Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – May 1, 1998 – Dr. John F. Murray – If you’re a regular Mental Equipment reader, you’ll recall previous articles discussing sport psychology at the junior, pre-collegiate, and collegiate levels. This month let’s outline psychological skills training in college tennis. If you’re a college tennis player, coach or fan, you’ll want to make sure your team is properly tooled. Tennis players and performers in all other endeavors can no longer afford to neglect the mental side of training.

Best Season for Washington State Tennis

Before we get started, I’d like to introduce you to a very special team. As the sport psychology intern at Washington State University this year, I’ve had a blast. It was one thing to partake in the football team’s rise from nowhere to the Rose Bowl, but now we’re talking tennis! The Cougar women’s tennis team just completed their most successful season in history and will make their first trip ever to the NCAA tournament! Ripping a page out of the football scrapbook, Cougar tennis ended their regular season with a stunning win over the University of Washington in Seattle (sound familiar Ryan Leaf?). Head coach Cari Gross achieved her 100th dual match team victory in this win.

Here’s the terrific bunch that I’ve had the privilege of working with over the past 6 months:

Head Coach
Cari Gross
1998 Washington State University Tennis Team

Get Mental or Lose

Recall that the 4 major areas in sport are technical skills/coaching, fitness/strength & conditioning, health/nutrition, and sport psychology/mental skills training. As we prepare to roll into the 21st century, athletes and teams are beginning to utilize sport psychology services more often. What is amazing is the number of college athletic programs that treat this essential 4th component as if it were only a luxury. Those without ongoing sport psychology training leave to chance an area that everyone knows is responsible for a huge chunk of performance. Oh well… let the others stay in the dark and you’ll have an even greater mental edge!

Outline of a Sport Psychology Tennis Program

Below are some of the basic components of a mental skills training program in college tennis. This is not intended to be comprehensive. Also keep in mind that proper training and credentials in sport psychology are essential to implement any sport psychology program.

Full Coach Investment – The first consideration is to elicit the full support of the head tennis coach. At Washington State, sport psychology is a regular part of team training. Sessions often involve the full participation of the coaching staff. In the early months of a program, this is particularly important because many players are still unfamiliar with regular mental skills training. Coach support reinforces psychological skills training as an essential component.

Open Communication and Feedback – Each player and team is unique. A portion of each session should involve discussion of current challenges both on and off the court. Enhancing mental skills is important, but flexibility to deal with relevant issues is needed. Players should be encouraged to discuss issues in an atmosphere of acceptance and trust. Sessions should aim at developing skills over time through frequent positive feedback and support.

Early Introduction to Many Mental Skills – A review of the Mental Equipment archive reveals that there are many mental skills for specific problems as well as for overall development. By midseason, the majority of essential skills should have been fully introduced and discussed.

Knowledge is Not Enough – Ensure that mental skills are actively practiced and implemented. Take mental training on the court and practice it regularly. Set and achieve short- and long-term goals. Talking is not enough. Put your mental skills where your mouth is.

Awareness of Professional Resources – Learning and applying mental skills is important, but players should be encouraged to obtain assistance for more serious clinical issues should they arise (e.g., consultation with a clinical psychologist or physician for more serious issues).

Now that you’ve glanced at sport psychology in college tennis, ask yourself if these skills are available at your college. If you are involved in college tennis, or interested in any form of performance enhancement, then you simply cannot afford to forget your Mental Equipment.