As a small kid, I had various learning problems and health issues.
I was meant to go to a school for kids with special needs.
Luckily my parents sent me to the international school, but I had this dream to get into a Swiss public school because I wanted to do the same thing as my friends and neighbors.
Thanks to my mom, I got this one month trial at a Swiss school and I really worked extremely hard and did my best.
After a month we had a meeting with the headmaster.
We were sitting in the teachers and the headmaster and my class teacher came with the headmaster. He had his beard. He looked like a really serious guy and I became really nervous.
I started feeling the sweat pouring down my back.
And then he started saying:
“We really like Allon, we love the determination and attitude, but unfortunately, he's just not made for the school.”
When I heard those words, I was so down and I was so upset.
So I went home and I just didn't know what to do.
I opened up the TV and there was a tennis match.
I already loved tennis so I started watching it.
I noticed how focused and hungry they were throughout the match.
I think one of the players was Boris Becker playing who became one of my childhood idols at the time.
When the match finished, I asked myself:
“What does a real Champion do when he has lost a big match?”
“Does he just give up and throw the towel and give up?”
“Or does he get hungry to try even harder and prove what he is capable of?”
At that moment I decided I will never allow anyone else to determine what I'm capable of and whatnot.
I made it my mission to get into the Swiss school.
I worked really hard.
And then when I got another opportunity to sit in a classroom or in a suite to get into a Swiss school, I seized that opportunity.
I constantly improved. I got into a Swiss gymnasium and I started becoming really good at learning and I've thrived in my academic career.
I went to a London school of economics.
I did a master's in diplomacy.
I became a member of the New York bar.
But I always had this dream to get involved in the world of sports.
I wanted it to become a tennis player.
From a young age, I would visualize playing professional tennis.
The thing is though I wasn't practicing more than once or twice a week.
So that wasn't going to happen because having a big dream without doing the work doesn't do the trick.
But ironically through a lot of coincidences, I actually got into the tennis world.
I had a young Swiss player who asked me for support.
So I started working with a few young players.
But within a short time, I had this opportunity to work with a young and very promising tennis player.
Together with an experienced friend, we signed this player, who within a year became the shooting star of tennis, and world #1.
His name was Marat Safin.
I managed many more players, including for example Novak Djokovic.
I was really living the life of my dreams.
I also ran my own tennis events. I'm in Uzbekistan, Thailand, China, and I really got a close up from the world of tennis.
And the one question that really fascinated was:
What makes certain players successful and others not?
I saw young prodigies that were being chased by agents and getting huge contracts never make it.
And I saw young players who were not that flashy, who were not known, and who didn't get the big endorsement deals and still become world-class players.
So what makes the difference?
Is it their forehand?
Is it backhand?
Is it their serve?
Is it their fitness?
All these things matter.
But nowadays they are the foundation without which a player stands no chance to become world-class.
What I discovered really separates the very best from everyone else is their mental toughness.
Now I realize, many people say this and know this.
But I have struggled to find good Guides on how to develop mental toughness.
So I decided to write one myself, and give you everything you need, to become a mentally tough competitor.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- The paradox of performance!
As a tennis agent, people always ask me:
How do I recognize world-class tennis players when they're young?
This is a very good question because I see hundreds of kids compete at junior competitions.
They all hit amazing forehand and amazing backhands.
Nevertheless, only a few end up becoming world class tennis players.
For example, I remember a German junior called Daniel Elsner, who was the world’s best junior and managed the incredible stunt of consecutively winning the junior events of the US Open (in 1996), Australian Open and French Open (both in 1997).
Sadly, he never really made an impact on the professional Tour (he was briefly ranked as high as 92 and never passed the second round at a senior Grand Slam).
In fact, from the 70 junior Grand Slam Champions between 1997 and 2007, only 3 ended up winning senior Grand Slams (Federer, Murray and Roddick).
Only 16 ever made it into the top ten.
And 28 of them never even made it into the top 100 of the ATP rankings!
At the same time, I remember when I started managing Novak Djokovic:
He was a14 year old kid, and although he looked like a very solid player to me, it was almost impossible to get him lucrative sponsorship deals since nobody I spoke to really believed he could ever become a future top-10 player.
Of course, we know today that they were all wrong.
After winning 16 Grand Slams to date and having been the world #1 for over 260 weeks as I write this, Novak is on track to possibly becoming the greatest tennis player of all time.
When you ask superstars like Novak, Rafa or Roger what they think separates them from a player ranked 10 in the world, or 50 in the world, or even 100 in the world, they usually explain how technically and physically most of the top hundred tennis players’ play at a very similar high level.
What makes all the difference according to them, is their relentless mental toughness.
In other words, even though Nada, Federer and Djokovic almost exclusively win all the major events, they are not five times better tennis players than for example someone ranked outside the top 10.
In fact, statistically, the world’s best tennis players barely win more points than their opponents.
Top 10 players and their percentage of points won (as of May 15, 2017)
|Ranking||Player||Points Won/ Total||Win Percentage|
Source: Graph from Brain Game Tennis
Take for example Stan Wawrinka:
Although he only won 51.5 % of his points at the time of the stat above, he was still ranked number #3 in the world.
So what made the difference for him and other great professionals?
They perform well in the crucial moments of a match and win most of the big points.
What makes tennis so remarkable and so difficult, is that you can be the better player for most of a match, and still lose.
This is exactly what happened in one of the greatest matches of all time, the 2019 Wimbledon final against Roger Federer.
Federer was the better player in almost every possible way:
- He won more points than Djokovic, 218-204.
- He won more games than Djokovic, 36-32.
- He didn’t face a single breakpoint in the first three sets (and still lost two of those sets).
- He won more breakpoints (7-3) and converted them at a higher rate (54 percent vs 38 percent).
Nevertheless, he lost the match.
Winning most of the big points is what really separates the greatest players from everyone else, and why Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer have been so dominated for so many years.
And that requires true mental toughness.
Mental toughness influences every single stage of your tennis career.
The reason for this is because usually it is the athletes who can stay calm and collected when the heat is on, when matches get close, and when a lot of ranking points and money are at stake, who also wins the important battles at the biggest tournaments.
Mental toughness impacts how you:
- Deal with the days that you don’t feel like practicing.
- Are able to stay obsessed with your big dreams like becoming a top ten player even when the people around you, question your potential.
- Win matches even when you are not playing your best tennis.
- Recover from bad streaks without feeling devastated.
- Keep fighting in a match regardless of the score.
- Avoid cracking under pressure when you are a defending champion at a major tournament.
All these attributes have one thing in common:
They allow you to perform your best tennis in moments that really matter.
So to keep things simple, let’s define mental toughness as the ability to perform at our best in key moments regardless of the circumstances.
Say for example, you have a big match tomorrow:
Maybe you didn't sleep well because you felt extremely nervous.
As you step inside the tennis court, you realize that conditions are terrible, it's windy and cold.
Throughout the match, your opponent is cheating and using every opportunity to break your rhythm.
But you decide to ignore all the bad calls, the poor conditions and all the distractions from your opponent or the crowd.
Instead, you focus on your match and fight like a true warrior.
This is what mental toughness is really about!
Being able to adapt to any situation you face, and still give your best.
And it’s the ONE skill that will give you a winning edge against your rivals.
Why mental toughness is a skill you can learn and not a trait you need to be born with…
You want to become mentally tougher.
But is this a skill you can learn?
Or is it a talent you’re born with?
The answer depends on what your beliefs are about learning!
This is why one of the most important beliefs you can have, is the belief that it is through hard work and effort that we achieve amazing results. It is what Carol Dweck calls, a Growth Mindset.
This belief might feel a bit counter-intuitive:
People often think of stars like Roger Federer and Nadal as people who are born with these supernatural talents.
However, in my view, this belief is neither accurate nor helpful.
Anders Ericsson, the ultimate expert on experts, wanted to find out what separates top performers from everyone else.
He conducted a study with violinists at a famous school in Germany and divided them into three groups:
- The outstanding students who were dubbed as the superstars of the school and would become world-class musicians, the extremely good performers.
- Those who would maybe become professionals but not superstars.
- And the third group who were good but they would be more like future teachers. They were not good enough to become professional musicians.
They all attended similar classes.
So what was the major difference between these three groups?
What Ericsson found was that by the time the top students had reached the age of 20, they will have deliberately practiced over 10,000 hours!
Hence the famous 10,000-hour rule which has become famous ever since Malcolm Gladwell mentioned it in his book Outliers.
The second group, who were expected to become good performers by the age of 20, practiced 8,000 hours.
The ‘’future teachers’’ group only practiced 4,000 hours.
In other words, it was not talent or background or education that determined how good these musicians would become.
Instead, it was the number of hours they spent by themselves practicing in a very deliberate manner that made all the difference!
In his book, Bounce by Matthew Syed argues that super-talents like Agassi or the Williams sisters did not necessarily benefit from unusual genes. Instead, he argues they enjoyed a remarkable upbringing and a training program tailored to building their extraordinary skills.
In fact, by the age of 6 years, they may have experienced over 3,000 hours of deliberate practice.
In other words, against popular belief, these super talents had to work extremely hard and practice in a very deliberate manner in order to achieve their remarkable results.
In the same way that Williams and Agassi trained their forehand and their backhands, we now know we can also train our mental toughness, and that is exactly what this guide is about.
I remember for example how as a young player, Roger Federer would get extremely angry when he would miss an easy shot or lose a close match. However, in time, he matured and learned to become more calm and composed and evolved into one of the mentally toughest competitors in the world.
In a time where it was considered humanly impossible to run a mile in less than 4 minutes, a young runner coming from a regular working-class family declared that he wanted to finally break that mark.
This man stepped up his training and made no secret of his ambitious intentions.
His name was Roger Bannister.
On a cold wet day, on May 6th, 1954, in Oxford, Bannister made the impossible possible, and ran the mile in 3:59.04 minutes!
He broke the old world record and wrote history.
But here is the interesting thing:
46 days later, his main rival, John Landy also ran the mile in less than 4 minutes.
And over the next few years, more and more people broke through the four-minute mark-- they finally realized that doing so was possible.
The story of Bannister shows us how beliefs can affect our performance.
Before 1954, running a mile under four minutes seemed impossible.
Bannister’s conviction seemed crazy!
In fact, it is this capacity to believe in outrageous things like wanting to break a world record or becoming the world’s best tennis player that characterizes so many world-class athletes.
Once Bannister achieved his dream, he also broke a myth!
Suddenly many of his competitors were able to believe running a mile in less than 4 minutes was possible.
Today over 1,400 people have run the one mile mark in under four minutes.
So how does the story of Roger Bannister relate to you?
You probably have big dreams, like winning big tournaments, or achieving a specific ranking.
However, to achieve these kind of ambitious goals, you need to believe that you are capable to achieve them, even if they go beyond your current skills.
Without such a belief, it will be very hard to push yourself day in and day out.
Unfortunately, many of us have limiting beliefs that make us doubt ourselves and our own abilities to ever become a top tennis player.
We see the world through the lenses of our current skills, and question if we can experience the kind of breakthroughs that would allow us to have a professional career.
Maybe we even lose hope in ourselves whenever we fall behind in an important match.
Our beliefs at times even make us feel that everyone else is better than us.
Even if these beliefs are not necessarily true or based on any real facts, they will influence our career and whether we will become successful or not.
The Self Fulfilling Prophecy
The reason that our beliefs are so powerful is that even just a simple thought can impact whether you win a match or lose it.
For example, let's say you have a coach who gets angry at you every time you make unnecessary mistakes, and when you lose to players you should be beating.
So when you practice with your coach, you might feel anxious.
Your self-fulfilling prophecy could look something like this:
Thought: “I am not capable to do what my coach told me.”
Feeling: You fear to miss a ball. You feel nervous and anxious. You panic when you make mistakes.
Actions: You play extremely defensively.
Results: You lose against players you should be winning.
Thought: “I am such a loser. I will never become a good player.”
Feeling: Self-doubt, anger, and frustration
Actions: You stop trying your best in practice and fight less in matches.
Results: More disappointing results.
Can you see how one simple thought can create limiting beliefs that affect how you practice and fight in match situations and hence affect your long term results?
Things get even worse, if you start using excuses, like saying you feel ill or being injured before matches, or if you pretend you don’t really care about your career, in order to justify your poor results.
But here is the good news.
In the same way that limiting beliefs can prevent us from performing well, we can have empowering thoughts that allow us to achieve unthinkable results.
Just like Roger Bannister!
Let’s say you have a coach who keeps praising you for your hard work.
This coach doesn’t focus too much on your results but more on your effort and your progress.
For example, after disappointing losses, your coach encourages and supports you, and tells you that you have all it takes to become a world-class tennis player.
As a result, you create empowering beliefs about how you can improve through hard work and effort.
Look what happens:
Thought: “The harder I work, the better I get.”
Feeling: You feel excited and ambitious every time you step onto the tennis court.
