“If we trained our minds as much as we are training our muscles and physical body, I think we would achieve and maximize our potential.” – Novak Djokovic
Interested in learning more about improving your mental game?
We marvel at the athletic skills today’s tennis players possess. The game is as physical as ever and yet there’s still one deciding factor that gets overlooked: the mental game. Tennis is as much a challenge between you and yourself as it is you and your opponent. At DTS we are seeing more and more recruits struggling under the pressure they are feeling to keep their grades up, win matches and improve their UTR and TRN ranking so they get into one of their top choice schools. The pandemic, ever increasing demands and expectation being placed on high schoolers, and the competitiveness of gaining acceptance into top colleges/universities all play a role in this. Many seem to have lost the enjoyment they once had for tennis, and some seriously consider quitting the game altogether.
This article will discuss strategies to improve your mental approach, to find more success and most importantly, more enjoyment, both on and off the courts.
Sports Psychologist Dr. Patrick Cohn outlines five principles to improve your mental game; Focus on just the one point, Park negative emotions, Relax your mind in between points, Strategize don’t analyze, Stay confident/avoid self-doubt.
Focus on just the one point
How often during a match are players thinking about what happened in the past or what may happen in the future? Dwelling on previous points does no good, the past is the past. All too often players lose 3 or 4 points in a row because they are annoyed with something that happened. Conversely, too often there is the tendency to begin thinking about the outcome or how good it will feel to walk up to the net and shake hands after the win. It is vital to stay in the moment.
Park negative emotions
How many of you watched the 2022 Australian Open final? Nadal, after nearly 5 ½ hours of exhausting, intense tennis, was serving 5-4 in the 5th set, 30-love. Two points away from making history as the all-time leader in major titles. What happens? He loses 4 straight points. And yet, observing how he conducted himself, you would have no idea what just transpired. Instead of being deflated and getting down on himself, he just got right back to work, and the rest is history. Stay positive, keep your head up, never show an opponent you are upset. And if you feel yourself getting negative, take a moment, regroup, and move forward.
Relax your mind in between points
Djokovic tends to play with his heart on his sleeve but notice how he often takes deep breaths in between points as a way to reset, get things back to neutral and focus on what he needs to do. Tennis matches are long and there are hundreds of opportunities to overanalyze, stress and micro-manage. Take a moment to regroup, refresh and relax your mind.
“Tennis is mostly mental. You win or lose before you even go out there” – Venus Williams
Strategize, don’t analyze
Finding a balance is important. It is good to process what is happening but at the same time do not obsess. Paralysis through analysis. Many of us are guilty of being over-thinkers and a tennis match provides endless opportunities to overdo it. Finding patterns matter but do not overthink every point.
Stay confident, avoid self-doubt
The power of positive thinking and visualization cannot be overlooked. Stay positive, stay confident and get in the habit of envisioning success. Picture what you want to accomplish. See it happen in your mind and execute.
“At the end of the day you battle yourself the most” – Rafael Nadal
The Recruiting Process
Think about these principles and how they resonate with college recruitment. Take the process one step at a time, do not let yourself get caught up in obsessing over the end game; Stay positive, while this process can be stressful, try to enjoy it; RELAX, give yourself a break every once in a while; Have a plan but do not overthink, worrying about every little thing will only stress you out more, instead, have a plan, trust that plan and roll with the punches; Stay confident, the right fit for you is out there, stay open-minded, be proactive and keep exploring.
Building off those thoughts, below are additional strategies for having success.
No one metric will determine your success
In our article, Process: Key to the UTR-TRN Recruiting Dilemma, we reference this scenario that has likely gone through many of your minds. “If I lose this game, then I will lose this match; and if I lose this match, my UTR will go down; and if my UTR goes down, coaches at schools I want to go to will lose interest in me; if the coaches lose interest in me, I will not be recruited to play college tennis”. Stop turning every aspect of the recruiting process into an all or nothing scenario. One match, one grade, one test, one conversation, will not be the defining moment. Take the good and bad moments in stride, learn from them and move on to the next step. You will enjoy the process more and have more success. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself.
You are the validator of your success
At DTS, we hear some version of, I have to get into this school, or if I do not get into this school than the process was a failure. Or if I am not a 10 UTR by next summer then I will have failed. This could not be further from the truth. What defines you is not the end result, but rather how you approach the process. It is good to have big picture goals, but once you do, put them to the back of your mind and focus on the small picture steps that will help you achieve them. That might mean regular update e-mails to coaches, preparing well for phone or in person meetings with coaches, doing your research before visiting a school, etc.
Stop checking it every day!! It seems recruits would rather play poorly and see their UTR go up, then play well and see it stagnate. Use these ranking/rating systems as a tool but do not view them as the end all be all. Focus on areas you can control; your game, communication with coaches, grades, etc.
Do not wait around
“I’m going to wait a few months, see if my UTR goes up and then reach out to coaches”
Sound familiar? Very rarely do problems or stressors resolve themselves by sitting around and waiting. Come up with a plan and get to work.
Just because someone you know had a bad experience or you heard something negative about a certain college does not mean it won’t be great for you. Do not make assumptions, look into it for yourself, ask questions, discuss your concerns. Challenge any pre-dispositions.
“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength” – Marcus Aurelius
Mental toughness is not something you are born with; it is developed over the course of time. Make focusing on your mental game a priority and practice it, practice it, practice it. Be patient and disciplined and the results will follow. In doing so you’ll likely find your enjoyment of the game and the recruiting process will increase.
“Dealing with temporary frustration of not making progress is an integral part of the path towards excellence…achieving the extraordinary is not a linear process” – Christopher Sommer
Donovan Tennis Strategies
Donovan Tennis Strategies has been helping prospective college tennis players and their families navigate the recruiting process since 1997. In addition to consulting services DTS runs three College Prospects Showcases to help players get exposure to college coaches.