Green light, yellow light: Routines to succeed on the tennis court
To be mentally organized on the court, a player must establish routines between points. These routines help the player to be fully focused in the moment on their plan for the next point with belief, commitment and positive energy. This allows them to play when they’re fully ready–and not before.
While routines are individual to the person, there are some commonalities among top tennis players. To develop consistency in their games, tennis players must establish two types of routines, which we’ll call ‘green’ and ‘yellow.’ The ‘green routine’ is a consistent pattern between points, while the ‘yellow routine’ helps a player learn how to deal with mistakes, anxiety and frustration effectively.
A green light means go, and creating a consistent routine between points breeds focus and performance. The ‘green routine’ allows a player to let go of the last point and focus on the current point, ready with full focus, energy, readiness and belief.
Four Steps to the ‘Green Routine’
Respond – This is an immediate response to the point: positive, neutral or negative. The goal is to stay positive or neutral. Turn your back, go to your strings, show positive body language, and walk briskly back behind the baseline.
Recover – Take deep breaths and let go of the last point. You want to slow down your breathing and heart rate and quiet your mind.
Refocus – Use a towel, touch the fence, pick up the balls, walk around and focus on the current point. You should have full commitment to the current point, knowing your plan. Serve and return, + 1. Visualize and commit to it. Turn and walk to the line when you know what the plan is and are committed to it.
Ready – Bounce the ball a certain number of times. Sway back and forth, take a deep breath and lock in. You are now no longer thinking. Quiet your mind and trust what you are doing.
A yellow light represents caution. This ‘yellow light’ scenario can be when a player is emotional, anxious, tight, down 0-30 on serve, up break point after missing the last four—any time they feel they need to overcome something to be fully ready to play the next point. Something’s happening that I don’t want, but I’m not panicking. At the towel or fence, take a step back, take more time, and do more mental work to be fully prepared to play again. The ‘yellow light’ allows the player to formulate a determined response. An easy way to remember it? Breathe and believe. Bounce on your toes and get ready to play.
Other ‘Yellow Routine’ Examples and Actions
See, erase and replace the mistake.
Think of one, simple thing to do like moving your feet.
Walk away from the mistake and take deep breaths, letting go.
Go to the towel and wipe away the last point. Refocus on your game plan.
Touch the fence. Take deep breaths and reset mentally.
Dr. Larry Lauer is a mental skills specialist for USTA Player and Coach Development and heads the mental performance team. In his career at the USTA, Lauer has worked with junior, transitional pro and professional tennis players, and the national coaching staff at the three national player development centers in Orlando, Fla., Flushing, N.Y. and Carson, Calif. He has been a sport psychology consultant for over two decades with elite tennis players at all levels of the game, having earned his Ph.D. in exercise and sport science, specializing in sport psychology, from the University of North Carolina Greensboro.
Formerly, Lauer was the Director of Coaching Education and Development in the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports (ISYS) at Michigan State University, where he conducted research on tennis parents, coaching, coach education, aggression in hockey, and life skills development in youth. He also was involved in training Detroit police officers and coaches to mentor youth athletes for the Detroit PAL. During his stay in Michigan, Lauer worked for nearly nine years as the mental performance consultant to USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, and was an assistant coach and mental coach for Michigan State men’s tennis for three years, helping the team reach the 2013 NCAA tournament.
An AASP Certified Mental Performance Coach and listed in the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee Sport Psychology Registry, 2020-2022, Lauer was named one of the 100 Most Influential Sport Educators in America by the Institute for International Sport for his work in developing and leading the Playing Tough and Clean Hockey Program, and also received the 2017 “Doc” Councilman Science Award for Tennis. As an advocate of sport in perspective, Lauer has appeared on ESPN’s Outside the Lines and HBO’s State of Play show Trophy Kids, and has been interviewed by many media outlets including USA Today, the New York Times, Time.com and the LA Times.