Actions: You play your game, and go for your shots whenever appropriate.
Results: You start beating better players.
Thought: “I am really improving and don’t need to fear any opponent.”
Feeling: You feel confident, optimistic and mentally strong.
Actions: You constantly improve, and you are playing much better tennis.
Results: You win more and bigger matches.
Suddenly you have a positive self-fulfilling prophecy whereby your thoughts allow you to experience breakthrough results.
In other words, your thoughts can have both a positive and a negative impact on your career because they trigger the kind of actions that can either strengthen or weaken your confidence in yourself.
As Henry Ford famously once said:
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right!”
At this point, you must be wondering:
So why do we have these limiting beliefs that stop us from performing well?
And where do these limiting thoughts come from?
The truth is that many of our beliefs are the result of things we heard, saw and experienced during our childhood- which is a time when our brain was extremely malleable and we were very susceptible to the influences of the most important adults around us.
For example, let’s imagine that when you were 8 years old you had a coach who would always shout at you when you missed a shot in practice, and when you would lose matches at tournaments.
Over time, you might have started to doubt yourself, and develop thoughts like:
- I am such a loser!
- I hate competing!
- I’m not talented at this!
- I don’t deserve to win big tournaments!
This is just one example of an input that could have influenced your tennis.
As children, there were so many people who affected our beliefs, like for example our parents, siblings, friends or even school teachers.
In most cases, these individuals wanted the best for us.
Nevertheless, without even wanting it, they may have planted the seeds for the kind of limiting beliefs that are holding you back right now:
For example, say we had parents who would rarely praise us but constantly criticize what we did, because they thought this is how we would eventually learn how to fulfill their expectations for us.
Over the years, we may develop limiting beliefs about ourselves and how incompetent we are.
Or say we overheard our parents speak about how difficult life was, and how only cheaters and thieves could become wealthy and successful.
This too could have caused limiting beliefs about what we think is possible for ourselves.
Over time we internalize these beliefs, and they affect everything we do.
But here is the tricky part.
Since limiting beliefs are not pleasant, we like to suppress them.
Nevertheless, they impact our thinking and our mental game, often without us even noticing.
This is why they often determine our destiny, and things like whether we win or lose an important match, whether we ever make it as professional tennis players, become one time wonders or a long lasting and sustainable career.
If you feel you might have limiting beliefs that are preventing you from performing well, don’t feel down!
The good news is that we can change our beliefs.
I have had clients who struggled winning matches and performing well under pressure, but as soon as they started working on their mental toughness, they regained their confidence and in some cases won several tournaments within a very short time span.
In fact, what we are seeing is how professional players are becoming more open about working on their mental side of their game:
Take former world #5 ranked Kevin Anderson, who described his work with his psychologist Alexis Castorri in the following manner:
“So many people say, it’s 90 percent mental, everybody knows how to hit tennis balls.”
“We’ve been playing tennis for so long that it’s tough to make huge changes.”
“The bigger thing is just having that belief and confidence in your game and I feel like just chatting with her and having a better understanding of my game.”
Or Petra Kvitova, who thanked her psychologist Michal Safar, with whom she’s been working with for five years, in her speech after winning her second Wimbledon title.
These players realize that working with a mental coach does not demonstrate weakness, but rather the strength to do whatever it takes, to experience breakthrough results.
Mental toughness is all about overcoming our limiting beliefs that are holding us back, and winning our mind game
By implementing the strategies of this guide, we will gradually shift your beliefs from limiting ones that have been holding you back, into more empowering ones that will allow you to become a much better competitor.
However, the starting point for us is to become more aware of the thoughts that run our lives.
If we do this consistently, and we start seeing our thoughts for what they are- just thoughts- we can challenge and dispute them.
Overtime, we learn how to disassociate from our limiting beliefs and create more empowering ones that support us with our professional goals as a tennis player.
But let me be upfront with you:
Without loosening and eventually transforming your limiting beliefs, it can become quite hard to implement some of the other strategies of this guide: Your negative thought patterns will cause you to doubt whether you have what it takes to become a top tennis player, and this may affect everything you do on- and off the tennis court.
The Mental Toughness Quiz: How To Identify Your Biggest Mental Weaknesses
But before we continue with specific strategies, let’s see how mentally tough you are!
Please take a few minutes to answer a little quiz that will tell you more about your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to mental toughness.
Read each question and share if you agree or disagree with the statement:
1. I believe that to be a successful tennis player, I need to be extremely talented. True or False?
2. After I lose a match, I often find reasons beyond my control that justify my loss. True or False?
3. I often feel exhausted and tired. True or False?
4. I am able to raise my game in key moments of important matches. True or False?
5. I love competing and pushing my limits both in practice and in match situations. True or False?
6. I have a clear impression of what it is I want to achieve in my career. True or False?
7. I often fear how other people will respond if I lose a match. True or False?
8. No matter the score, I always believe that I still have a chance. True or False?
9. When I am winning a match, I often become nervous. True or False?
10. I often think: I must win this match! True or False?
Answers to the Quiz
Based on your answers, you can see where your strengths and weaknesses lie when it comes to mental toughness, and what you can do immediately to experience immediate improvements. While I recommend you read the entire guide, I am also referring to what chapters might be most relevant to you, based on your answers.
1. I believe that to be a successful tennis player, I need to be extremely talented.
If you agree with this statement, it is important that you learn more about the Growth Mindset, and how it is through hard work and effort that even the best athletes became successful. We cover this here. One great recommendation for you is to read biographies of athletes and tennis players you admire and see what adversities they had to overcome. Also consider reading the book, Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck.
2. After I lose a match, I often find reasons beyond my control that justify my loss.
As a tennis player, we lose on a consistent basis. So we need to cultivate a “learning mindset.” This is only possible if we don’t seek excuses beyond our control. So if you agree with this statement, it means you may be uncomfortable with losing. Maybe you fear the reaction of others, or struggle with coping with the disappointment of setbacks. To overcome this, you need to learn to take responsibility and seek feedback, rather than find excuses. A great way to do this is to start sharing both your dreams and your fears with trusted people, like your coach, your parents, and continuously seeking honest feedback.
3. I often feel exhausted and tired.
Sure, to be successful, you must constantly push your limits in practice and matches. This can be exhausting. At the same time, if you often feel burnt out and tired, it means you must prioritize recovery- and fun time off the tennis court. So check in with yourself and see if you get enough sleep, if you are eating well and if you are spending enough downtime where you can hang out with friends or pursue hobbies that have nothing to do with tennis.
4. I am able to raise my game in key moments of important matches.
If you don’t agree with this statement, it means you may struggle to perform under pressure. Learning about how to get into your best performance state may help you overcome this challenge. Specific pre-match rituals can make a huge difference for you.
5. I love competing and pushing my limits both in practice and in match situations.
If you agree with this, you have the kind of Growth Mindset that really characterizes top tennis players, and that will allow you to constantly improve your game. On the other hand, if you don’t agree with this statement, it might mean that you struggling to deal with the pressure you face from the people around you. As a result, you may be focusing too much on results and too little on the process of becoming a top tennis player.
To help you shift the way you view practice, learn about Deliberate Practice here.
6. I have a clear impression of what it is I want to achieve in my career.
If you lack clarity with regards to why you are playing tennis, and what it is you want to achieve, it will be hard for you to persistently push your limits. What will really help you is to develop a clear impression of what it is you want to achieve.
One of the best ways to achieve this is through daily visualizations. We cover how you can do this here.
7. I often fear how other people will respond if I lose a match.
If this resonates with you, it is important to find a trusted person with whom you can express your feelings, share both your dreams and fears, and enjoy unconditional support that does not depend on results. Otherwise, you may start self-sabotaging behaviors that will prevent you from evolving into the player you would like to become. What will help you is creating a safe environment where you can express yourself and openly speak about your fears and your mistakes.
More about this here.
8. No matter the score, I always believe that I still have a chance.
If you struggle to fight, when you are losing, you might also be struggling with finding the kind of motivation to fight hard, when things become difficult. Motivation is such a big topic, and finding more intrinsic reasons why you are playing tennis, will help you to stay hungry even in more challenging times.
We cover the subject of motivation here.
9. When I am winning a match, I often become nervous.
Every player has this problem, at one stage of their career. The reason we "choke" is because we care about our tennis and really want to do well. As a result, we often overthink moments before winning a match.
We cover the topic of choking, and how you can control and eventually overcome it, here.
10. I often think: I must win this match!
Wanting to win is great. Paradoxically, to play well under pressure, we must learn to detach from outcomes that we can’t control. This is the only way we can enjoy competing while performing at our best. If you struggle with this, it might mean you still do not see your losses and setbacks as an opportunity to learn and grow.
We cover this topic here.
This first strategy is all about becoming aware of our beliefs and gradually disputing them.
As discussed earlier, awareness is really a precondition for us to dispute our limiting beliefs, and then gradually disassociating from them, so they no longer run our life.
But I want to warn you in advance.
This first exercise takes patience and a bit of willpower because you will have internal ‘’Bodyguards’’ who will resist you wanting to change your beliefs and stepping beyond your current comfort zone.
We will have easier strategies, but this one will be a game-changer, so I urge you to give it a try!
OK, so now that we have covered that, let's get started:
Today, I’d like you to go for a 15-minute walk without your phone, alone, without any distractions.
Again, you will feel some resistance walking by yourself, but that’s a good thing, as it means you are literally reconditioning yourself to becoming aware of your own thinking.
You are not used to doing this, so you will initially want to look for every excuse to grab your phone, worry about not having fed your cat and wanting to do anything else but your lonely walk.
But stay strong, because, with every time that you manage to overcome your urge to be distracted, you become better at this!
Focus on watching your thoughts and feelings, like an objective observer.
By doing this, you are loosening your thought patterns, which will then allow you overtime to really question their validity.
Ideally, repeat this everyday, for at least a week, and if possible, even longer.
So after doing this for a few days, and once you feel that you are able to observe your thoughts, free from distractions, you can start to think about your tennis career.
Reflect on one specific situation that keeps coming up when practicing or playing matches, and which is holding you back right now.
For example, maybe you:
- Keep getting uptight whenever you are winning important matches.
- Give up way too early when you are losing.
- Feel devastated each time you lose and need hours if not days to recover.
- Keep feeling tired before your practice sessions.
- Get very nervous or even sick before important matches.
Ask yourself: What belief is stopping me in this specific situation from playing my best tennis?
Let’s say notice that you have a belief that sounds a bit like this:
“If I don’t win matches, it means I am a loser.”
You might feel a bit upset when discovering your beliefs, but remember, this is the first step to overcoming them.
So let’s continue asking questions:
First, we want to understand where this belief came from:
So try and recall your earliest possible memories that may have triggered your limiting belief.
You may realize that your belief has been shaped during age and time when you were extremely young and vulnerable.
Maybe you had a few losses that felt extremely embarrassing or painful.
Or maybe your coaches or even parents kept criticizing you in ways that made you feel helpless and incompetent.
Whatever it is, creating awareness will help you with the next steps of this process.
Next, I want you to ask the most crucial question:
Is this belief true?
For example, if you would train really train hard on various aspects of your career, like your technique, your fitness, even your mental toughness, is it really true that you would not have a chance to become a great tennis player?
Try and notice how you may have been maximizing your weaknesses and minimizing your strengths as a result of the strong beliefs that you have shaped, during your childhood.
Could it be possible that you lost some of those painful matches because you did not practice enough, or because your opponent was bigger and stronger, or because you weren’t able to handle your emotions on the court?
Remember, this process takes time, but it will be worth the effort!
The goal is to start questioning your beliefs and find alternative explanations for your results.
I also want you to think of the consequences that your belief will cause you in the future if you do not manage to rebuff it.
For example, if you keep believing you are a loser, how will that affect your results and your ability to fulfill your professional dreams?
And what would change if you could dis-associate from that belief, or even change it into a more empowering one?
Finally, ask yourself.
How can I reframe my belief?
Upon reflection, you might realize that the only reason some of your competitors were better tennis players than you and hence kept winning against you was because they were older, bigger and more experienced.
Or maybe because they had been training harder and longer than you.
Or because you perform less well in matches than you do in practice.
I want you to reframe your belief and find a more accurate explanation for why you were struggling at the time when you started to believe your limiting thoughts about yourself.
It is likely you might find conclusions similar to this one:
“I know that if I practice hard, I will keep improving and that anything is possible with regards to my career.”
Finally, think about what specific action you can take to dramatically improve your game:
For example, if you realize that your belief (i.e. I am a loser) isn’t true, then it means there are other reasons that are preventing you from delivering the results you desire.
Maybe you are not practicing the way you should, and need a better coach?
Or you need to adjust your training program, and deliberately address some of the weak spots of your game.
Maybe learning specific performance skills will do the trick.
Spend some time and think about what it is what is currently holding you back.
This is a process that takes time, but you will improve as you do it.
