In the 2002 winter edition of the USOC’s Olympic Coach magazine, Dr. Suzie Tuffey presented guidelines for helping players learn to tap into their mental game in order to maximize their training. By following the suggestions presented in this article you can help your players become more accountable for their performance and improve the quality of their game.
- Be a tennis player – Every player wears a number of different hats in the course of a day: a boyfriend/ girlfriend, a student, friend, etc. However, when they step on the court you want them to focus entirely on being a tennis player. Have your players get into the habit of performing a consistent pre-practice ritual that clears their minds of all other worries or thoughts and tells them “I have left all my other obligations at the door and I am now a tennis player - and only a tennis player.”
- Have a reason – Encourage your players to have a daily goal that they set before they step on the court - each day. Do not be afraid to ask your players what their goal is for the day and encourage this type of thinking by asking the question “What are you going to work on today to make yourself a better player?” Having an answer to this question will help bring greater purpose to their training.
- Keep a log – A log is a very effective way of keeping track of training. Encourage your players to keep a training log that includes not only the physical aspects of training, but also the player’s goals, successes and failures, and thoughts during practice. Have the player refer back to the log regularly to see what works and doesn’t work.
- Turn up the mental flame – When a player is practicing you want them to be fully engaged mentally. However, it is unreasonable to assume that the player will be able to focus intensely every minute or every practice. The mind, just like the body, will fatigue quickly if everything is done at 100% effort. Communicate to your players when it is important for them to turn up their mental focus to get the most out of what they are doing.
- Link training to competition – Training is preparation for competition. It is important for a coach to help the player link what they are doing in practice with how it will help them on the court during a competition. While these links may be obvious to you, do not assume they are obvious to the player. “Why are you doing a specific drill?” “What are the power workouts in the weight room for?” Be prepared to provide this level of explanation and encourage your players to ask these types of questions when they are unsure why they are doing something in practice.