Almost every type of move, service, and shot can be taught through textbooks and practice sessions on the tennis court. However, when it comes to gaining a strong mentality, it’s a lot more complex and challenging.
So, how do get to be how to be mentally tough in tennis? The short answer is to train for mental toughness.
In this article, we look at several ways to do this. We also delve into everything you need to know about mentality in tennis.
The answer is both! Tennis constantly tests a player’s mental and physical capabilities.
However, according to two-time Olympic tennis gold medalist and Hall of Famer, Gigi Fernandez, the sport is more mental than it is physical. Gigi was widely known for her mental toughness on the court.
Anyone can physically train for tennis through bodyweight workouts and all, but the mental game is what helps tip the scales for most players. Technical ability is important, don’t get us wrong.
Nonetheless, it’s possible to reach a point where you match with an opponent with a similar technical ability. The game, then, comes down to how well you strategize and how fast you make your decisions.
Patience is another key ingredient to winning any tennis match. This sport is all about waiting it out more than your opponent can.
However, patience in tennis doesn’t necessarily mean playing passively. It’s the ability to wait for the right time to make well-calculated movements.
When in the middle of a match, you’re pretty much waiting for your opponent to make a mistake. You want them to drop a ball short.
Without patience, you’re more likely to attempt to get the upper hand and avoid waiting altogether—which isn’t exactly a bad thing, but it does significantly open up the risks for errors.
You should know when to be patient and wait for an opening and when to play on the offensive 24/7.
So, how do you gain patience in tennis? Ultimately, the best way is to build your ball tolerance.
US Sports Camps suggests a few ways to do this, like playing half-court singles games. These test your resilience and track impatience-caused error counts.
In addition, it’s important to recognize the effects of patience on a match—it brings home wins.
When you know how essential it is to get that match point, you put more effort into ensuring you have the right level of patience.
Fatigue is a natural effect of playing any sport. However, if you find yourself constantly feeling tired playing tennis, below are some possible causes:
According to a study that looked at nutritional recommendations for tennis players, they should consume high carbohydrate diets. This type of diet ensures that their glycogen stores are enough to support the level of activity they’re putting their body through.
If you don’t consume enough energy-giving food items, you’ll have insufficient glycogen stores. That generally means you won’t have enough energy to perform tasks, much less exercise and play tennis—and you’ll get tired more easily.
In addition, low carbohydrate intake leads to significantly lower performance and possible undesirable weight loss.
Similarly, sleep also plays a role in how much energy you have when playing tennis. So much so that if you don’t get enough, you’ll get tired easily even with minimal activity.
It’s because lack of sleep depletes your energy capacity more quickly. In addition, it has a restorative function on our body.
So if you don’t get enough rest, you won’t be able to start the day with the maximum energy your body is usually willing to expend.
Aside from losing energy, inadequate sleep causes a drop in performance too.
If you’re experiencing fatigue even when you’ve been eating and sleeping well, it’s wise to turn to your doctors for some clarity.
Aside from a general lack of important factors, like energy and sleep, reasons for tiredness after playing tennis could also be related to the state of your physical health.
Possible medical reasons include anemia, anxiety disorders, and adrenal insufficiency.
Since tennis is a mental game as much as it’s a physical game, sometimes the cause for fatigue isn’t some tangible factor like lack of sleep or food. Burnout is another reason why you might feel extremely tired when playing tennis.
This can stem from feelings of frustration, exhaustion, and devaluation. Because of these, players who are burnt out get tired quicker than usual.
In addition, they may also feel a loss of interest in the sport altogether.
How Do You Train Mental Toughness in Tennis?
Training for mental toughness isn’t particularly a straightforward path. There are plenty of ups and downs in the process—and it won’t always be easy.
However, there are ways to make it a bit more bearable. Below are seven tips on how to start training your mind for fortitude.
Unfortunately, just like any sport, mistakes are sometimes inevitable. Often, these mistakes stem from other factors that are beyond your jurisdiction as a player.
To keep a level-head and stay mentally tough during matches, you have to come to terms with the fact that there are some things you simply can’t control. These include factors like the weather during a match, umpire calls, and even line shots.
So, shift your focus on the things that you do have control over and let go of the things you don’t. Mental fortitude means that your focus is in the right place and you won’t let anything sway that.
For example, you don’t call the shots when it comes to umpire decisions, but you do have control over how you react to them and how it’ll affect your play.
It’s easy to get caught up in a tennis match, but when everything’s starting to move a little too fast for your mind—remember to slow down and breathe. Because tennis requires you to think quickly on your feet, decisions during matches can become overwhelming really quickly.