To recap, here are the kind of questions I want you to ask yourself while taking your 15-minute walks:
- Question #1: What is the one limiting belief that is really holding me back?
- Question #2: Where does this belief come from?
- Question #3: Is my belief true, accurate and helpful?
- Question #4: How can I reframe my limiting belief into a more empowering one?
- Question #4: What action can I take to change my belief?
As I mentioned before
Transforming our beliefs is not easy:
Most of us have about 40,000- 80,000 thoughts a day, of which most of them are the same, every single day.
In addition, from an evolutionary standpoint, we are conditioned to dramatize dangers and draw negative conclusions.
This is how we survived in a dangerous world.
Of course, today, there is no need to be negative and self-defeating.
By creating awareness of your limiting beliefs, you are giving yourself the opportunity to question them- something that you could probably not do as a child.
Over time, you will notice that many of your beliefs are neither accurate nor helpful, which makes it so much easier for you to then change them.
As a result of more empowering beliefs, you will become a better and more fulfilled tennis player, win more matches, and enjoy your progress.
So stay strong while you try this.
I know this sounds obvious, but to become a world-class tennis player and win big matches, you need to practice like a world-class champion.
But here is the thing:
Simply spending a lot of hours on the tennis court doesn't mean you will automatically become better.
In fact, if you play tennis every day for many hours at your local club, you might even become a worse player because by repeating some of the same mistakes, they might become so automated that it will become almost impossible to change them.
In other words, how you practice is just as important, if not more important than how much you practice. I have seen some of the best tennis players in the world spend fewer hours on the practice courts than lower-ranked players, but still improve at a much faster pace.
In other words, what makes all the difference is to have a training program that will constantly help you become a better tennis player.
Usually, this means working on specific skills, by repeating carefully designed exercises that push you outside your comfort zone, and that feel both difficult and painful.
When you practice in such a deliberate manner, you not only become a better tennis player but you also automatically increase your mental toughness.
For example, let's say you want to improve your backhand:
You find a good coach who makes you hit many drills.
While doing so, he gives you continuous feedback.
You keep practicing the same shoot and implement the feedback of your coach until it becomes natural and automatic.
This process of continuous repetition is both painful and difficult.
But if you demonstrate patience and persistence, you become a better tennis player.
And when you improve, you become more confident.
You start believing that you are capable of improving your skills.
Now it becomes so much easier to find the courage and challenge other areas of your game.
Once again, we trigger a positive self-fulfilling prophecy whereby our beliefs and our actions support each other, and trigger improvements that will help us win more matches and become better tennis players.
As juniors, we usually focus on developing and improving our basic skills.
In the beginning, we have a lot of room for improvement, because we are still fine-tuning some of our most basic shots and eliminating our weaknesses.
However, there comes a time of diminishing returns.
As we grow older, we start mastering foundational skills.
We know how to fit forehands, backhands, serves, and volleys.
Now it's about addressing subtle distinctions that will make us a better tennis player.
They can be hard to detect.
And they can be difficult to address.
This is when many players settle for maintaining their current level of play.
This does not mean they don’t train:
For example, during their offseason they might work on getting back into their best shape, and on sharpening some of their existing strengths.
During tournament weeks, they can spend hours a day doing the same kind of drills.
But they barely improve.
Very few tennis players consciously choose to continue working on specific aspects of their game, like for example their serve, or their overall movement.
Rarely do I see experienced tennis players try new and different exercises that they feel unfamiliar with.
The reason for this is that it is easier to practice what we know than to seek minor improvements in our game.
However, another key characteristic that separates the best tennis players from everyone else is their constant drive for exactly these minor, distinct adjustments.
They do not fear trying out new exercises, working on specific parts of their game and even engaging new coaches who give them fresh inputs.
I remember for example how Murray hired Ivan Lendl.
He was already ranked as high as #2 in the world, and although he hadn’t won a Grand Slam yet, he was enjoying a very successful career.
But Andy was hungry for more.
Together with Lendl, he won two Grand Slams.
In the last chapter, I mentioned a study by Anders Ericsson in which he found that the very best violinists spent the most hours in what he termed “Deliberate Practice”.
But what exactly is Deliberate Practice?
Ericsson lists the following components that separate deliberate practice from any other kind of training:
- Practicing with a skilled coach with whom you have defined what it is that you want to learn, on a consistent basis.
- Being fully focused on implementing the instructions you receive, even when these feel difficult and repetitive.
- Constantly refining and improving your skills.
- Actively seeking feedback, both from your coach but also from participating in competitions that serve as benchmarks with regards to your progress.
In other words, Deliberate Practice is a structured training regime that is both difficult and often repetitive and geared towards incremental improvements.
Deliberate practice is a form of mental training:
It helps us improve specific skills by building and growing existing "mental muscles."
Let me explain.
According to Anders Ericsson, Deliberate Practice helps us develop strong Mental Representations inside our brain that reflect the skill we want to master.
For example, when you were learning how to serve, it probably took a lot of effort and patience to implement the instructions of your coach.
You were using the most modern part of our brain, which is called the cortex (which is responsible for functions like planning, for visualization, for awareness, for self-correction) to consciously execute what you were being told.
You had to think about multiple things, like how to toss the ball, where to stand and how to hold your racket.
Through lots of little corrections and frequent repetition, serving became easier and easier for you, until you no longer had to think about all the details that are involved in a serve. This is because gradually, you built and strengthened your Mental Representations that allow you to process a lot of information very quickly despite the limitations of our short term memory.
So now you can serve without much thought.
A Mental Representation is a mental structure that corresponds to the information that our brain is thinking about.
If this sounds abstract, let me share a fascinating study by Neil Charness that should help:
Charness studied a group of chess masters who had all practiced playing chess for at least 10,000 hours.
What surprised him was that some of these players eventually became grandmasters, while others remained at an intermediate level.
He wanted to find out why:
Upon closer analysis, Charness noticed that while all the players he interviewed would play lots of practice games, the top performers spent around half of their time analyzing games of big chess masters. They were also getting feedback from coaches from games they were playing themselves.
In other words, they practiced in a manner that really got them to think and stretch their limits so that they would constantly improve.
But what if the best chess masters simply were more gifted and have better inborn skills?
Maybe they just had better memories?
To test this assumption, a Dutch chess master called Adrian de Groot invited masters and novices for an experiment where both groups were asked to look at a chessboard with random pieces, for about five seconds.
They were then asked to reconstruct the board.
Most of the participants remembered the location of approximately 2-3 pieces, regardless of their chess level- no surprise here.
Next, they were shown another board that had the pieces set up from the middle of a real chess game.
While the novices still struggled to remember more than 2-3 pieces, the masters now were able to reconstruct the entire game.
It turns out that the chess masters now saw patterns in the pieces that were easy for them to remember. Thanks to Deliberate Practice, they had developed strong Mental Representations that allowed them to understand how the pieces were connected to each other.
What really separates the great tennis players from everyone else is the quality and quantity of their Mental Representations. Throughout the years, they have developed highly complex and sophisticated representations of their specific shots, and of the various situations they are likely to encounter.
These representations allow a tennis player to make faster, more accurate decisions and respond more quickly and effectively in any given match situation.
Mental Representations are the reason why for example Djokovic can anticipate the direction of a lightning-fast serve.
Novak doesn’t have better eyes than his opponents.
In fact he used to wear glasses and lenses while I was working with him.
Instead, he practiced his returns so often and in such a deliberate manner that his brain now uses subtle cues, like the direction, or height of the toss of the ball by his opponent, to calculate where the ball might land.
What once used to take effort and patience, now happens automatically.
One feature that keeps amazing me about world-class tennis players, is how they seek new and innovative ways to use Deliberate Practice and enhance their Mental Representations.
Take Milos Raonic:
He already has possibly the biggest serve in tennis and pretty solid groundstrokes.
However, he keeps seeking ways to improve.
For example, I remember a few years ago how Milos used special glasses that would enlarge the ball to help him train while hitting returns, at the time possibly his weakest shot.
The idea was that by repeating the same drills, he would develop Mental Representations that would help him improve his reaction and speed.
Within months, his return game became significantly better.
Top players keep seeking their competitive edge, and so can you.
There are many ways to do this:
You can make it your goal to fine-tune your best shots, so you gain more speed, precision, and efficiency.
You can address the weaker aspects of your game.
You can choose to work on your performance skills so you can adapt to various match situations.
Or you can spend time analyzing videos of top players with your coach, so you start understanding how they construct their points throughout big matches, without thinking too much.
The goal is to master more and more skills through Deliberate Practice so you build the kind of Mental Representations that will allow you to perform them without any problems- even when facing the pressure of big matches and tough circumstances.
This will make you a better tennis player and better competitor.
However, she was so anxious to win, that she was not able to play her best tennis, and lost her match to Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets.
After the match Dinara said:
“I didn’t stay tough mentally. I lost myself.”
As an aspiring tennis champion, you are constantly facing a lot of pressure.
So how can you master your mental game and learn how to perform as well in competitions as you do in practice?
The first step is to make sure we embrace challenges and regularly play important tournaments.
This is where you get real feedback, where you will discover what technical skills you need to improve and what strategies you need to learn in order to become a better tennis player.
In addition, you and your team will get the chance at tournaments to become more aware of the specific performance skills you still need to focus on.
For example, maybe you play well in practice but really make lots of unforced errors in matches.
Or you struggle to close a match when you are winning.
Or you get very negative whenever you fall behind.
Under-performing in these ways can be very frustrating.
At the same time, every disappointment also offers us the benefit of directing us how we can take our game to the next level.
Sadly, too many players miss out on this opportunity and do not reflect on painful losses.
So they keep experiencing the same kind of defeats over and over again.
One skill that will help you reduce underperforming in big matches comes from learning how to play well under pressure.
I read of a basketball coach who took his team that was struggling with free throws in important matches.
He made them practice free throws and gradually added the kind of distractions that they would encounter in important games, like a noisy audience.
In no time, their free throw stats improved dramatically.
As a tennis player, we can do the same.
For example, we can play practice matches and simulate the conditions in which we usually underperform.
We can employ a referee and ask him to make unfavorable calls.
Or we can invite friends and ask them to make lots of noise and cheer for your opponent.
Or play early in the morning, late in the evening or on a day in which the weather conditions are terrible.
The goal is to acclimate ourselves to the kind of difficult situations we face, so we get used to them, become more adaptable to tough conditions, and gain confidence in our ability to overcome stressful situations.
In order to improve, we need to constantly ask ourselves:
What are the areas of my game that I need to work on?
Once we did that, you need to practice in a very deliberate manner and improve specific aspects of your game on a consistent basis.
For example, say you want to improve how you perform in match situations.
Here is what you can do:
Step 1: Define Your Weakest Link In Matches
Analyze your last matches, and define the ONE performance skill that is causing you the most short term damage.
For example, maybe the referee made a few poor calls, and you got so upset that you played a few poor games.
Step 2: Practice Deliberately
Together with your coach, figure out how you can practice simulating those kinds of situations.
You might schedule practice matches, and instruct a friend to be the umpire and make a few terrible calls.
Together with your coach, discuss a plan of how you can stay composed in those points.
Maybe you have an affirmation like:
Or you take a few deep breaths.
See what works for you but have a plan.
Your job will be to stay composed and calm, no matter what.
This does not mean you can’t question a call, provided it does not throw you off your game.
But it does require you to quickly forget poor decisions so they don’t affect the following points.
In the beginning, training to adjust to difficult situations will be tough, but your coach can keep reminding you what you should do to regain your focus.
He can literally interrupt the match and walk you through your reaction to the bad call, and what he would prefer you to do.
Start with minor poor calls and gradually escalate them so that you will have to keep improving your self-control and composure in those situations. Repeat practicing in these kinds of the match- and competition conditions so often until you experience dramatic improvements and build the Mental Representations that will allow you to respond to them naturally in a more helpful manner.
Step 3: Visualize Your Ideal Response
Before every match, visualize yourself for a few moments handling a poor call in a positive and constructive manner. Imagine yourself wanting to get angry but instantly focusing on calming yourself down, and then playing focused tennis from the next point.
This short visualization will help remind you what you want to do if that situation unfolds in your match.
After the match, discuss how you handled poor calls with your coach, and what you can do to improve in the future.
Even one small adjustment from every match, which you can introduce during your practice sessions, can really help you improve your performance skills.
Your goal with this exercise is simple:
You want to become so composed when experiencing poor calls that people watching your matches actually notice the change in attitude, and come up to you to compliment you for your strong mental toughness in those difficult circumstances.
Once that is achieved, you can focus on a different match situation.
Deliberate Practice is the reason why we are seeing new records being broken in the world of sports, on a consistent basis.
Take for example marathon-- the world record in 1908 was two hours and 55 minutes.
Today, it is below two hours and two minutes.
It is also the reason why tennis players are becoming better and better, and why you can achieve so much more than you can even begin to imagine!
