Sunday, 1 May 2011

Mental Discipline - A Major Court Attribute

Courtesy: ReporterNews

When two 11 year old ZAT players walk on the court, 95 percent of the reason one of them wins the match is because of their physical games. The player that is the most consistent, double faults less and misses fewer shots will win that day.

When Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal walk on the court, the reason one of them wins is probably 90 percent mental. The player who has better concentration that day, has better shot selection, has better mental preparation before the match begins with a good game plan for that opponent, comes up with the great shots at the right times, controls their emotion better, employs better strategy and figures out how to beat their opponent will win that match.

Most people reading this are somewhere between these two examples. Some percentage of why you win or lose is for physical reasons and some percentage is for mental reasons. Since the 11-year-old girls' make up is only 5 percent mental and the pros are around 90 percent mental, let's just say you are in the middle and 50 percent of the reason you win or lose is mental and 50 percent is physical.

If that's true then my question is "How often do you practice the mental part of your game?" Your answer is probably "Huh? Never thought of that. How do you practice mental?"

If 50 percent of the reason you win or lose your matches is mental, why would you not spend 50 percent of your time on the practice court practicing the mental part of your game? It only makes sense. And when I explain it to you in that way, you are probably feeling foolish about right now for not ever practicing half of your game.

So how do you practice the mental part of the game? That's a difficult question to answer, difficult for you to understand and then difficult for you to execute. But think of it this way.

All your life you have been walking on the court to hit a basket of serves to improve your serve, hit on the ball machine for ground strokes and volleys, footwork drills, take lessons to perfect certain shots or to play a practice match.

Now you need to walk on the court and practice your mental game. Practice your concentration that day. Don't allow your attention to wander to the other courts, to watch the airplanes or the people walking by. Don't think about your girlfriend or your grocery list. Practice keeping your focus on your tennis court only and what is happening on that court.

Or practice being aware of your shot selection that day. Put a lot of thought into what shot you should hit from the various situations. After the point briefly replay the point in your head and check if you hit the correct shot on each choice or if there would have been a better choice. It's a practice match, so practice.

If you have a practice match that day start your pre-match ritual the same as you would if it was a tournament match. Practice formulating your game plan an hour or so before your scheduled time. Go through your correct processes in the minutes before you walk on the court. Some people listen to music or go off alone to collect their thoughts and maybe eat an energy bar. If you eat something be sure that it will help you. One junior player eats red hots and a Dr Pepper before his tournament matches which is obviously detrimental to his progress.

Practicing hitting great shots on crucial points is a little difficult to emulate but try this. Start each game down 15-30. If you get down 15-30 every point is crucial so you will spend the entire day trying to come up with shots to pull yourself out of the game. This also is helping you practice under simulated pressure.

If controlling your emotions is a problem for you, then you need to practice that part of your mental game in a practice match. As strange as it may sound, practicing temperament is very important to controlling that emotion.

Everyone needs to always be playing a wide variety of practice opponents. These opponents will have different playing styles, therefore, your strategy and figuring out how to beat those opponents will be different every day. So by practicing against various opponents will improve your ability to execute different strategies and will teach you how to figure out how to beat them.

All of this different thinking could result in you losing that practice match that day. But who cares? It's a practice match! Wouldn't you rather lose practice matches and then beat those same players in tournaments? You will win more tournament matches if you will use your practice time to practice the 50 percent of your game you have been neglecting.


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a quote that is appropriate for today. The basketball great said "You can't win unless you learn how to lose." Think about it.

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