Unfortunately, if you don’t give yourself some room to breathe, you’ll find yourself feeling too stressed to think straight. That’s why you shouldn’t forget to take a breather every now and then during matches.
When you find yourself making the same mistakes over and over again, like dropping balls too short or serving poor shots, take a moment to slow down and breathe.
Often if you don’t clear your head first, the mistakes can get to your head and you’ll keep making them even without meaning to.
You’re the only one on the court who can tell if your mind is already at full capacity. Hence why it’s important to know when you need to stop for a second and think things through.
Don’t let yourself get too overwhelmed. Remember, players with mental toughness remain graceful and level-headed under pressure.
Routines are great for any sport—including tennis! This is because they provide a sense of familiarity and consistency.
Sticking to a routine also trains your muscle memory when it comes to technical abilities. The more you commit movements and strategies to muscle memory, the more confident you’ll be on the court.
It’ll be significantly easier to time backhands correctly if you’ve done it during practice sessions a hundred times.
Plus, having routines helps you when you’re unsure what the next decision or shot call should be. If you’ve gone over what your routine is during a match, you’ve probably memorized what to do when certain events happen.
For example, if your opponent gives you a drop shot, what’s the next move? If you’ve incorporated things like these into your routine, your reaction will almost always be like second nature.
We know that the mental game in tennis is highly situational; every match is unique. However, there are core movements and shots that you can master and add to your routine.
Don’t be swayed by the opponent or the crowd—these are distractions. You should stand strong against external factors that don’t 100% matter during the game.
Now, this doesn’t mean completely ignoring everything except yourself. Stay aware of what’s happening, but don’t let it get to your head.
Remember, you can’t control how people act, but you can control how you react to what they do. If you feel like your opponent or the crowd is taunting you, don’t heed the distractions.
Focus, give your best and play the game according to how you planned and practiced. Stay level-headed despite whatever the world decides to throw at you during a match.
Part of attaining mental toughness is learning how to look past all of the distractions—even when it’s tempting to react and let bad thoughts or events get to you.
In a sport like tennis, where little changes can make big differences, it’s easy to let the mistakes get to you. However, as tempting as it is to let the negative thoughts win over, do your best to shift your focus on the positives instead.
Self-doubts are the real enemy when it comes to mental fortitude. If you feel like your errors are beginning to creep up on you, don’t engage in negative self-talk.
Acknowledge what went wrong, what you can do about it next time, and then—we know it’s easier said than done—move on.
On the court, you basically only have yourself to talk to, especially if you’re playing singles.
Trust us, you want your thoughts to be on your side during a match. So, try not to bring yourself down on the court.
It’s 100% valid to feel frustrated, but remember that mistakes are something you learn from.
Good sportsmanship is part of a strong mental game in tennis. This means no loss, no opponent, and no crowd can sway your positive emotions about the match.
Being a good sport also means you accept losses with grace. You see defeats as a challenge to be better next time.
In addition, even if you have a high drive to win, you’ll always play fair and abide by all rules. You’ll never engage in cheating of any kind.
Sometimes you may encounter opponents who behave untowardly or downright rudely. Having good sportsmanship means you don’t let such acts get to you.
Plus, you acknowledge that any competitive heat within the court shouldn’t be brought outside of the match.
Having a strong support system behind your back helps in developing mental toughness because you have people to confide in whenever things get tough and too hard to handle.
Social support from people who know your goals can help you reach them too!
Sometimes, tennis is stressful, especially if you’re a competitive person or if you like participating in tournaments. When you’re supported by those who care about you, like friends and family, the sport becomes a whole less stressful.
Have the people closest to you attend your matches or practice sessions, for instance. Seeing them may provide a boost of motivation and drive to play better. Have you noticed that during a winner’s speech after a big tournament, that they always thank “their team” ? There’s a reason for that.
In addition, you need to welcome opportunities to share your problems—if any—with people you trust. This avoids having to carry every single thing by yourself.
You can’t achieve mental toughness if your mind is always filled to the brim with thoughts and, sometimes, problems.
Tennis is mentally challenging because players are expected to make many decisions on the spot. It’s a sport that requires a mind just as tough as your technical skills, if not tougher.
Since the ball travels fast, your decisions and your next move should essentially be traveling faster.
In short, players have to be quick on their feet, both physically and mentally. Typically, a tennis player makes over a thousand decisions during a single match.
In addition, there are many other factors at play that’ll try to mess with your mentality like untoward opponents—sometimes even umpire calls.
Aside from making quick, strategic decisions, you also have to develop and protect your mental fortitude to withstand distractions and stay positive.