Scores of tennis players believe that most of their problems on the tennis court are technical (eg. The action of hitting a forehand, backhand etc) and not mental (thought process behind the action).
Players practice the technical aspects of their shots or pay huge sums of money to coaches to work on areas of their game that probably don’t need as much technical attention as they may think.
Here’s my advice.
When you play a match you need to focus at the other end of the court tactically. Every shot you play must have a purpose to either neutralise or hurt your opponent tactically. The only thing you must be aware of at your end of the court is the ball and where you are aiming to hit it.
During a match you MUST NOT think technically. As soon as you do, more often than not you lose the match. Why? Because it’s almost impossible to mend a shot during a match.
When you play a match you go into battle with what you have and you have to make the best of it. If you try to hit shots you have not mastered in practice then you will probably end up disappointed.
Most errors are mental because they have a lack of purpose or the players’ concentration is on technique and not where the ball is being aimed!
Here’s a typical example:-
A player came to me after a recent match and said that his forehand needs a lot of work because it let him down big time in his last match.
Now I know this guy can hit great forehands and does so regularly in lessons. I asked him “When did your forehand let you down?”
He answered “It was okay at first but once I made a few errors it just seemed to get worse and worse from them on.”
This statement told me a lot. It told me he was analysing his technique because of an error and became more and more conscious of what he was doing at his end of the court instead of trying to affect the points tactically at the other end.
So we hit a few rallies and played some points out. Something went wrong as I approached the net and his forehand flew out the back of the court.
I asked him what he was trying to do? His answer was “I didn’t cover the ball with enough topspin and lost control.”
He was right – his ball flew out because it had no topspin on it. BUT, it wasn’t a technical error.
So I asked him the same question again but wanted a more specific answer. So I said “tell me exactly where you pictured the ball going and where you expected it to land?”
His answer was “Cross court somewhere!”
This guy wanted a technical answer, but the answer was mental. His ball went ‘cross court somewhere’ and that’s all he’d asked from himself. So in effect he actually succeeded.
If you want to hit a short angled topspin forehand cross court to a target and you miss then that’s a technical error and we can then work on that.
BUT if you are not aiming specifically and don’t know where you want the ball to land without first visualising it, then how can you be upset when you miss?
If you don’t know where you are aiming then that is a mental error. Your racket can’t do the aiming for you, no matter how much it cost you!
If this guy had pictured the exact shot he wanted he would have automatically covered the ball, and hit with more topspin, and been successful, because he has done it in many practices before.
You wouldn’t shoot a gun without aiming would you, as it would be dangerous? To hit a tennis shot without purpose is effectively doing the same thing and is a danger to your confidence.
How many people do you know who don’t aim their second serve but just try to get it in? (are you one of those people?!).
Visualise and aim. You have a much better chance of hitting the target and succeeding.
So the key is to practice these shots and scenarios, so you know what to do in these pressure situations. You will then build up a visual memory of succeeding under pressure.
Then all you need to do is watch the ball and visualise what you want to happen. What you focus on in life becomes reality.
If the shot has been practiced enough it will begin to happen in those pressure situations as pure muscle memory. (See it, then do it!)