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Five Mental Toughness Tips

Useful Phrases

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Most tennis players are all too familiar with the difficulty of the mental half of tennis competition. The power of the mind is evident at every level, from Goran Ivanisevic or Jana Novotna at Wimbledon to an eight-year-old afraid to use any of her full strokes in her first tournament. Tennis is a gold mine for sports psychologists, and some players spend several hours each week just doing mental toughness exercises.

Here are five simple techniques you can try right away:

1. The best all-around mental repair tool is the simple phrase, "only the ball." It cures, at least temporarily, most of the big pitfalls. Whether you're upset, angry, nervous, or just distracted, repeat this phrase to block out negative thoughts and return your focus to where it belongs, the ball.

2. Probably the hardest time to concentrate is when you're getting ready to return serve. Your opponent has the ball, so your mind seems to sense that this is an opportunity for a little time off. The next thing you know, your musings about which movie to watch tonight are rudely interrupted by a chunk of rubber and fuzz coming in at 90 m.p.h. A combination of three devices can help keep your mind on the job:

  • While your opponent is preparing, try to focus on something undistracting, like your strings. (Strings get readjusted a lot more than needed because of this little trick.)
  • As she tosses the ball, try to watch it come out of her hand and say to yourself a long, drawn-out, "baaalll."
  • As she hits the serve, say "hit," followed by "bounce," then on your return swing, "hit."
The "baaalll" device seems to work well for most players without much of a downside. The "hit, bounce, hit" phrase is also popular, but for some players it distracts more than it helps.
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