5 Tips for Playing Mentally Tough Tennis

Improve your mental toughness on the tennis court with tips from Olivia Self.

Focus on the backhand stroke

Tennis is one of the loneliest sports. Playing a match is like being on a deserted island, where you're put to the ultimate test for survival minute after minute, point after point. You have no teammates to rely on or blame when you aren't on your game. You can't get physical with your opponent. In some circumstances, you're able to talk briefly with a coach or trainer, but for the most part you're all alone on the court.

All you have is yourself, your abilities and your mind. Your mind can be your greatest ally—or your worst enemy. You have to be mentally tough to succeed. Each match is a physical battle, but it's also a battle of wills.

Here are some tips for improving your mental toughness on the tennis court.

Play often

The more you play, the better you'll be able to handle the pressure of tight situations in an actual match. It will help you avoid tensing up and making a mistake you shouldn't make, such as netting an easy overhead.

Trust yourself

You need to adjust your strategy and tactics in each game—for example hitting to your opponent's weaker side or playing more aggressively or more consistently. Do not, however, adjust your game. Play the right shot at the right time and do not resort to tense play (pushing). Play how you practice and stick to what you know works best for you. Focus on what you need to do rather than what your opponent is doing.

Focus on the ball

If you focus on the fuzz on the tennis ball throughout your shot, you will hit clean shots. This will help you trust yourself and keep your nerves in check.

Think positive

Tell yourself you can. If you think you can't, you won't. Don't set yourself up for failure from the start. When you're on an important point and it's your second serve, don't tell yourself, "don't miss this serve" or "I can't miss this serve." Instead say, "I'm going to hit a great serve right now." This change in the way you think immensely improves your outcome and your overall experience.

Don't get ahead of yourself

Play one point at a time. When you're playing the match, don't get hung up on what you should have done or need to do. You'll only get angry or overwhelmed and tense up. Instead, use the changeovers to think about what is working or not working and plan future points.

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