mental training in tennis

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Coaches’ Corner: Closing the Match

Ivan Lendl IJTA photo

The Ivan Lendl IJTA, one of the world’s premiere tennis academies, has taken up residence in our “Coaches’ Corner” series to dish out instructional tips and on court analyses straight from the Academy’s top coaches and directors.

By Scott Swainston, Asst. Director of Mental Training at Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy

Just four points away from winning a highly coveted match, you suddenly become uneasy and technique you have practiced thousands of times seems completely foreign. Your grip feels slippery, heart is pounding and mind is racing 100 miles per hour. What if I lose? What will people think?

The basis for these fears and the physical symptoms they create often come from an intense feeling of uncertainty. To put it simply, the future scares us. We often wish these moments were on our DVR so we can fast forward to the end result. What separates elite players from those who struggle with closing a match?

The first step to improving your mental game for clutch moments is to embrace the challenge and uncomfortable feeling. If you come into the match knowing you will face adversity, you will be prepared when the match gets difficult. Enjoying the moment allows you to relish the opportunity for crucial moments.

The second aspect to performing in high-pressure situations is establishing a game plan prior to the competition. Understand what it takes for you to compete your best from start to finish. Examples include active feet, sticking to patterns and being patient. As the match comes down the stretch, you will already know what it takes to be successful with simple mental reminders.

The last key to closing a match is working on managing your attention. The tendency is for your mind to race from one scenario to the next. Learning to better manage your focus will not necessarily eliminate all of those thoughts. However, paired with your keys to competing, using your attention allows you to get back to the match and what you need to do to win.

A strong mental game starts with understanding how to enjoy feeling uncomfortable. Better tennis, more learning and more enjoyment will follow.

About Scott Swainston
Scott Swainston is the Assistant Director of Mental Training at Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy on Hilton Head Island, S.C. Scott received his Bachelor degree in Psychology and Sociology at the University of Missouri – Kansas City and Master of Science in Sport Psychology from Georgia Southern University.

Ivan Lendl IJTA exemplifies Ivan Lendl’s desire to give back to tennis and develop future champions through a new-era curriculum and holistic training approach. The Academy focuses on classic fundamentals, leading-edge biomechanics, strength training / fitness and mental preparation. Lendl subscribes to a hands-on approach with students instilling dedication, focus, hard work, motivation and overall preparation.

For more information: www.LendlTennis.com/info, 888.936.5327.

Coaches’ Corner: Overcoming Mental Hurdles in the Heat of a Match

Ivan Lendl IJTA overcoming hurdles

The Ivan Lendl IJTA, one of the world’s premiere tennis academies, has taken up residence in our “Coaches’ Corner” series to dish out instructional tips and on court analyses straight from the Academy’s top coaches and directors.

By Matt Cuccaro, Director of Mental Training for Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy and Dr. Adam Naylor, Consulting Mental Trainer

It’s the final set and you need to hold serve to keep the match going. To make matters worse, you lost the last three games, the wind is picking up and a line call just went against you. It would be easy to surrender to frustration and lack of energy, but this is the opportunity to showcase mental toughness.

How are mentally tough players able to repeatedly overcome adversity during a match? The answer lies in a mindset established before the first ball is put in play and lasts throughout the competition. The player focuses on “playing” tennis, rather than reacting to the ever-changing score. This process-oriented attitude allows mentally tough athletes to maintain a consistent level of effort, attention and energy, regardless of the situation. It allows them to overcome opponents who get caught up in the win/loss column and other distractions.

Winning is very important to tough-minded players, but they also understand a steady process leads to desired results. They believe establishing “keys to performance” provides them every opportunity to beat opponents in difficult situations. Focusing on results hinders motivation, resiliency and effort, causing many players to fold when their back is against the wall. Outcome-oriented thoughts drain limited the energy and attention resources necessary to obtain peak performance.

Keys to performance serve as a reminder of how to win each point during the match. Process-oriented thoughts allow the athlete to stay in the moment and maximize potential by placing an emphasis on effort. Positive mental refreshments allow the player to prevail in all situations. Examples include:

  • “Keep moving your feet”
  • “Play in rhythm”
  • “Be aggressive with each point”
  • “Focus on specific targets throughout the match”
  • “Regroup between points and stay in control”

The duration and intensity of these thoughts differentiates competitors at the highest level. Process-oriented thoughts help channel useful information to the body.

