movements so you can increase your speed and your power.

Maybe you even want to regularly expose yourself to match situations that will help you learn to cope with the added pressure of competition.

The same applies to any result based goal:

Say for example you want to become a top 50 player on your national ranking for your specific age category.

You might conclude that in order to achieve your goal, you need to get into the best shape of your life, improve your first serve, or train to become mentally tougher.

You might even decide you need to work on all of these things to achieve your target.

The key here is to create a written skill development plan with your coach that will support you in achieving your 12-month goal.

For now, spend a few minutes brainstorming about what you feel you need to work on to achieve your 2020 goal, and then write it down.

Step #4: Set quarterly benchmarks

Your one year goal helps you measure if you are progressing your game in the manner you desire.

It serves as a benchmark that will give you feedback on how you have been progressing.

But why wait until the end of the year?

I recommend that you break down your goal into four quarterly targets.

For example, let's say for 2020 you want to improve your net game, so your one-year goal might be to move forward in your matches whenever you get a short ball.

So you could have the following quarterly benchmarks:

Again, I urge you to write these down.

Now you will know by the end of March already whether you are progressing toward your year-end goal, or whether you have fallen off track.

If you don’t hit your Q1 target despite working hard, don’t feel down - it's a good sign that you are challenging yourself.

Instead, go back to the drawing board with your coach and discuss why you missed your quarterly goal.

Also, bare in mind that sometimes you just need to be more patient.

For example, when changing your technique, it is often very natural that your performance will first decline before you start improving. Earlier I shared with you how switching to a one-handed backhand affected Pete Sampras’s results in the short run.

Remember, the main purpose of setting your goal is to help you become a better tennis player!

Nevertheless, I urge you to celebrate your successes whenever you do complete your quarterly benchmarks and use them to fuel your motivation to hit your next target.

This is how you build confidence in your ability to pursue ambitious goals

Step #5: Anticipate the Obstacles in Your Way

In a very interesting study from Gabriele Oettingen with kids who were learning English, the researchers asked a class of kids to write an essay about the most wonderful thing that could happen once they mastered English, and write this in their essay.

In addition, half the class also received the additional task to also write about obstacles they would face while learning English.

They repeated this process three times.

When testing their skills four months later, Oettingen and her team found that the kids who wrote about their dreams but also about their outcomes improved significantly faster than their classmates.

What this study shows is that having bold dreams is great, but it’s only part of the equation.

We also need to spend time thinking about the obstacles we may face, and how we can overcome them.

For example, if your goal is to win a tournament, one of the obstacles you may face is that you will experience more pressure.

The key here is to not only be clear about your goal, but also think of the obstacles you will face, and how you can overcome them.

So when you write down your goal, also add some of the obstacles you may face, and how you think you will be able to overcome them.

Step #6: Build Momentum

Getting started is often the hardest part.

So sit down with your coach, create a plan and decide what you are going to be doing from January, on a daily basis.

Ideally, schedule your first practice, or even better, your entire first week.

Remember that when you set a big goal, you are pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, so it is natural to face some resistance.

In fact, this may be one of the key obstacles you will be facing.

So think in advance what you can do when those inner villains show up after the holiday season and try to convince you that you can extend your vacation for just another tiny bit….

Being able to follow through with your commitments, even when you do not feel like practicing, is one of the core characteristics that define a successful tennis player.

I know that was a lot of information.

To recap, here the six steps again:

  1. Spend regular time to dream about your long term ambitions as a tennis player.
  2. Choose one achievable yet challenging goal for 2020 and write it down. This can be a process orientated goal, with a specific performance outcome, or a result-based goal.
  3. Determine the skills you need to develop to achieve that goal.
  4. Set yourself a quarterly benchmark and create a skill-building plan.
  5. Ask yourself: What obstacles will I face while pursuing my goal, and how can I overcome these challenges? Ideally, write down your answers.
  6. Get started right after the holiday season and build momentum. Schedule your first practice session.

Take some time to go through this process, and then review it with your coach and team members.

It will really help you set yourself up for an awesome 2020!

If you want more Mental Drills to upgrade the way you play your matches, you will love the Ultimate Guide to becoming a Mentally Tougher Tennis Player.

In this guide, you will learn:

  • 13 mental toughness drills that will give you the confidence to fight hard and give your best regardless of the score.
  • How to constantly improve your game, love the thrill of competition and become a world-class player by practicing less not more!
  • What you need to do in those pressure-filled moments that make feel so tense you can barely hold your racket!

You can download the guide below.

Get your free PDF copy of my 25,430 words long epic Ultimate Guide To Becoming A Mentally Tough Tennis Player!