At the same time, we need to accept that Deliberate Practice can be tough, since we are consciously working on things that we struggle with, and constantly pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone.
It both requires and develops your mental toughness!
So to help you follow through, you need an experienced coach who understands where you are and what you need to do to get to the next level of your career.
Ideally, he is someone who has helped a player of your level in a very successful manner.
Your coach should be someone who can help you set up specialized goals (i.e. improving a stroke), create a training regime of specific exercises that you repeat so often until you improve. As discussed earlier, these exercises should require your fullest attention and regularly push you outside your comfort zone.
You're also coach also needs to give you continuous feedback, so that you can make consistent progress.
And he needs to hold you accountable to trying your best.
So if you don’t have a coach yet, who does these things, this is the first step you need to address.
If you do have a coach but are not getting the right results, it might be the right time to consider a change.
This doesn’t necessarily mean your coach isn’t good:
I remember, in 2000 when we first started managing Marat Safin, he lost six or seven matches in a row.
He was completely out of confidence.
He had a great coach in Rafael Mensua, who worked with him since the age of 13, and who guided him to becoming a world-class player.
However, at this stage of his career, Marat was so demoralized, he was even flirting with retirement.
He really needed a change.
So we got him a new coach and engaged Andrei Chesnokov, a former Russian top player.
Instantaneously, Marat won back to back ATP events in Barcelona and Mallorca and turned a disappointing few months into his big breakthrough year.
This is just one example to show you how small changes can sometimes cause big results.
In fact, as you get better, it becomes even more important to find your competitive edge.
This is why at one stage, once you have the financial means, you may need to actually have your own team.
You could add your own fitness coach, your own physio, a nutritionist, maybe even a performance coach or a head coach.
Many players hesitate to make these kinds of commitments, even when they could afford them. Afterall, hiring more people can become a substantial investment.
But top players think differently:
I remember when I gave Novak Djokovic a Wild Card to my ATP event in Bangkok.
He was barely 17 years old and wasn’t earning much money yet.
Nevertheless, he arrived with three people:
A coach, a trainer and a physio.
I recall how some of the players were laughing at this 17-year-old kid.
But he did not mind.
He would practice with his team on the training court, and do things as if he was already a world class player.
When I look back to this time, I realize it was his self-belief in himself and his willingness to invest more time, money and effort than most kids of his age that gave him such a competitive edge.
OK, let’s say tomorrow you have a big match.
You are anxious because you have been waiting for this tournament for a while.
You want to play well, so naturally, you feel nervous!
So how can you increase your chances of playing your best tennis- instead of choking or throwing mental tantrums?
This is exactly the kind of question professionals like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will ask themselves. They understand how important it is to prepare for big occasions and not leave anything to chance.
It is also why they have been dominating the big events for the last ten years!
Every good player will have different habits before their matches, which usually include things like:
- Waking up at a specific time;
- Having breakfast;
- Preparing your tennis bag;
- Heading to the venue a few hours before their match;
- Warming up on a practice court;
- Talking tactics with their coach;
- Having something to eat again before their match.
- Taking a shower
World class tennis players also have their pre-match routine, which usually starts at least 30 minutes before their match.
They head to the locker room and get ready for their match in a much focused manner.
The very best players go one step further, and do what I call a Mental Warm-Up.
By adding a Mental Warm up to your pre-match routine and getting yourself into your perfect match state, you are really giving yourself a competitive edge. As part of this routine, you want to rid yourself of any tense feelings and clear your mind from all the distracting things that are going on in your life, outside the tennis court.
So let’s take a moment to create your perfect pre-match routine, so you can immediately start using it in your practice matches.
To create your Mental Warm-Up before matches, you’ll need to implement these 5 steps:
Step #1: Discuss Your Match Plan
Spend a few minutes with your coach to go over your match plan. Hopefully, your coach will have researched your opponent and help you develop a strategy or game-plan for your match so you really know what to do once you step onto the court.
Step #2: Calm Down
Before a match, it is normal to be nervous.
So once you are in the locker room, spend a few minutes to calm down and relax. You do this by spending a few moments focusing on your breath.
To get started, try this:
Sit down in a quiet place, and if appropriate, close your eyes, and focus on taking 10-20 deep breaths.
If it helps, count your breaths, or even repeat a mantra like “relax” after each exhale.
Step #3: Do your “Fast Forward Visualization”
Next, you want to spend a few minutes going through your upcoming match, as if you were playing it in real-time.
This means you visualize key moments like:
- Walking onto the match court feeling pumped up and excited.
- Feeling a bit nervous at the beginning of the first set but calming yourself down.
- Coming back from breakpoints by staying super composed and focused.
- Staying tough when you are winning and preventing doubtful thoughts from taking over your mind.
- Recovering between long rallies.
- Playing your best tennis during big points.
- Closing the match in style.
- Feeling extremely happy about how you played.
- Celebrating with your team right after the match.
The more you do this, the more you are actually building Mental Representations that will help you adjust to the many different scenarios you might face.
As a result, you will feel ready to cope with your match situations and respond to them in a mentally tough manner.
Step # 4: Enter your Best Performance State.
Finally, you want to get both your body and your mind ready for your match:
Here are a few simple things you can try out to see what works best for you:
- Stretch your body.
- Move your body for a minute or two, so you feel energized and ready.
- Have your pre-match music play-list: If you feel you need to calm down before your match, listen to relaxing music. On the other hand, if you feel you need to be more energized, listen to something more lively.
- Have affirmations that help you feel confident, like:
“I love competing! I am so ready for this! I am going to give my very best!”
Step #5: On Court- triggers
Sometimes you don’t know exactly when your match will be called on. So once you have completed the first 4 steps, stay in the locker room or restaurant area, and keep yourself in a focused and relaxed state.
In addition, you can create a few triggers that help you feel energized and ready for your match, from the second you enter the court.
This could mean looking at the court and taking a moment to visualize feeling confident, and then heading to your seat like a true warrior while repeating a few affirmations.
Or it could be something you do after the coin toss, like springing to the baseline a la Nadal.
The goal with these triggers is to get you back into your best performance state within a few seconds.
Do you remember the study by Anders Ericsson in which he found that the best violinists spent more time practicing more in a deliberate manner?
What I didn’t mention was the second characteristic that separated the best violinists from everyone else:
Not only did they practice more, but they also slept longer than the participants of the lower performing groups.
Getting more sleep might be your easiest and fastest way to improving your performance.
At the same time, I often see tennis players who go to sleep late and wake up tired and grumpy.
They wonder why it is so hard for them to excel in command.
Sleep is crucial because when we don't feel recovered and energized, it's so hard to perform at our best.
But the benefits go beyond that:
During our sleep, our brain processes our day and consolidates what we learned. So for example, if you've been practicing in a very deliberate manner, those new brain connections will start manifesting themselves in your sleep.
In fact, if you spend a few minutes before going to bed, reflecting on what you have learned, and visualizing a new shot you practiced, or a match situation you have been addressing, you will enhance this process, and strengthen your Mental Representations while sleeping!
I would estimate that most athletes need between seven to nine hours of quality sleep, apparently, some top players even sleep more.
You need to test how many hours you usually need to sleep, so you can wake up without an alarm clock, feeling rejuvenated and in good spirits.
Once you know your requirements, make sure you give yourself the opportunity to really sleep during those hours, especially before matches, but ideally, every single day. This means that if you need 8 hours of sleep, you may need to schedule 9 hours of bedtime.
If you struggle to sleep before big matches, because you feel nervous or anxious, it is crucial that you create a regular bedtime routine.
This is the only way how you condition yourself to become a better sleeper.
Your bedtime routine might include things like:
- Going to sleep at the same hour, whenever possible (ideally not too late!).
- Avoiding any caffeine from the early afternoon.
- Avoiding heavy food at least 1-2 hours before you go to sleep.
- Avoiding any kind of screens (i.e. phones, computers) the last hour before going to bed.
- Engaging in relaxing activities in that last hour, like taking a hot shower, chatting with your partner, reading something inspiring or meditating.
- Sealing any little light buttons in your bedroom or hotel room that might distract you.
- Ensuring you find your ideal sleep temperature.
As with any routine, it will take some time until it happens naturally. So initially, you need to create reminders for yourself about your bedtime routine and what you should be doing. This might sound like a bit of effort, but it will be worth your while!
Professional tennis players usually do a few cool-down exercises after a match, take a shower or even a cold bath, and often also add a massage.
But if you really want to become a great competitor, you can go a step further.
Once you finished your tournament commitments, like your press conference, maybe had a meal, and de-briefed the match with your coach, you want to spend a few minutes by yourself and think through key moments of your match.
I call this your Mental De-brief.
The goal of this practice is to spend a few minutes replaying some of the key points of the match in your head:
For example, you can visualize the moment in your match where you had breakpoints, but messed them up with unnecessary unforced errors.
Or you can reflect on the situation when you were leading 5-3 but then started to get a shaky hand, forcing you to hit two double faults.
The idea is not to judge yourself, but to see where things went wrong, and where you can find the greatest opportunities for improvement.
Next, I want you to contemplate how you could do things differently, in the same set of circumstances, if you could replay the match.
You can do this by asking yourself questions like:
- What was I thinking at that moment?
- What emotions was I feeling?
- How did that affect my game?
- How would I do that differently next time?
Once you did that, I want you to visualize playing those key moments again, but this time picturing yourself responding to these key moments in a strong and powerful manner.
For example, if you are picturing a moment in which you had to defend a breakpoint, start by visualizing how you actually felt at that specific moment.
Next, picture yourself taking a few deep breaths, calming yourself down, and feeling ready and focused. Now you can imagine winning that point and feeling confident with your play.
By first analyzing what you could do better in specific match situations, and then re-playing those moments in your mind, we are allowing ourselves to learn from our mistakes, without actually re-playing the match.
You will notice throughout this guide how important I consider visualizations.
The reason for this is that they help you build the kind of Mental Representations that will help you think, feel and act like a true Champion.
After every match, you should include the following activities to your Post-match-routine:
- Cooling down exercises.
- Shower or cold bath.
- A Meal.
- Speak to your coach.
- Do your Mental- Debrief.
Here is how I suggest you do your Mental De-brief:
Step #1: Allow to experience emotions
When you win a match, it’s important to allow yourself to experience positive emotions.
Celebrate with your team, go for a nice meal, but most importantly, feel good about yourself!
Too often I see tennis players not allowing themselves to feel good about a win- which is really a shame because we all need moments of joy and happiness to stay motivated.
When you lose a match, allow yourself to be upset for a few minutes:
But here is the key:
Make it a rule not to be upset for more than 1 hour.
Grief is good, but I have seen tennis players who suffered weeks and even months after experiencing a painful loss.
You don’t want to be one of them.
Instead, focus on what you can learn from that painful experience, and move on!
If you still feel down, surround yourself with people with whom you can share your thoughts openly, and who can also lift you up.
At the end of the day, you lost a tennis match- big deal!
Step #2: Eliminate Excuses
In order to improve, you must avoid using excuses and justifications after losing a match, as tempting as they are. They prevent you from thinking about how we can handle similar situations in the future.
I have worked with players, who after every single match had a reason why they lost, and they find faults in everything but themselves. What these players didn’t realize is that they were depriving themselves of improving.
In most cases, they never lived up to their expectations and abilities, which is always sad to see.
So instead of seeking justifications for your loss, focus on getting as much honest feedback as possible from your coach and your team.
This is how you will become a better tennis player!
Step #3: Visualization
Within a few hours after your match, spend some time de-briefing your performance with your coach.
Once you did that, spend some time on your own to visualize some of the key moments of the actual match.
Here is what I suggest:
- First picture how you actually played those points.
- Think about what you could improve. Specifically reflect on how you could be more focused and positive in those tight situations in which you may have felt tense and nervous.
- Next, replay those points in your head. However, this time, really picture yourself taking a few moments to calm down when feeling nervous, and getting yourself to feel ready before playing the point.
- This time, imagine winning the big points and winning the match. Allow yourself to feel extremely satisfied, happy and confident about your performance.
Step # 4: Choose one area to work on
Together with your coach, choose one skill you need to work on in a very deliberate manner, which will help you perform better in the future.
This might mean working on a shot, developing new strengths, improving specific performance skills or getting into better physical shape.
Remember, everyone wants to win matches.
That is the easy part.
Wanting to improve is what makes great tennis players
So use your matches as benchmarks that tell you what you need to work on in order to improve.
Once you understand this idea, you will start to think like a true Champion!
One of the most frustrating things for a tennis player is to practice extremely hard and to experience great progress, but then to nevertheless mess things up in big matches.
The worst part:
When this happens too often, we lose confidence, and we trigger the kind of negative self-fulfilling prophecy we discussed in Chapter 1.
Unfortunately, I see this happen all the time.
Players who crush it in practice, lose one match after the next, to opponents, they would normally destroy in a practice match.
