2018 offers elite sports stars many opportunities to win their respective tournaments/competitions/finals. The Australian Open, which begins in mid-January and offers an opportunity to win the first major of the season. Success in the Australian Open can provide positive momentum going forward into the rest of the season. Whilst technical, physicality and energy systems will all play a part, one must not underestimate the use of psychology. The science of psychology becomes instrumental as fine margins can dictate the difference between winning and losing.
Tennis performers need to mentally prepare in order to succeed and a number of factors will influence this opportunity:
- Control – The ability to control the controllable is an essential factor in any sport. Controlling the controllable in tennis becomes even more important given the number of points and situations that change during each game and set. Performers must take each point, game and set as it comes and of course in that order. The ability to appreciate the controllable event is therefore essential. Tennis performers stand a better chance if they are able to assess the situation with clarity and control. For example, serving is in control of the performer. An uncontrollable factor is the umpires call.
- Concentration – Whilst successful elite performers will have good amounts of concentration levels the heat at the Australian Open could dictate. Another factor that can dictate concentration levels is fatigue. The longer each set, the more fatigue influences concentration levels. To maintain good levels of concentration it is recommended that performers are hydrated and nourished. Further, the psychology of tennis should dictate that performers focus and concentrate on each point and game at a time. Therefore, the focus should not be further than those aspects, such as at 40-15 (points) or 3-4 (games).
- Confidence – A key factor in tennis is confidence. Levels of confidence can fluctuate and will depend on various factors. There are many examples of performers who are leading 2-0 in sets and end up losing. There are examples where performers in one game are serving immaculately and then in another game are double faulting. A key process to maintain confidence would be to set short goals that are smart. Another process would be to reflect on positives within each game and set to build resilience.
- Emotional control – Emotions in tennis play an integral part. Performers who manage their emotions are more likely to have a chance of success when playing in matches. To control emotions, one must use different mental skills. Goal setting and understanding these goals can help classify each point, game and set. The use of imagery and visualisation can allow performers to develop sequence like patterns. Finally, deep breathing is an excellent strategy to develop emotional control as it will provide equilibrium to mind and body.
- Zonal control – In sport psychology the Zone is often discussed. The Zone is associated to the theory of the Inverted U. Performers have mentioned that when they are in the Zone they achieve. Essentially, the Zone demonstrates to the performer that they are in control of their technique, emotional state and game situation. For a tennis player being in the Zone enables them to dictate and control the match situation with exceptional game play.
- Positive self-talk – The mind has a capacity that contains many forces of thought. Tennis performers need to delete negative thoughts and replace these with positive thoughts in the same way you take fluid to replace lost fluids. Positive self-talk is useful to enable one to replace negativity. For example, one can use mind chatter to develop positive thoughts prior to serving or when taking a break after a game. One could argue that positive self-talk is essentially a mind coach that operates in the brain.