By: Jan Stanski (love4tennis.pl)
1. Why sport psychologist is needed in tennis?
Like all sports, tennis is very psychological. At the highest level, everyone has natural ability, great fitness and technique. What separates players on any given day is their mind. Some players figure out the mental side on their own. For others, just like with having a fitness trainer and coach, they need help with the mental side of the game. That is where tennis psychologists comes in.
2. How important is developing mental skills in tennis?
Essential for players to play their best. Motivation, confidence, intensity, focus, and emotions are five of the most important areas that players need to master.
3. What psychological features/attributes/traits you consider as the most important in tennis?
A tennis player must be confident, mentally tough, motivated, and able to focus and re-focus effectively. In a sport like tennis where the difference between winning a set (or match) can be determined by a few inches, a player must be able to focus on the shot at hand, not be distracted, believe that they will win, and utilize their passion to win.
4. What age is the best to start workout with mental abilities/factors?
Although how the mental concepts are communicated to the player will change based on their age, integrating them into a tennis workout can begin as soon as they pick up a racquet. For example, a coach (or mental coach) can start working with a player on focusing right away. Rather than discussing the importance of “focus”, they may stress that the child “watch the ball” and point out the consequences if they don’t. Similarly, the skill of self-talk can be utilized immediately. When a player starts to get frustrated after missing many shots, a coach can emphasize the importance of the player telling themselves “Look, I am already getting better!” or “I’ll make the next one”. For a more in depth understanding of things like what motives the player to excel in tennis or in life, it is best to wait until the player develops the cognitive ability required to understand these concepts. By middle school, a player will be able to understand these concepts enough to integrate them into a workout.
5. Which psychological skills should have modern/contemporary/present tennis coach?
The modern tennis coach should have a good enough understanding of psychological skills that they can identify where the players psychological strengths and weaknesses lie, and know how to improve them. Additionally, a coach must be able to integrate the skills into the player’s game based on the player’s physical strengths and weaknesses. A coach should have a firm understanding of skills like concentration, motivation, and composure. Because a coach should have an in depth understanding of the physical game of tennis, they will be able to relate mental concepts to situations within matches and practices in a meaningful and helpful way. Finally, a crucial skill for a tennis coach is the ability to structure and orchestrate quality practice sessions. This involves knowing what the player needs to work on, and structuring practices so that they are productive and focused on the specific areas of improvement.
6. Do you think that searching for champion’s psychological profile makes sense?
Although tennis champions have many psychological attributes in common (e.g., the ability to thrive under pressure, ultimate self-belief), spending energy and resources searching for a champion’s profile may be misguided. Psychological skills can be learned and developed. Rather than search for the ideal profile, efforts could be more effectively used to develop areas of weakness within players who already have some (but not necessarily all) of the attributes that make a tennis champion. By doing this, the amount of players that are potential champions will greatly increase and the overall game of all the players you work with will greatly improve.
7. Do you think is it possible to set up percentage influence/share of psychological/mental aspects taking into consideration/for the result of the tennis match/game?
There will be moments in a tennis match when psychological skills (or the lack thereof) will become very obvious. If a player who has not double faulted the entire match doubled faults in a tiebreaker to lose the match, mental aspects such as dealing with pressure and emotional regulation might be said to have had a huge influence on the result. However, one of the reasons developing mental aspects in players is so important is because multiple mental aspects are at work continuously throughout a match. So, although an estimated influence of mental aspects could be created, any such assignment would discount the constant and continuous applicability of mental aspects in the game of tennis.
8. Do you have to deal/meet with term “psychologist”?
Because many aspects of a player’s life can have an effect on their on-court performance, it is important for us in the field of sport psychology to be quipped to view and work with the person as a whole. In doing this, we inevitably do some work with players in the more traditional “psychologist” sense. But our primary goal is to help a player perform better. We can do this by spending time with the player on the court, helping them develop specific mental techniques to use in their game, and developing their ability to use the mental and physical aspects of tennis to maximize their performance. Other terms used to describe what we do include “mental coach”, or “sport consultant”.
9. What do you think about players who reply, “I do not need psychologist/mental coach, because I do not have problems”? What do you respond for that kind of replies?
I would respond by communicating that it is a common misperception that a mental coach is only necessary when the player has “problems”. The primary reason (especially for elite level players) that players hire a mental coach is so they can maximize the skills they already have, rather than fix their problems. Even if a player does not think they have problems there is always room for improvement. Why wouldn’t you want to be even more motivated, more confident, and more prepared on the court?
10. Can you tell us about three the most frequent difficulties/obstacles you have to deal with/meet in everyday workout with tennis players?
One of the main obstacles that we deal with in everyday workouts with tennis players is a fear of failure. Even in practice, players do not want to miss. Players do not want to “fail”. This causes players to try too hard to control or guide their shots. A focus on the result of their shots and the possibility of failure hurts a player’s ability to stay loose and trust themselves. Another obstacle frequently encountered is a lack of passion and intensity during practice sessions. Getting a player to attack a practice session as if it were as important as a match can be difficult, but it will pay off in the end. A player who practices every day with the same passion that they bring to matches will have put in the work required to come out on top when the performance counts. A third obstacle dealt with frequently is that the player doesn’t want to push their comfort zone. For example, a player who has a fierce inside-out-forehand will consistently run around their backhand to hit the forehand during practice. Although it is essential to realize and solidify a player’s strengths during practice sessions, they also need to develop their weaknesses. If a player refuses to hit the backhand during a practice session what do you think will happen during a match? When the match comes, the opponent might blast a forehand approach shot down the line. If the player hasn’t worked on their backhand during practice, they are probably going to make an error or hit it right to their opponent at the net. Working on shots that are uncomfortable during practice will eventually result in the shots becoming comfortable during a match.
11. What does it mean to you “being good sports psychologist/mental coach”?
Being a good mental coach means providing athletes with direction and useful tools when necessary, and helping them build skills so they can perform at the top of their capabilities, consistently, when it counts. A good mental coach knows their athletes so well that they create highly individualized programs that take into account the skills, personality, and goals of the unique athlete. They are experts at understanding what is needed, and when. They know when to step in and provide guidance, and when to encourage the athlete to come up with their own solutions. In the end, the athlete will become self-reliant and integrate what they learn from the mental coach into their game so well that it becomes automatic.
12. What are the main differences in mental way/aspect/point of view of the best tennis players in the world between them?
All of the best tennis players in the world share certain attributes. They often produce their best tennis is conditions that would cause lesser players to crumble under the pressure. They view challenges as opportunities rather than threats. Look into their eyes when they discuss an upcoming match against a rival and you will see a focused intensity, and a glimmer of excitement. That being said, they all have their own unique personalities and they utilize mental aspects in their own unique way. Rafael Nadal plays as if an intense internal fire that never quits is fueling him. His game is one of grit, determination, and explosiveness. Conversely, Roger Federer is the essence of cool and collected. His game is a natural and relaxed masterpiece, capable of striking at any time. The best players in the world may utilize mental aspects in different ways, but the point is that they all use them. The best players in the world provide a model that players at all levels can use to maximize their game. They develop a blend of mental aspects, physical skills, and personality that works best for them. Then they use that blend to devote 100% of themselves toward their performance.