We already talked about a few strategies that will make you mentally tougher.
If you follow through with them, your performance will gradually improve.
However, to take your tennis to the next level, we need to learn how to stay positive throughout an entire match.
This is extremely difficult.
Bear in mind that tennis is a very tough sport:
You're standing on the court all alone.
You need to give your best for every second of the match.
Until you won the last point, any outcome if possible.
And you will experience many ups and downs both in individual matches and throughout your career.
What makes tennis especially taxing is that every point, every game, every set, every match, and every tournament is a battle between two people where only one player wins, and the other loses.
This is why having a great attitude is the key to becoming a mentally strong tennis player.
The Three Gears Of Performance
Over the years, and after having watched hundreds of tennis players, I have discovered that probably without even noticing it, world-class professionals with sustainable careers are like racing cars that have three gears:
They have their “performance gear”, where the goal is to focus on positive emotions and eliminate any negative ones so that they can maximize our chances to win a match.
They have their “authentic gear”, where they act like ordinary human beings who express themselves in an open and honest manner.
And they have their “recovery gear”, which allows them to take time off to take care of their physical- and mental well being
Let’s talk about each one of these gears.
We all have between 40,000 to 80,000 thoughts every day.
90% of them are repetitive, meaning the thoughts from today are usually the same ones you had yesterday.
And most of these repetitive thoughts are negative since from an evolutionary standpoint, we are programmed to dramatize risks and dangers in order to keep ourselves safe.
Afterall, the main purpose of our brain is our survival.
This is not very helpful though if you are a tennis player:
Ideally, the second you step onto the tennis court, you need to show up at your best.
This means forgetting everything else that is going on in your life so you can ensure that you feel energized, focused and confident to play your best tennis.
Earlier, we spoke about rituals that you can do before your match, to get you into your best performance state.
Let's now talk about what you can do throughout the match, to maintain your best performance state.
For example, think about what you do between points to regroup and refocus:
If you are like most people, you might just run from one point to the next.
Or what do you do during change-overs?
Or after each set?
Again, average players don’t really think about these details.
But top players are different and don’t leave things to change.
They have specific match rituals.
Typically he starts his service preparations by bouncing the ball on the ground with his racket before moving it to his left hand, leaning forward and then bouncing it up to 20 times.
Only then does he toss it into the air to hit a serve.
Sharapova, on the other hand, walks to the baseline while looking at her racket, sometimes speaking to herself.
Before serving, she removes some hair out of her face, does a few light jumps, looks at her opponent, and then starts bouncing the ball.
And Nadal is known for his explosive jumps to the baseline after the coin toss at the beginning of a match, his ultra-precise drink bottle positioning on changeovers, his obsessive toweling off between points, his wiping of the lines between points with his sneaker sole, even when those lines are already clean, and his fumbling with his shorts.
Sports psychologist Jim Loehr explains the benefit of such routines as follows:
“What I concluded was that the between-point time was a very fertile opportunity to get completely distracted and off course. The more time you have that you’re not doing something constructive, the more time you have to do things that absolutely allow you to drift, and what the better players do is learn how to fill that time with things that sequentially help them deal. It’s their countdown to launch.”
Let me give you a few simple routines that you can introduce immediately:
These are very short rituals that will help you improve your mental toughness during a match.
Whether make a stupid mistake or hit an unbelievable winner, we want to make sure we are ready for the next point. So during the 20 seconds, we have between the points, we want to do the following few steps right after completing a point to regain our focus and recover from the previous point so that we are physical- and mentally ready for the next one.
Here is what I suggest you try out:
Step 1: React
Use the first few seconds to digest the last point. This might mean regretting an error or building confidence from a good point.
Step 2: Reset
You quickly want to focus on the next point.
To do this, take a few deep breaths.
Especially when you're nervous or exhausted, a few deep breaths will immediately slow down your thoughts and calm down. This can be so powerful- especially whenever we feel a bit overwhelmed.
Now walk to the baseline and prepare for the next point.
Wipe your face with a towel if needed, and get ready for the next point.
If you feel distracted during important matches, you can also create a trigger that helps you focus on one thing at a time.
For example, you could look at the racket, and play with the strings.
In addition, I suggest you use your body language to help yourself feel more confident even when you are tired or frustrated.
You can do this by watching your posture, standing straight, using positive gestures and moving yourself in a manner that helps you feel energized and pumped up.
Step 3: Re-focus
Finally, you want to prepare for the next point.
While doing so, many tennis players talk to themselves in a very negative manner.
You want to train yourself to say things that will help you feel confident, inspired and ready to give your very best.
For this purpose, it might help to create affirmations that you can repeat while looking at your racket, or any other trigger to calm you down.
Examples of such affirmations are:
“I know I can figure this out.”
“I'm going to give my best.”
“I'm going to fight every single point.”
“I love competing!”
Most players use their break to take a few deep breaths, recover and refocus.
They drink fluids and when necessary, eat a light snack.
I want you to go a step further:
Take a few seconds to sit down, wipe your face, drink something and then just relax.
Next, use this time to really rest and recover.
You can do this by taking a few deep breaths and relaxing your body.
While doing so, I want you to reflect on the last two games and ask yourself:
What is the one thing I can improve in the upcoming games?
This could mean:
- Revising your strategy.
- Playing more aggressively.
- Improving your self-talk and attitude on the court.
- Taking more time between the points to recover.
Spend a few seconds visualizing yourself playing the next two games in the manner that you would like to, and feeling both confident and ready to compete at your highest level.
The goal of this routine is to come back to the court feeling rested and having a plan as to what you want to do in the upcoming two games.
One situation I see many players struggle with is to transition from one set to the next.
I often see players regret their missed opportunities long into the next set, which means they often find themselves falling behind a break before they regain their composure.
This phase of unconcentrated play can cost them the match.
So regardless if you won a really close-set, got killed, or played the best few games of your life, you need to start the next set with a blank slate.
To achieve this, you want to have an End of Set Ritual.
Let me give you an idea of how this could look like:
- Spend a few seconds and allow yourself to experience your emotions after the completion of the set. If you won the set, feel good about it. If on the other hand, you lost the set, it is ok to be upset for a few seconds (ideally without showing it towards outsiders like your opponent).
- Once you did that, it is important to leave behind the previous set, regardless of the score, and focus on a new beginning.
- To clear your mind, you might want to literally close your eyes for a few seconds, take a few deep breaths and relax.
- Next, focus on really recovering from the last set. Some players go for a toilet break, others eat a snack. In a way, you are preparing yourself for your next battle- the upcoming set.
- Think of ONE thing you can do better in the next set.
- Finally, focus on getting yourself to feel energized and ready for the next set. You want to start sharp, which might mean repeating a few affirmations, or moving your body and running to the baseline as soon as your break is over.
- Once the break is over, get up, and focus on fighting for every point.
Little rituals seem so simple, but I assure you they can make such a big difference.
They program us to respond well to critical situations in which most players become distracted and unfocused.
I suggest you try out these routines and then over time tailor them so they suit your personal needs and help you play your best tennis in key moments of important matches.
While in our Performance Gear, we are suppressing our natural emotions.
At the same time, as human beings, we have many emotions that relate to both our career, and to our life.
They often tell us about unmet needs that we need to address.
As tennis players are exposed to a lot of pressure and a lot of stress.
So understanding our unmet needs is crucial.
Maybe you feel tired and exhausted after your practice sessions because you didn’t rest enough?
Without addressing this need you will eventually burn out.
Another common need is to feel safe and secure, regardless of your tennis results.
For example, let's say you feel nervous and fearful after losing a match, because you are scared of the reactions of the people you have disappointed.
Without addressing this need, you will become terrified before big matches.
As a tennis player, you need to know that you can be vulnerable, that you are allowed to make mistakes and that you have people who will love and support you no matter how you play.
Therefore we need a routine to get into our Authenticity Gear.
Ideally, at least once a week, you want to schedule regular time with your coach and if relevant to your family.
Obviously, these people care about you so the goal is to express yourself and your needs in an open and genuine manner.
Ideally, we can talk to them as trusted friends, who care and support us regardless of how we play tennis.
One of the most important needs that we need to express, is the need for psychological safety. As a tennis player, we need people who push us and hold us accountable to training like a true professional. At the same time, we need to know that it is ok for us to make mistakes and lose matches and that we have their unconditional support regardless of our results, provided we give our best.
Only then can we find the courage to push our limits, to implement the things we learned, and to truly enjoy competing at a high level.
If it is not possible to have these discussions with our coach and/ or our parents, we can start this process with a mentor or a performance coach. Already just by sharing your thoughts and not suppressing them, will take off some pressure and make you feel better, on and off the tennis court.
In addition, another great way to become more aware of our needs is to express ourselves and reflect on the experiences of your day by writing in a diary.
As a tennis player, you need to prioritize recovery time.
One person who is phenomenal at this is Roger Federer.
At the age of 38, he is still playing incredible tennis, and one reason for this is that he makes sure he has a lot of recovery time between tournaments. He takes regular vacations and makes sure that whenever he plays tennis, he is fully rested and can give 100%.
As a young tennis player, you must ensure that apart from recovering after practices and matches, you have time for yourself on a regular basis.
This means enjoying time to meet friends, and do things that you enjoy.
It also means having one day per week off to let your body and mind recover and having periodic vacations where you can really recharge your batteries and switch off from tennis.
At the same time, bear in mind, how you recover affects your mood and how rested you will feel.
For example, if we watch violent movies, read about terrifying news, hang out with bad people or browse social media all day, you will negatively impact how we feel and how you perform.
In order to be a mentally tough tennis player, you must choose what brain food you want to be exposed to:
Instead of feeding your brain with poor information, it is much more powerful to actively do things that trigger positive thoughts and emotions we desire.
As a tennis player, we are constantly challenging ourselves to give our best.
We need to push ourselves while practicing, and fight hard during matches.
This can be tiring and exhausting.
Therefore we must make sure we access our Recovery Gear as often as we can.
This might mean just taking a few breaths between points in a match.
Or having a massage after our workout.
Going to a spa on the weekend.
Or taking periodic vacations.
The goal is to completely switch off from tennis and allow ourselves to rest and recover.
So to recap, as a top tennis player, we need to balance competing interests:
On the one hand, we constantly need to push our limits and suppress any negative emotions while competing.
At the same time, if we do not exit our Performance Gear when we step off the court, we will eventually burn out from hiding our true emotions and our true needs.
Therefore we need to know how to enter our Authenticity Gear when we are off the court and in the kind of intimate setting that allows us to share and express ourselves openly.
And we need to spend lots of time in our Recovery Gear, which helps us refuel our tank and show up to our practice sessions and matches, feeling energized and rejuvenated.
We perform at our best when we're present, not thinking about past failures or future fears.
Becoming more present is a simple idea, but at least initially, relatively to do.
At the same time, if you often feel nervous and anxious in matches, it is a skill that will dramatically improve your mental toughness.
To be able to calm down in pressure-filled moments, we need to train ourselves to be more present on a regular basis, both on and off the tennis court.
Probably the best way to develop this trait comes from the practice of daily meditation, a habit that more and more world-class athletes are using.
Roger Federer, for example, has said that his confidence and precision increased, ever since he regularly started meditating and visualizing himself winning matches and handling pressure brilliantly
Novak Djokovic describes the benefits of meditation as follows:
“I used to freeze up whenever I made a mistake, Mindfulness helps me focus and turn down the volume in my brain.”
And rising star Biana Andreescu adds:
“My mom introduced me to meditation when I was really young. I was maybe about 12.
Ever since then I have been meditating and I do a lot of yoga.
I don't only work on my physical aspect. I also work on the mental, because that's also very, very important. It's definitely showing through my matches where I'm staying in the present moment a lot of the time. I don't like to focus on what just happened or in the future.”
So if you haven't meditated before, I can tell you that this is going to be one habit that will give you a massive return on investment!
Apart from helping you to become mentally tougher and more present on the tennis court, meditation has so many other benefits, like helping us recover faster, strengthening our immune system or even just making us feel happier.
In other words, it’s like a wonder drug that is legal, easy to follow and run to do.
How to meditate:
In theory, meditation is so simple:
All you really need to do is find a quiet place, close your eyes and sit still.
It’s that simple:
What you are really doing is observing your thoughts, or your feelings or a specific sensation.
You can do this by relaxing for a few minutes and focusing on your breathing and how you inhale and exhale.
Obviously, from time to time, you will catch yourself getting lost in thoughts, past memories or future fantasies.
This is completely normal and happens to everyone.
When that happens, all you need to do is reconnect to your breathing.
That's really it
Obviously there are variations, but this will get you started.
Nevertheless, it takes a bit of mental toughness to build a new habit like meditation.
Most of us are not used to spending time with ourselves, so we constantly seek distractions to procrastinate or delay our meditation.
Often, we struggle to sit still because we’re so used to rushing our minds and thinking of a million things at once. Of course, this constant inner chatter also prevents us from staying focused and performing at our best in pressure-filled match situations.
