Re: How to became mentally strong?
Hey guys. I know a lot of juniors have this problem, the mental game. I know I had it when I first started playing ranked matches when I was around 12. I could never pull that trigger when I wanted to and I always got scared to close out the game, set or match. And when I pulled that trigger, it misfired, or the opponent got it back and here I was thinking that the point should have been over! There is only one thing you can really do, practice. Yes I know you have heard it a THOUSAND times, because I knew that I hated hearing it over and over by my coaches, and I thought he had absolutely no idea what he was talking about and blah blah blah. But that is the truth. Think about it. What do you do in a day's routine that you never think about, or that it doesn't take any mental energy but when you first started practicing or doing it, it took some concentration? I know there are a lot of things that I do that fall in this category like playing the piano or guitar or driving the car or doing calculus, things like that. Obviously when I first started all of these things, it took time and effort. I started slow, it took many days, months or years of practicing and concentration, but here I was the days, months or years later being able to efficiently do these things like playing a certain song, or driving on the highway or finding the integral of an equation without using too much concentration and mental strength. In tennis, you want to get to that point the same way. That is why you see all the pros in the world have their own special shot. Like Roger with his serve or forehand, Gasquet and Nalbandian with their backhands, Nadal with his forehand, etc. It is a shot where they are so used to and feel as if it is just like walking for them.
But enough lecturing, here are many things you can do it improve your shots to get it as quick as possible to the point of feeling very good about it all the time.
1. When having a practice session with your coach or hitting partner, hit all the balls at 110% of what you have. I mean you put every ounce of your body in these shots, put all your weight, all your torque, all your racket head speed, all your timing, all your eyes on the ball, I mean everything, even if you can only last half the time on court than you normally can. Of course don't do it to the point where you can easily get injured, but play the shots you would normally never hit in a match unless you were winning like 5-0, 40-love or something or if you were standing above the height of the net that no matter what you couldn't miss. But hit that shot with all the authority you have and think to yourself that is a lot of power or something like "wow, I'm strong" even if you don't think so. After many, many practice sessions of just hitting the ball at 110%, you'll soon feel like hitting at 50% is as normal as it was hitting at 25%. And then pretty soon, hitting at 75% seems to be quite easy. Finally in the long run, you might feel that you can actually throw in one of those 110% shots every couple points because it feels so effortless and like nothing to you. So by then, when you are playing a match, you are to that point where you can rely on the 80% amount of power shot just like it was breathing. One of the things to be careful when you are putting mental thoughts while you are practice hitting is to think that your partner or coach won't get it back or will struggle with it, because if your partnet or coach does get it back, especially in good position, you will get down on yourself for no reason, and this is a big problem during matches. You have to really develop your mind and think your just a tough ass. That is why a lot of these professional players come off as being arrogant/stubborn/etc. They just have that belief that they will win every match they play, and you as a tennis player should come into every tennis match and PRACTICE match or session thinking the same way.
2. Play AS MANY MATCHES AS YOU CAN ESPECIALLY AGAINST PUSHERS. Oh gosh, the undeniably number one scary player to play against, the pusher. The only way you can honestly beat these players is by using the correct tactics, pushing better than them or just outhitting them to the point where they can't reach the ball. Using correct tactics, such as the dropshot/lob is a very difficult thing to pull off, even for pros, which is why you don't see them use it to win free points. Pushing better than your opponent is not good either because you aren't improving as a player then, because you'll get used to winning lower ranked matches by pushing, and then comes the top 100 players in your region and they aren't afraid to hit the corners and play big shots and here you are unable to come up with the goods even when you are in position, instead you feel content to just push it over. So really, the only choice is to beat them with strength and being unafraid to rip that ball when the pusher just dinks it over. So my suggestion, is to play a really fast pusher you know, whether it be a friend, coach or that weird guy you met playing a tournament and don't really want to give a call because he has a really bad odor. What you want is someone who will get virtually every single ball back, especially pretty deep to make you unable to take total control over the point. That way, you are forced to take more risks and chances when you have them or else you run the risk of you making an easy error, not having another good chance in the rally resulting in lowered percentages, or making you tired staying in the rally. Tennis is all about calculating your chances out. Some people say take that first big chance you have while others claim that you should always wait a few extra balls because like sales in supermarkets, the prices will eventually go down lower sooner or later. Both options are correct, so it is up to you whether you want to take an early chance or play the point out and wait for a possibly better opportunity. However, you should not strictly or majorly go with one option because if you were to go after the first opportunity in every point, it could be still very risky and up with you losing unneseccary points. And if you waited a while to see if there could be a really good opportunity, like I said earlier, you run the risk again of you making a silly and easy mistake, losing earlier and better chances in the rally or just getting plain tired. In the end, after a lot of match practice against pushers and learning when to pull the trigger will greatly help in matches that actually do count, because I know a lot of the times, I firstly didn't know when was the best time to pull the trigger, regardless if I was hitting very well.
3. This might come as a surprise to some, but taking a break is VERY useful when trying to improve your tennis or feeling more relaxed when playing. Playing too often such as everyday can feel very uncomfortable to many people, almost as if it is unnatural to be playing this much, as their bodies may never feel too relaxed when match time arrives or whatever. Taking a break allows you to mentally slow down again so that when you come back, your body has to readjust to playing tennis again, making your mind most likely try to concentrate even harder to try to get that rhythm back as soon as possible, almost as if you were picking up the sport for the first time. And when you are at a high level of tennis, having that extra amount of concentration and awareness can really help you improve as you feel that you are seeing the ball better or moving around with better footwork, etc. So what you can do, is maybe play 5-6 days in a week very strong, like how I explained in #1. And then for the other 1 or 2 spare days, just don't physically play tennis at all. Instead go take a run, or if you really want, just have a normal or strong workout session, maybe you could push yourself a little more since you aren't playing tennis. But while I am saying do not play tennis, I'm not saying you can't play tennis other ways. Image training is a quite popular method especially during this last decade or so. Imagining yourself hitting the ball is a great way to keep your strokes sharp without ever touching a racket. You can also imagine yourself hitting correctly which could lead you to making small adjustments here or there when playing in real life. What I also found was useful along with image training, is playing tennis video games. As with all video games, there should be a limit, but honestly, in my years of playing, playing tennis video games in a way has helped a lot. Even though they are unrealistic most of the time, the players do hit perfect strokes nearly everytime which can help you visually improve yours when you step back in the court. At the same time, if you are playing against another human, you can in a way work some strategies out such as maybe a short cross court slice to bring them in and off the court and then a deep down the line shot. If you are going to do this, I would avoid all Virtua Tennis and Smash Court Tennis games as they are arcade style and don't represent real life tennis in no way. Some great games to play are Dream Match Tennis Pro (probably the best, most difficult, but graphics are horrid), TopSpin 1 and TopSpin 3. The old fashioned way of watching tennis matches are also a great way to be improving off the court.
Federer / Haas / Safin / Gaudio / Kuerten / Youzhny / Nadal / Gonzalez / Ljubicic / Hewitt / Soderling / Wawrinka / Coria / Nalbandian / Kohlschreiber