Elite players feel the magnitude of the moment, but they thrive on executing a plan and being fully engaged with each shot. There is a time and place to dwell on bad breaks, difficult conditions and other excuses, but not during the heat of a match.


About Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.
Matt Cuccaro is the Director of Mental Training at Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy on Hilton Head Island, SC. Matt has a Masters of Education in Counseling/Sport Psychology from Boston University and is an active member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. Matt has worked with individuals in a number of sports from the junior level all the way up to world-class professional athletes.

About Adam Naylor, Ed.D., CC-AASP
Dr. Naylor brings a decade and a half of experience developing junior, collegiate, and professional tennis players to the Ivan Lendl IJTA team. Over the course of his career he has educated regional, national, and international competitors – including ATP and WTA professionals, Ivy, WCC, Big West, America East collegiate players, and ITF and USTA junior competitors. He currently leads Telos Sport Psychology Coaching and is the Director of the Boston University Athletic Enhancement Center.

Ivan Lendl IJTA exemplifies Ivan Lendl and David Lewis’ desire to give back to tennis and develop future champions through a new-era curriculum and holistic training approach. The Academy focuses on classic fundamentals, leading-edge biomechanics, strength training / fitness and mental preparation. Lendl and Lewis subscribe to a hands-on approach with students instilling dedication, focus, hard work, motivation and overall preparation.

For more information: www.LendlTennis.com, 888.983.6647 (888-9-TENNIS) or 843.686.1529.

Coaches’ Corner: Controlling Your Side of the Net

Backhand Slice - low volley

The Ivan Lendl IJTA, one of the world’s premiere tennis academies, has taken up residence in our “Coaches’ Corner” series to dish out instructional tips and on court analyses straight from the Academy’s top coaches and directors.

By Matt Cuccaro, Director of Mental Training for Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy and Dr. Adam Naylor, Consulting Mental Trainer

During a tennis match, which side of the net do you focus on? Your eyes look out, so it’s easy to concentrate on your opponent, rather than your own game. Many players discuss the importance of assessing their opponent during warm-ups. Does this do the most for your upcoming performance? While it is important to get a feel for your competition to see some potential strengths and limitations, how much does it take away from finding your own rhythm and measuring the spring in your step?

Check-in with yourself

Be aware of where your attention is and has a tendency to go. What percentage of the time are your thoughts on the wrong side of the net? How often does your mind drift? For example, does your mind say “Man, he likes to push the ball,” or “Come on, keep your feet moving?” Check in with yourself between each point to be mentally focused on your side of the court.

Lead the match

Controlling yourself allows you to control the match. Attention on the opponent leads to reactionary tennis, rather than authoritative play. Stay in charge by choosing to focus on your game plan, targets to hit and keys to solid play.

Step beyond traditional chatter

Television commentators, fellow players, coaches and even parents can be heard saying who they think is a “good” or “bad” player. For the competitive player, this is misdirected thinking and leads one to focus on the wrong side of the net. Labeling opponents only leads to unnecessary distractions, wasted energy and inconsistent play. Be sure to keep a steady attitude and tireless work ethic for optimal results.


About Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.
Matt Cuccaro is the Director of Mental Training at Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy on Hilton Head Island, SC. Matt has a Masters of Education in Counseling/Sport Psychology from Boston University and is an active member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. Matt has worked with individuals in a number of sports from the junior level all the way up to world-class professional athletes.

About Adam Naylor, Ed.D., CC-AASP
Dr. Naylor brings a decade and a half of experience developing junior, collegiate, and professional tennis players to the Ivan Lendl IJTA team. Over the course of his career he has educated regional, national, and international competitors – including ATP and WTA professionals, Ivy, WCC, Big West, America East collegiate players, and ITF and USTA junior competitors. He currently leads Telos Sport Psychology Coaching and is the Director of the Boston University Athletic Enhancement Center.

Ivan Lendl IJTA exemplifies Ivan Lendl and David Lewis’ desire to give back to tennis and develop future champions through a new-era curriculum and holistic training approach. The Academy focuses on classic fundamentals, leading-edge biomechanics, strength training / fitness and mental preparation. Lendl and Lewis subscribe to a hands-on approach with students instilling dedication, focus, hard work, motivation and overall preparation.

For more information: www.LendlTennis.com, 888.983.6647 (888-9-TENNIS) or 843.686.1529.

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