If you did your daily walks, you will have already experienced some resistance to spending quiet time by yourself.
But remember, every time you overcome the temptation of distractions, you are also training your mental toughness!
So if you struggle initially, stay patient- with a bit of practice, your daily meditation will get easier and more fun!
If you want to dramatically improve your mental toughness, meditating every day will really help you.
Here is how I suggest you get started:
- Take a stopwatch or timer, and set it for 10 minutes.
- Sit still and just focus on your breathing.
- If you feel you need more support, there are great apps like Instant Timer that play music, or Headspace and Calm that guide you.
- To build a lasting habit, it will really help to meditate at the same time, the same place, and following the same existing habit (i.e. after taking your morning shower).
Once you get into the habit of daily meditation, it will be so much easier for you to calm down in moments of pressure.
In addition, it might make sense to add specific triggers that will help you re- focus critical moments and stop yourself from over-thinking.
One great way to do this is a strategy that Timothy Gallwey, author of the book, Inner Game of Tennis calls “Bounce and Hit”.
This is how it works:
When you hear the ball land on the court you say to yourself "bounce."
And when you hear the ball touch your racket, you say to yourself "hit."
It's that simple, but I have recommended Hit and Bounce to many players, as it really helps us become more present and eliminate that internal chatter that can so easily distract us.
The reason for this is because it’s almost impossible to focus on the sound of the ball and worry about other things at the same time.
You can also introduce other triggers that you can use during matches.
For example, you can think of the letter “R” whenever you feel a bit tense, and train yourself to take a few deep breaths and relax. Over time, you will have a trigger that can help you calm down in seconds whenever needed.
If you really want to teach yourself to become more present and mindful, you can train yourself to be more mindful, on a day to day basis.
For example, when you brush your teeth, you can focus on being in the moment.
Or when you talk to a friend, you can really focus on listening to them before saying what you want to say.
Or when you are having fun, you can focus on enjoying the moment and forgetting your career and your daily commitments!
What can I do to stop myself from choking before big points and lose matches I should normally win?
Imagine you are playing a great match:
You have won the first set, and are up 5-3.
However, suddenly your arm starts to shake, and you keep saying to yourself:
I am almost there, just don’t mess it up now!
You also have this faint memory of how you gave away a match just a few weeks ago, after dominating the first one and a half sets.
You really want to prevent this from happening, but suddenly you start making silly mistakes and double faults!
Everyone who has played competitive tennis knows what I am talking about.
In other words, we have all choked!
One of the most famous incidents that illustrate ‘’choking’’ happened during the 1993 Wimbledon women’s final between Jana Novotna and Steffi Graf.
Novotna was leading 4-1 in the third set.
Suddenly she started making double faults and missing overheads.
Graf won the next five games, the match, and the tournament.
With the stakes being so high, and Novotna being so close to this landmark victory, it is likely that she started to overthink her shots and became overly self- conscious.
But what does choking really mean?
It’s a phenomena whereby our performance goes down due to us fearing and even anticipating failure.
When we choke, we start getting tense and nervous.
Suddenly, we begin to play defensive and do silly mistakes
Instead of playing to win, we try not to lose.
In What The Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell, makes the interesting distinction between panicking and choking:
Let's say you're scuba diving and suddenly your oxygen bottle doesn't work, so you don't know what to do.
Ideally, you would need to slow things down and really learn how to deal with this new unknown situation.
But instead, you hysterically fumble with your oxygen bottle.
This is panicking.
Choking is a bit different because it means we are flooded with thoughts in a situation that we're familiar with.
For example, we're playing tennis and suddenly we see that we could win.
"Well, let's not mess this up"
And we start getting all those thoughts of:
"Oh my God, I could lose it if I start making mistakes."
In this situation, we know what we need to do.
However, because we are afraid to mess things up, we start to overthink shots and motions that normally happen naturally.
The reason why we choke then is that we care so much about winning our match that we suddenly become worried to mess things up.
In other words:
We choke because we care because winning is important to us.
What's important is that when we notice ourselves choking, we want to continue giving 100% and keep fighting. This is how we can gain some control of the situation.
To answer this crucial question, I want to share with you a study by the Arizona State University:
It included novice baseball hitters and professionals.
In part 1 of this study, a big sound would go off at random moments while the participants where going through hitting drills.
As they were trying to hit the ball, researchers would ask them to answer whether the volume of the background music was being increased or reduced.
This is what happened:
For the novices, the sound was extremely irritating and affected their performance.
They started missing more.
But for the experts, the sound made no difference.
Their performance remained consistent.
In part two of this experiment, batters had to focus on their actions instead of a sound.
At random moments they were asked to say it their bat movement was going upwards or downwards.
What was interesting is that now it was the novices who didn’t seem to mind the questions.
They were already focusing on their new techniques.
Being self-conscious actually even helped them perform better.
The experts, on the other hand, started to struggle.
The reason for this was that they were so good at batting that they didn't have to think about it.
Becoming more self-conscious actually harmed their performance.
The same thing happens in tennis.
Chances are that if you are a good server, music in the background won’t affect your performance.
But if you keep telling yourself:
“Don’t double fault! Don’t double fault!”
Guess what might follow?
You start thinking through all the details of your serve, and eventually you may start double faulting!
OK, I am going to share with you one of my favorite ideas.
It sounds like such a simple concept (which it is), but it often takes some time to really grasp it.
So please, pay close attention:
As a top tennis player, you need to have big ambitions and work extremely hard.
Without this, it is impossible to become a great player.
At the same time, you must enter a match without caring too much about the outcome:
In other words, you want to care less about results and more about simply giving your best.
I know this sounds bizarre- everyone wants to win, and losing is often not fun.
But here is the thing:
The only way you won’t start overthinking in key moments of your matches is if you do not care if you win or lose while playing.
Instead, you want to focus on giving your best, enjoying the competition and really testing your limits!
Again, I know this sounds odd, but once you internalize this idea, I promise you will become a better competitor!
On the one hand, every tennis player needs to have clear goals:
We need to want to win, to desire specific results, especially before the performance situation.
At the same time, we need to detach from outcomes from the moment we enter a match court.
So we need to tell ourselves:
“I will give my very best, fight for every point, but I don’t care if I win or lose.”
In other words, we let go of wanting to control what we can’t control- the outcome of the match.
Instead, we want to embrace the uncertainty of every match, and stay kind to ourselves regardless of the outcome.
Only with this attitude, we are able to stay focused in pressure moments, enjoy the struggle, not get too tight when we’re winning, and still play fearless tennis when we fall behind!
So next time you feel that you are choking, try this:
1. Take a few deep breaths.
2. Tell yourself, this is only a tennis match! Your goal is to give your best, enjoy the competitive nature of the match and push your limits!
3. Move your body, to feel more energized and alert.
4. If necessary, use a trigger to help you silence the voices inside your head. This could mean looking at your racket, and playing with the strings, focusing at your ball before hitting a serve, or using the Bounce and Hit tactic that I mentioned earlier.
5. Be kind to yourself when you feel you are choking. It happens to all of us!
6. Celebrate wins, and use losses as a learning opportunity.
Our goal is not necessarily to eliminate choking- it’s something that will happen from time to time.
Instead, we want to learn how to handle situations in which we become nervous and uptight, so we can respond to them in the best possible manner.
He has been struggling for a while.
I remember how during the 2019 Wimbledon tournament, Kyrgios was seen at a bar with friends the night before his match against Nadal. When asked about this, he explained that for him it was more important to enjoy life than be super professional and that for him, tennis wasn’t that crucial.
And yet during his match with Nadal, I noticed how upset he got at the referee and at the line judges.
It seemed to me that deep down he cared more than he was willing to admit.
But Kyrgios is not the only player who has self-defeating behaviors like going out before a big match.
Have you ever seen a player who goes out to party during an important tournament?
Or maybe you noticed how one of your competitors didn’t give his best while practicing with you?
Or that you procrastinated some of your preparations and training rituals before an important competition?
Perhaps you spent hours browsing your Instagram account instead of spending some time reflecting on your next match.
Why do you think this happens?
Let me share with you my take on self-sabotaging behaviors.
Often, there is a gap between our current skills or our current performance, and what people expect from us.
This is normal and happens to the very best tennis players, especially when we are transitioning from one stage of our career to the next.
For example, every top junior will face a lot of pressure to transition into professional tennis and make it into the top 100, or top 20 or top 10 of the ATP rankings.
This process takes time, often longer than people expect.
In fact, some never make it at all.
I remember this Brazilian kid called Tiago Fernandes, one of the most impressive young players I have ever seen. He won the Australian Open junior event in 2010 and was the number #1 ranked junior player for a while.
He was dubbed as one of tennis’s future stars, and every agent was chasing him.
Sadly, Tiago never adjusted to the pressure of all these expectations, and never made it into the top 300 of professional tennis.
He has now already retired.
But there are other kinds of transitions.
For example, sometimes a young player storms the professional rankings, and now everyone expects them to win Grand Slams.
Take Eugenie Bouchard.
In 2014, she reached the semifinals of both the Australian Open and French Open and went on to make the finals of Wimbledon, as a 20-year-old girl.
She was on her way to becoming the next big superstar in women’s tennis and was signing one big endorsement deal after the next.
However, ever since her Wimbledon final, she has not been able to match those expectations.
Currently, as I write this guide, she is ranked outside the top 100.
Does she have the game of a top player?
Unfortunately, though, she didn’t manage to make the mental adjustments necessary to transition from being an upcoming player into becoming a consistent top performer.
Here is the thing:
Everyone struggles with transitions.
But what separates mentally tough players also struggle is that they find a way out of their ditch.
Many of the more fragile players, on the other hand, need years to get out of their slump.
And some never make it at all.
What makes these transitions especially difficult is that with every little setback, the pressure increases.
With every loss, a crisis becomes more likely.
This is when many young players start with self-sabotaging behaviors, especially if they were dubbed as super gifted prodigies.
A player may start drinking, going out or practicing poorly.
Regrettably, this makes it even harder for them to ever make the next transition.
By portraying an image of not caring, a young tennis player can eliminate pressure:
If they lose, they have an excuse.
They didn’t practice, felt ill, or partied all night long.
However, if they do find a way to win, they become superheroes who can beat their competitors despite their poor preparations.
This is a seemingly classical win-win situation.
So the real purpose of self-sabotaging behaviors is quite simple:
They justify failures!
In fact, one of the worst forms of self- sabotaging behaviors happens when we make up excuses, often even before playing a match.
Most of us can relate to this:
Maybe we felt tired before a match, got sick or had some inexplicable pain minutes before being called on the court.
We convince ourselves and others that we can’t perform our best, and create circumstances that would justify our failure, even make it inevitable.
Or we cover up our insecurities by acting like the rebellious hero, demonstrating how talented we are, and how much we can achieve, despite our bad attitude and poor behavior.
The benefit of these kinds of actions is that we temporarily prevent ourselves from experiencing the shame and embarrassment of disappointing other people’s expectations.
Sadly, they come at a hefty price.
When we don't give our best, we deprive ourselves of improving and from getting real and honest feedback and hence also from becoming a better tennis player.
Eventually, our tennis stagnates or even goes backward!
In fact, this is the classical "lose-lose" scenario that prevents us from becoming the best player we can.
We sabotage ourselves because we fear to disappoint people around us and ourselves.
And because we are so results-driven.
Especially when we are considered to be extremely talented, the pressure we face can feel unbearable as we have so much to lose, every time we step on to a tennis court.
So how do we get out of this no-win situation?
First of all, we need to embrace the uncertainties that come with professional tennis.
Once we realize that we can’t control our results (i.e. might face a better opponent, or someone playing the match of his life), we can start focusing on the things we can control, like training hard and giving our best in every single match.
This is when we begin to enjoy the process of becoming a better tennis player, instead of depending on specific outcomes.
One of the best ways to develop this kind of mental toughness comes from embracing what Carol Dweck calls a Growth Mindset.
A Growth Mindset is when we believe it is through hard work and effort, not talent and inborn traits, that we achieve our goals. It is the opposite of a Fixed Mindset whereby we think it is through inborn traits and talent that we become successful.
In one of my favorite studies with young kids, Carol Dweck took a group of kids and divided them into two groups.
Both groups got a very easy riddle to solve:
The first group was primed with a Growth Mindset.
They were praised not for their talent, but for their hard work.
They got compliments like:
Wow, you work so hard.
“You see how well you solve that riddle when you put some effort?”
The second group was primed with a Fixed Mindset. They were told things like:
“You're so gifted!”
“You’re so talented!”
In the next part of this experiment, the kids were offered to either solve a hard riddle or an easy one.
The interesting thing was that the majority of the kids who were primed with a Growth Mindset chose the hard riddle because they wanted to challenge themselves.
At the same time, most of the kids from the Fixed Mindset group preferred the easy option because they did not want to risk failure.
