Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Aug 1, 2001 – Dr. John F. Murray – Two months ago I challenged you to identify your greatest needs in tennis. Thank you for a wonderful response. Your e-mails yielded over 100 different problem areas related to the mental game in tennis! This interactive dialogue will help many other players improve their games and mental outlooks. All learning begins with self-awareness.

Your messages highlight common issues that I grapple with daily in my private practice. This month, let’s look at what you reported as the 5 most frequent problems related to the mental game in tennis. After a brief description of the problem, I’ve provided links for you to quickly access the Mental Equipment articles which should help you the most.

Performing Poorly Due to Anger

It seems that players at all levels have difficulty staying cool under pressure. The problem with anger is that it usually disturbs focus, disrupts intensity levels, and busts rhythm and clear thinking all at once. Tennis is a very frustrating game at times, but it is even harder to master with anger. The player who learns to modulate and control anger often controls the opponent too. For help in this area, take a look at:

August 1996: Understanding and Conquering Anger
August 1998: Reverse Irrational Thinking
April 1998: Monitoring your Mood
July 1997: Stress Relief in Tennis

The Paralysis of Analysis

Many of you reported over-thinking to be a major problem. While it is important to deeply analyze new strokes and strategies in the learning process, the same approach in a match situation can prove disastrous. How many times do you remember thinking about too many things at once right before flubbing the ball into the net or over the back fence? Perfect focus is almost unconscious, and I often encourage athletes to lose themselves in the heat of battle and just allow instincts to prevail. So, if you are having difficulty with over-thinking, I recommend the following links:

December 1999: Worry Smart and Prosper
February 1998: Get Real in Practice
September 1997: Eliminate Perfectionism for Success
March 1997: Keeping Tennis Thrilling

Vanishing Confidence

It seems that for many of you confidence is very hard to maintain. You are definitely not alone. Many professional and collegiate players report similar problems. The readers of this column reported highs and lows of confidence that mimic the stock market! Remember that confidence is a controllable internal factor. You don’t have to be a slave to outcome. Maintain confidence during slumps. You’ll gain that extra toughness to come back from far behind, and close out matches when all seems to be slipping. To improve, take a look at the following articles:

January 1996: The Art of Confidence
November 1996: Confronting Fear in Tennis
May 1997: Developing a Sense of Mastery
November 2000: Slump Busters

Distress over Losing

Players that I work with and readers of this column concur on one thing: losing is no fun! I agree totally, but you don’t have to allow the outcome to define everything. It is funny how people often just ask you for the score after a match. It’s as if the hundreds of shots, movements, and strategies were irrelevant. Face it, you will lose many matches in your lifetime. If you obsess over outcome, you are doomed to a miserable experience after a loss. Even more important, the focus you need to win is erased! If you find that you can’t take it anymore when you lose, or you worry constantly about match result, perhaps you should read the following articles:

March 1998: Performance Above Winning
August 1999: Accepting Defeat Graciously
November 1995: Attentional Control in Tennis
February 1997: Deriving Personal Growth from Tennis
September 1997: Eliminate Perfectionism for Success

Choking in Important Situations

Who doesn’t choke? We all do. The key is to do it less than you do now. You really need to understand this one, because it is the classic. It represents the combination of attention drawn excessively inward, over-intensity and a sense that the situation is extremely important. It spells disaster. Become a less frequent choker by reading and applying the advice from the following articles:

November 1997: Competitive Pressure in Tennis
July 1997: Stress Relief in Tennis
November 1996: Confronting Fear in Tennis
September 1995: Optimizing Arousal in Tennis
November 1995: Attentional Control in Tennis

In Sum

Can you believe we’ve been doing this column now for over 6 years? Where has the time flown? How many serve and volleys does that represent? Keep up the great e-mails because this is how you will continue to help us all reach greater heights in a wonderful sport. The mental game never ends. I hope to see some of you on August 26 at the Grand Hyatt in New York City!