How to Develop a Mental Game Plan

Mental Symptoms

  • Thinking ahead – thinking about winning rather than your plan for the point or simply the ball
  • Thinking in the past – thinking about the last point, or "not again!"
  • Negative thinking (fear) – both knocking your confidence or fearful of the outcome (future orientation) and the consequences that will create.
  • Distracted – thoughts tend to wander onto a multitude of things, not necessarily tennis!
  • Overanalytical – the adage "paralysis by analysis" where the player is almost too aware of the mistakes made on the last point. Perfectionists and technically minded players beware, this can take your concentration away from the very basic task of concentrating on the ball and hitting it!

Symptoms of Match Play

  • Poor footwork and movement
  • Restricted follow through
  • Rushing between points (especially on a second serve)
  • Overhitting the ball out of the court.
  • Underhitting the ball into the net.
  • Tentative/ indecisive play

Recognize – STOP – Replace

In tennis, the player becomes the coach in a match. It's important then to learn how to coach yourself through to match point!

One of the worst things we can do on a tennis court is think too much. Trying to coach yourself is an easy opportunity to overthink.

Creating a structure for how to coach yourself and when it's appropriate to "switch on" versus "switch off" is really important. As a way to do this, develop a simple mechanism for a player to monitor his behavior or thoughts and be able to make changes.

"Recognize – Stop – Replace" is one such mechanism that has been utilized at the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy in order to help players coach themselves on the court.

Once the framework is in place, it becomes easier to identify issues and adapt your mental and emotional state.

Think about when the best times are for you to think and analyze? Utilize changeovers and time between points. Remember between points you only have 20-25 seconds, so this process needs to be streamlined and very simple.

At the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy, we work hard to develop routines to help make things consistent, simple and effective. You can improve concentration by understanding it as focused bursts of attention during points, with recovery periods to let go, move on and prepare for the next point.

It's a Wrap!

The key is to understand the importance of using these skills in practice.

The philosophy of mental conditioning should be the same as physical conditioning. Just like a muscle, the mind needs to be exercised in order to get stronger.

Too many players are simply prepared to deal with it if it happens, not to prepare for it and practice for when it does happen.

Everyone is different, but part of this journey is discovering yourself and what works most effectively for you. By understanding these principles, you've taken the first steps in building and sticking to your mental game plan.

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In 1978, Nick Bollettieri founded theIMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy, the first full-time tennis boarding school to combine intense training on the court with a custom-designed academic curriculum. He has coached 10 players who have reached No. 1 in the world, including Andre Agassi, Boris Becker and Martina Hingis.
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