In part three, all the kids got a riddle that was extremely difficult, basically impossible to solve.
Again, the kids from the Growth Mindset group tried harder and persisted longer, while the children from the Fixed Mindset gave up much earlier.
But here is the most interesting part:
At the end of the experiment, all the kids got a very easy riddle, similar to the first one.
Now, the kids from the Growth Mindset solved it quicker and better than during their first try.
The children from the Fixed Mindset, on the other hand, solved it slower and less accurately than when they first tried. The pressure of having to prove themselves as the reason why their performance suffered.
What we learn from this study is that when we are being praised for our talents we care more about proving ourselves and looking good, rather than becoming better and embracing big challenges. At the same time, when we get rewarded for our effort and hard work, our goal shifts from trying to achieve specific outcomes, to experiencing continuous improvement.
In my experience, it is this deep desire to continuously learn what separates world-class tennis players from everyone else. They understand that success means progressing and improving, more than anything else.
This is why they enjoy their journey of becoming a top tennis player just as much as any big wins.
Losing a tennis match can be a very painful experience. This is especially so if we are not used to challenging ourselves and pushing our own personal limits.
One reason why many of us find it difficult to cope with disappointments is because we may have had coaches or parents who spoiled us and who always tried to protect us from experiencing negative emotions.
While they meant well, it often means we become extremely frustrated whenever things do not go our way.
We can barely cope with the emotional aches that come with any setback.
Since experiencing regular defeats is inevitable in tennis, we may eventually stop enjoying tennis altogether.
Losses can be equally hard to digest if we have developed a deep-rooted fear of failure.
This might be the case if we grew up in an environment that didn’t give us the psychological safety to make mistakes.
So for example, if we had coaches and parents who would get very angry at us every time we would lose a match, they will have deprived us from learning and improving, as well as from feeling unconditional love and support.
In such circumstances, self-sabotaging behaviors help us justify our poor performances and mitigate the embarrassment of failure.
However, at the same time, they also prevent us from becoming a better tennis player.
But here is the good news!
Regardless of your background, it is never too late to adopt a Growth Mindset.
The key is to learn how to enjoy the journey and struggle of becoming a better tennis player, and surround ourselves with people who praise our effort and hard work more than they praise our results.
Once we have that, we can focus on improvement free from fear of being rejected or feeling like a failure everytime we experience a setback.
Growth Generation means we focus on developing a Growth Mindset and revising some of our limiting beliefs about what it takes to be successful.
Our goal is to generate growth, rather than try to force specific results and outcomes.
This shift of focusing on effort and hard work rather than on inborn talent traits takes patience and persistence.
At the same time, it is worth every effort because it can transform your career!
Here is how you can start the process of Growth Generation:
Step 1: Study your role models
Read a biography of one of your favorite athletes and list all the obstacles and setbacks they had to go through in order to become successful.
Notice how much work and effort they had to put into their career, and how many disappointments they had to endure throughout this journey.
Next, ask yourself:
“What would change, if I would shift my paradigm from seeking specific results at every tournament, to seeking learnable moments that will help me become a better tennis player?”
Step 2: Embrace your struggle
To become a tennis player, you must be willing to accept setbacks. Once you stop expecting things to be easy, you can actually enjoy the process of pushing your limits and learning from your setbacks. This is how you will experience consistent progress and eventually also win more matches.
In addition, avoid using excuses before your matches, no matter how you feel. Instead, focus on giving your best every time you step onto a tennis court!
Step 3: Teach your supporters what a Growth Mindset is.
You want to be surrounded by people who understand what a Growth Mindset is:
So sit down with your team and your parents and teach them the concept of Growth Mindset. If you can, have them read Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset.
Explain that while you want them to hold you accountable and give you honest feedback, you also need psychological safety to make mistakes and learn from them.
Also, ask your team and your parents to praise you for your hard work and effort, and not for your talent.
Step 4: Use every loss to learn something
There is nothing wrong with losing matches.
In fact, as a professional tennis player, you usually lose every week since only one person can win a tournament.
The quicker you understand this, the better you will compete.
At the same time, we must learn from our mistakes- this is the only way we become better.
So we want to avoid using excuses and justifications after defeats, and instead, seek as much feedback as possible as to how we can improve.
One way to train yourself to gain such feedback is to ask yourself questions like these after every match you lose:
- What is good about the situation I am facing?
- How is this situation training me to become a better tennis player?
- What can I learn?
- What would it take to win this kind of match in the future?
- What is the one skill I need to work on?
Once you develop a Growth Mindset, you will start enjoying the journey and even the struggles that comes with becoming a world-class tennis player, just as much as you enjoy winning big tournaments. As a result, this paradigm shift will also make you a much tougher competitor.
I want to start this section by asking you a question:
If I could give you a magic pill that would make you unstoppable in your tennis career and help you win huge events would you take it?
What if you were guaranteed that nobody would know?
If you answered no, congratulations- it seems you are playing tennis for all the right reasons.
This is great news.
At the same time, I often encounter young tennis players, who would be willing to cheat in order to experience their desired results with a bit more ease and less struggle
Unfortunately, this is not possible.
Tennis is extremely tough.
It's a sport where you constantly need to push yourself out of your comfort zone and deal with unforeseeable situations, like being injured or encountering painful losses.
You also need to delay short term pleasures and make lots of sacrifices in order to give yourself the best success prospects.
Since this all requires a lot of discipline, it is almost impossible to experience sustainable success without loving what you do.
One characteristic that separates world-class tennis players from everyone else, is their unstoppable hunger to improve and give their best.
This is the feature that we all admire in great players like Djokovic, Nadal or Federer.
But how do we develop this kind of hunger?
To help you think about your true drivers for success, I want to share with you the Pyramid of Motivation, and it’s seven layers.
Layer 1- Profit
As young tennis players, we have visible goals like wanting to make a lot of money.
Many players are embarrassed to admit that they have big financial goals.
However wanting to earn a lot of income is a good thing as we all need money to live, and to be able to continue reinvesting into our careers.
The truth is that tennis is an expensive sport.
So in order to become a world-class tennis player, it really helps to make enough money to not have any financial worries, and to be able to travel without restrictions, afford the best coaches and the best teams possible.
But making a lot of money can’t be your only goal if you want to experience a long lasting and sustainable career.
Here is why:
Initially, earning big checks will make you feel good and give you a huge dopamine rush.
Unfortunately, these dopamine rushes disappear as quickly as they come, and your brain will keep desiring new and a bigger dopamine rushes.
So now you need to earn more money or win bigger events to feel the same level of satisfaction.
Eventually, you start treading the kind of hedonistic treadmill that resembles a dog chasing his own tail. You never quite manage to get what you think you really want:
When you win, everything is OK.
You quickly seek a bigger and brighter goal as the excitement fades away in no time.
At the same time, when you lose, you feel incompetent and worthless.
You start hating what you do.
I have seen many players who focused mainly on making money, and in most cases they never really enjoyed their careers.
As Edward Diener once said:
“Money can increase our happiness, but the exchange rate isn't good.”
Layer 2- Pride
Another visible extrinsic goal is wanting to become famous.
We all want to prove our worth and enjoy the ego boost of winning.
Since world-class tennis players enjoy a lot of admiration from fans, and even fellow athletes, wanting to climb the rankings becomes very compelling.
A problem with this is a kind of drive is that our success depends on the thoughts of other people, which is not something we can control. Instead of playing tennis for our own joy and our own personal growth, we play to impress others.
We want to be careful of seeking to be admired by others:
People tend to applaud us for great wins, but also mock us for disappointing failures.
This means we can shift from being a hero to becoming a loser from one moment to the next- not ideal circumstances if we want to generate sustainable motivation.
Instead, we want to focus on feeling proud regardless of what other people thing- for example by working hard and pushing our own limits.
Layer 3- Passion
Feeling passionate about the game of tennis is a great driver to practice hard and compete well.
It is something we can often see with young kids, but it is also a feature of world-class players like Federer, Nadal or Djokovic:
They love playing tennis!
I recently so a post from Federer on social media saying:
“If you love what you do, you don’t spend a single day working.”
But to really perform well, you need to develop a passion not only for the game of tennis, but also for competing, for pushing your limits, and ultimately for the struggle that comes with a successful career.
This is a trait we often need to develop as we mature, for example by cultivating a Growth Mindset, as discussed in the previous sub-section.
Layer 4- Progress
After winning the 2019 Australian Open and beating world number #2 at the time, Rafael Nadal in straight sets, Novak said the following:
“I do want to definitely focus myself on continuing to improve my game.”
This is the attitude of a real champion- even after beating one of his main rivals he is still thinking about how he can continue to improve.
It is also how top players stay motivated to keep working hard and endure the painful repetitions of Deliberate Practice, regardless if they win or lose.
While players who focus on outcomes alone eventually burn out, professional athletes who are driven by progress can continuously push their own limits and consistently improve.
For example, when they win matches or tournaments they celebrate, which makes them hungry for more.
When they lose, they consider their setbacks as valuable feedback that tells them what they need to work on to achieve better results.
Now we are moving towards very intrinsic motivators that will really help you become a true competitor.
Using tennis to become the best version of yourself is what will allow you to give your very best, regardless of your results!
The famous sports psychologist Jim Loehr defines personality to include both Character Traits and Performance Traits.
Performance Character Traits are things like focus, resilience, discipline.
They definitely make you mentally tougher.
Personal Character Traits on the other hand are things like integrity, honesty, fairness.
They help us improve our relationships with other people.
In the short run, they might not help your performance, but they will allow you to experience more friendships and better connections with the people around you, making you a happier person both on- and off the tennis court.
The great news is that professional sports offers the opportunity to develop both
We can learn to become true competitors who always act in a respectful and fair manner to the people around us.
This is what ultimately makes a tennis player in my view remarkable.
Take for example, Nadal:
He is such a warrior on the court, and whilst always being fair, he will fight like a bull.
At the same time, off the court, he is one of the kindest and most respectful people I know!
Focusing on character traits can become one of the most powerful motivators, because it helps us improve as a player and human being, without ever depending on specific short term results.
It is what will ultimately make us true champions, regardless of the trophies we win.
A great way to train your character traits is to pick one trait every single month and make it your big theme:
For example, if you choose the performance trait of “focus” as a character trait for this month, you can think of three to five ways how you can be more focused both in your tennis and in your lifestyle.
This might mean:
- Browsing less on your phone,
- Using social media less,
- Being more attuned when speaking to people.
- Showing up to practice, like fully engaged and concentrated and energized.
- Setting visual reminders to stay focused.
Or if you choose the personality trait of “fairness” as your theme, you can commit to things like:
- being honest when playing matches;
- not making excuses when you lose;
- Treating competitors and friends with respect and courtesy.
The beautiful thing about doing this is that regardless of how successful you'll be as a tennis player, you'll constantly move towards becoming your best self.
While it is important that you play tennis for yourself, it will really help you to think and visualize all the people who might benefit when you perform at your best.
Take for example a woman who always struggled to stop smoking, although she knew how damaging it was for her health.
What happens when she becomes pregnant?
In many cases, she will find the power to stop smoking in one go, because she now has a compelling reason that goes beyond her own self-interest- she is now concerned about the health of her future baby.
Or imagine this:
If I asked you to walk on a narrow 50-meter high plank that connects two buildings, but which is wide enough for you to make it if you are fully concentrated, would you do it?
What if I offered you 5 Million dollars?
Probably you agree it’s not worth risking your life even if you have a high success chance of making it.
But what happens if you had your family, your kids or your wife on the other side of the building, and there was a fire?
Would you cross the plank now in order to try and save your loved ones?
I trust you agree that suddenly everything changes:
What looked like a mere stupidity a few seconds ago, is now a risk worth taking
What I am trying to say with these examples is that when we think of people we care, we can enhance our motivation.
And that is so crucial for you as a tennis player, as you will need to continuously work hard and make major sacrifices.
- You must train extremely hard.
- You need to often wake up early to practice.
- You can’t eat whatever you want.
- You can’t party every evening.
To find the energy and power to do all the things necessary as a tennis player, we need powerful reasons why we want to become a great tennis player. Thinking about how playing well will benefit the people we love and care for, will help us find the motivation to take the bold actions needed to fulfill our dreams.
For example, in Novak’s case, playing tennis was always connected to also bringing joy to his family, his wife, parents, his uncle or his brothers. They were always around to support and encourage him, and I believe this gave him a lot of courage and power throughout his career.
I remember in 2017, when he suffered an injury, he doubted if we would have the energy to make a successful comeback.
Nevertheless, he returned in 2018 stronger than ever, won both Wimbledon and the US Open and reconquered the number #1 spot on the ATP world rankings.
When asked how this was possible, he openly credited the support of his wife Jelena as one of the main reasons that helped him reignite his self-belief and motivation to keep playing.
Layer 7- Purpose
I believe, every living being has a purpose.
Trees give us oxygen, bees pollinate flowers...
I think initially, our purpose is to survive.
But once we mastered that, we need to explore what it is we really want to achieve during our lives.
I am convinced thinking about these kind of things is something that really marks the exceptional tennis players who win multiple Grand Slams.
Maybe they want to proudly represent their country and serve as some kind of ambassador.
Or they want to create a foundation that educates underprivileged kids.
Or be role models for fans around the world.
In other words, they want to make some kind of contribution that goes beyond their own self- interest.
What's interesting is that world class tennis players are not born with some kind of greater mission.
For example, most juniors I speak to do not really have a mission.
It is something true Champions develop as their career progresses:
Suddenly they have this desire to find more meaning and make bigger contributions.
Take Federer, Djokovic and Nadal:
They are all on the ATP Player Council where they spend lots of time and energy fighting for changes that won’t benefit themselves, but only future generations of players.
Why do they do this?
It’s because they have this longing to make an impact on the game of tennis.
This gives their careers more meaning and purpose.
So take some time, whenever you can, and start thinking about how you want to make contributions as a tennis player that will give your hard work and efforts more purpose and meaning.
We all lack motivation from time to time.
This is especially so when we are constantly pushing ourselves to win tournaments or climb rankings.
However, one of the best motivators we can have is to focus on developing the kind of character traits that make us feel proud and content about ourselves.
The good news is that tennis can really help us become both a better performer and a better human being.
Let me share a simple process that will help you amplify your motivation, especially when things seem difficult and challenging.
I call it "Growing Your Character Muscles."
In the same way, you grow your physical muscles, you can also train your character.
This is how:
Step 1: Identify Your Values!
To get started, you need to become clear about who you want to be, both on and off the tennis court.
So take a moment and think of the character traits you admire from your favorite tennis players, and write them down.
These might be things like focus, resilience or discipline.
Once you did that, imagine yourself being a 90-year-old, sitting in your armchair and reflecting on your life.
What character traits would your ideal self-include?
Maybe you value things like integrity, kindness, honesty.
Again just write them down.
Step 2: Define Your Character Traits
Next, write a list of your most important performance traits (i.e. focus, resilience, discipline, courage, passion), and your most important character traits (i.e. integrity, respect, kindness, fairness, warmth).
Step 3: Pick A Theme
Finally choose one trait (i.e. focus) that you can make the theme for your next month, and define a few action steps that will help you build that character trait.
For example, if your theme is focus, these might include:
- Reminding yourself every morning that focus is your theme for the month.
- Becoming super intentional with everything you do.
- Eliminating distractions, like your phone.
- Daily meditation.
Being able to motivate yourself on a consistent basis is difficult.
However, by shifting your focus from specific results to becoming a better version of yourself, you will find the power to push your limits and embrace your struggles in situations where most people would give up!
In addition, tennis will give you so much, regardless of how your career evolves, as you will have built character muscles that will support you both in your personal life and any future challenges you may take upon yourself!
Most people ruminate about past failures and focus on the things they don’t want.
This is one reason why they lack clarity of what it is they really want.
Mentally tough players are different:
They are obsessed with what they desire for their future!
For tennis players, it means constantly speaking about their professional goals and reflecting on their long term dreams.
This is how they create clear pictures and impressions of what it is they are after, and also how they reverse-engineer their challenges in their mind, so they can think of solutions that help them overcome some of the obstacles they face.
Many of the world’s best athletes spend time every day visualizing their future and setting clear goals.
I remember for example how one of our clients, Janko Tipsarevic made his breakthrough.
He was a world #1 junior but struggled to make his big breakthrough on the professional stage.
Up until that point in time, Janko never really set any specific goals for himself.
But, in 2010, he finally set himself a clear goal, to finish 2011 in the top 10.
Janko started visualizing and began thinking about the things he would have to do to achieve it.
By the end of the year, he was the 8th best player in the world.
Obviously, setting goals and doing visualizations are not the sole reasons that caused this sudden jump- Janko worked very hard to achieve his ambitions.
At the same time, they probably did help him become more focused.
In addition, we are now learning that visualizations have many other benefits:
Recent brain studies revealed that visualizations prepare us for actual performances since our thoughts produce similar mental instructions as our physical actions.
So when we visualize, we create new pathways in our brain that impact cognitive processes so that we improve critical skills like our motor control, attention, memory, planning, and perception. And by creating and continuously strengthening new Mental Representations, we can improve our skills even while we are not actually training in real life.
Equally important, visualizations also work as a rehearsal for some of our bigger life goals. By constantly picturing outcomes we seek, we program our subconsciousness to develop the kind of beliefs, attitudes and mental pictures that help us experience breakthrough results that might initially seem impossible to us.
All of a sudden, we can picture ourselves achieving ambitious goals like becoming a top ten tennis player.
Finally, visualizations help us stimulate our motivation centers
As our mind can’t distinguish between imagination and reality, we can instruct our subconsciousness towards opportunities that go beyond our current skills and capabilities.
By frequently visualizing our goals and gaining clear impressions of what it would feel like to achieve them, we become so obsessed that we are able to put in the hard work and the necessary sacrifices in return for longer-term rewards
Combined with taking incremental steps, visualization is one of the secret weapons of many top athletes and business leaders.
Visualizations train us to become familiar with the future we desire.
The stronger our impressions become of what we want, the more effective our visualizations will be. Therefore, one of the most powerful exercises you can do is Visualizing Your Future.
Even just doing this 5 minutes a day, will really help you.
Here is how you can get started immediately:
1. Set some time every day to visualize your goals as a tennis player. To get the best results, do this after a short meditation so that you are already feeling relaxed and calm.
2. You want to visualize your future as if you are experiencing the events in real-time. The clearer your impression becomes of what it would feel like to achieve your goals, the more powerful your visualization will be.
3. To help you visualize your dreams, you can ask yourself questions like:
- Where do I want to be in my career in 5-10 years from now?
- What kind of successes would I love to be achieving?
- Who else would benefit from my successes?
- What steps would I need to overcome, to achieve these dreams?
4. Once you visualized accomplishing your goals, spend a few minutes visualizing yourself feeling a deep sense of gratitude, both for the opportunities you have been getting, but also for your specific achievements. This is how you make your visualizations seem as if they have already happened.
5. There are four variables that will determine how effective your visualization will be:
- Frequency: The more often you visualize, the better. Ideally, you want to start visualizing big goals before going to sleep, and if you can, also when you wake up in the morning.
- Duration: The longer each session, the more effective it will be. I would start with 5-minute visualizations at first, aiming to get to sessions that last at least 10-20 minutes.
- Intensity: The more intense you experience positive emotions of actually achieving your ambitions while visualizing, the more emotional juice you create. By having a clear impression of what success feels like, you will also feel more inspired to work hard and push your limits. For example, picture yourself celebrating with your loved ones, and experiencing the impact that your success will leave on the people around you.
- Vividness: The more details you see in your visualization, and the clearer those images and pictures are, the better. You want to vividly see, feel and hear the events that lead you to win a great tournament, or climbing up the rankings- as if they are happening to you now in real-time. You also want to picture yourself overcoming some of the obstacles that you might face throughout this journey.
While it is great to visualize your long term dreams on a regular basis, they will not replace consistent effort and hard work. So make sure you regularly set realistic short term goals, together with your coach and team, create a training plan to achieve them, and use your results as benchmarks to help you monitor your progress.
Most good junior tennis players train well.
They also appreciate that they need to hit the gym and work on their fitness.
However, the likes of Federer, Nadal or Djokovic go a step further:
They know professional tennis player is so much more than training well- it’s truly a lifestyle that includes things like our nutrition, our hobbies and our recovery.
For example, if you were to ask me why I think Novak became such a dominant player, my short answer would be that it's because he continuously escalated his professionalism throughout his career.
I remember when I started to manage him as a 14-year-old kid, he was a gifted player. At the same time, not many people thought he was that great. Unlike Roger and Rafa, he was never dubbed as the next great thing in tennis. In fact it was extremely hard to get him good endorsement deals in the first few years of our work together.
When he finally did surprise the tennis world and became the world's number three, people were impressed. Nevertheless, almost nobody thought he'd ever never become a threat to the likes of Federer or Nadal.
For a few years, they were right.
On most occasions, Roger and Rafa would beat him.
Then came the US Open final in 2010 where Novak once again lost to Rafa.
After the match, he seemed extremely disappointed.
We were all waiting for him in the player lounge, and when he finally came, he looked devastated.
I had this impression that he was thinking:
“Damn, I need to change something in my life. If I continue doing what I have been doing, I will never be better than these guys!”
His loss to Nadal was almost like a wakeup call.
It was then and there that he started to escalate his professionalism, evolved from being this kid with lots of health problems who struggled with longer matches to becoming probably the fittest player on the Tour.
But he went even further than that.
Novak also changed his diet.
He changed part of his professional team.
He began working on the mental aspects of his game.
Suddenly, tennis was no longer just a profession, it had become a lifestyle!
Now, everything he did was geared towards becoming the best tennis player in the world.
And he still keeps searching for ways to experience incremental improvements.
His dedication obviously paid serious dividends.
At the time of writing this guide, he has won 16 Grand Slams, owns the head to head against both Federer and Nadal, and has been the world’s #1 tennis player for over 260 weeks!
All this while having a lovely family with two kids.
Developing new lifestyle habits takes time and patience.
This is why very few tennis players actually create them.
However, if you focus on one step at a time, you can really develop your competitive edge vis a vis your competitors.
Here is how you can get started.
Pick one area, and focus for a few months on becoming super professional.
For example, let's say you choose that you want to upgrade your nutrition and how you eat.
These are the steps you may wish to follow:
Step 1: Visit a nutritionist
I am surprised how many people never visited a good nutritionist, or also takes some tests and checks if we have any food sensitivities or allergies.
Also, ask your nutritionist to create a diet that will help you feel more energized and support your physical goals (i.e. lose weight or gain muscles).
Finally, find out if you need to take any supplements.
Important note: If you do use supplements, make sure they do not contain any substances prohibited by WADA!
Step 2: Implement Your Food Plan
Changing eating habits takes time, so be patient with implementing your new food plan.
Also test your optimal eating times:
For example, you might notice that ideally you eat about two hours before playing tennis.
Or that you should not eat for the last few hours before going to sleep.
Step 3: Practice Mindful Eating
Take your time when you eat and stay free from distractions.
This is how you will make your meals more enjoyable, and a real source of recovery.
In addition, you will start noticing how different foods make you feel, and this awareness will help you continue optimizing your diet.
As a tennis player, you need to make a lot of sacrifices.
Initially, these seem very tough.
You need to train hard, can’t go out and party like your friends, and learn how to cope with losses and disappointments from an early age.
At the same time, the rewards of becoming a great tennis player are immense.
You get to do what you love, travel the world, meet great people and earn lots of money.
However, to enjoy a long-lasting and consistent career, we must continuously push our limits regardless of whether we win or lose.
This can become very challenging.
When we win, it can be tempting to become lazy and complacent.
In no time, our results start suffering.
And when we lose, it's easy to feel devastated.
Without re-committing to our training regime, it is unlikely that we will recover and improve our results.
The key to staying motivated is to experience lots of moments of joy and fun.
This can mean several things.
For example, to be successful on a consistent basis, we must love tennis and enjoy training hard.
Of course, there will be times where this can be challenging.
However, a good coach will find ways to mix up our training and ensure it is not only difficult but also fun, for example by occasionally starting your practice in a fun way (i.e. by introducing games like playing tennis using your feet).
I see top players do this all the time.
In addition, we must experience fun off the tennis court as well that help us switch off from our tennis.
Ideally, this will include having hobbies that you enjoy and that are not dangerous (i.e. playing golf).
And spending time with close friends, family and possibly your partner.
In fact, to perform well, we really want to have people around us who lift us up and support us as tennis players, but who also accept and acknowledge us for who we are, outside the tennis court, and with whom we can experience a lot of fun moments.
In short, to be successful as a tennis player, you need to continuously motivate yourself:
Working hard and living a professional lifestyle is just one side of the medal.
The other one is to regularly experience positive emotions, enjoy meaningful relationships and recover from our stressful tennis career on a regular basis.
This is how we fuel energy so we can give our very best in practice and in matches.
It is also how we start feeling happy, fulfilled and inspired, on and off the tennis court, regardless of our results.
You have now read the entire Ultimate Guide To Mental Toughness For Tennis Players.
If I had to sum up my main message to you, it would be this:
The real goal of a tennis player is to push ourselves so we can be the best performer we can be, but also too love and enjoy every moment of our career, and of life.
This is only possible if we accept the things we can’t control and focus on the things we can- like our attitude both in good and challenging times.
By training our mental toughness, this becomes easier and easier.
I hope you enjoyed our journey together, but here's my real challenge to you.
It’s time to take some action.
Please go through the specific Mental Exercises and start implementing them.
Good luck and speak soon,