tennis brain

Editors Notes:

This article is written by our expert contributor Jason Goldman-Petri – if you would like to write for us, send us an email to



I get asked to do sport psychology lessons a lot at my club. But in all honesty, only one person has ever actually gone through with it. And I am sure that it is not all that different at other clubs. We all are aware of our shortcomings, and all too often it is a mental/emotional one.

When you work on your technique you can see and feel the change.  But what do you get in a psychology lesson? I will tell you that if you do it right you can get something just as tangible, but with far greater impact. Mental skills will no longer be overlooked once you see sport psychology through clear eyes.

Misconception #1: I just need to stop thinking. People play their best when they aren’t thinking-


–     “This is the psychology lesson I wish I could give to everyone; how to practice correctly”     –


tennis brainIt is true that the last phase of learning is the automation phase, and that in this phase learning no longer requires mental effort. And while, yes, the end goal may be to stop thinking about mechanical movements of the body, these movements have to be learned somehow.

Just because you’ve done a new technique a few times in practice does not mean you have learned it. So by trying so hard to not think while you play, you have doomed yourself to repeat the earlier phases of learning over and over again each time you practice. This is because you have allowed yourself to revert back to old habits during competition.

The best way to go about your business is to take things one thing at a time, first things first, and hammer it in until it is yours forever. Then you can safely move on to the next flaw or area of concentration. This is the psychology lesson I wish I could give to everyone; how to practice correctly.

Nadal and Djokovic changed their serves while at #1 in the world. Even they think, change, and still have things to practice.

Misconception #2: I worked on this last week and I am tired of hearing the same things. I’m ready for more!!!-

I often see this from higher level players that have been around the block and feel like they have been there and done that with every skill, tactic, and movement in the game. But by rushing along to the next lesson, or getting too much instruction, you are becoming a very knowledgeable tennis enthusiast who won’t get any better.

It is usually very easy to spot these players by the incredibly detailed self-criticism of each and every error, “you didn’t bend your knees… you dropped your racquet head…you breathed in when you stepped with your right foot instead of breathing out” (you get the idea). When I am teaching a student with multiple flaws, I see all of them, but I strategically instruct one aspect. Until that first area is tackled, moving on to the next would be detrimental, not helpful.

Does that sound boring to you? You can certainly try and go faster and learn a lot along the way. You’ll make a great tennis instructor with all your knowledge, just not as good of a player as you could have been.

Misconception #3: Look at Roger, he is so calm and concentrated, I’ll never be like that, he was born that way and I was born a mental case who will always lose my temper-


–     “Anyone is capable of change, even the craziest of fools”     –


Try and think of mental skills the same way you think of physical skills. They are things that can be manipulated, focused on, and changed for the better. Most people do not truly believe that temperament can be changed, or that intelligence can be improved upon, but I am telling you for certain right now that they can be and should be if you want to improve your tennis game.

I used to throw my racquets when I was in college, now I laugh at my mistakes and make light of the situation. I used to have such a hard time concentrating that my head seemed like a toilet, I could feel my thoughts swirling further and further down the drain. Now, with a small nudge I can re-focus myself on the match and rarely let my concentration get uncaged like that. And I should by no means be seen as an anomaly.

Anyone is capable of change, even the craziest of fools. And just saying that you do not want to lose your temper anymore is not the same as actually working on it. Until you have actually pinpointed an area to work on, considered a method for targeting the flaw, and worked considerably on fixing the fault, can you truly say you are a mental case. For all you know you are capable of superior mental fortitude you just haven’t ever applied yourself to the cause.

And before you think that people are born calm and concentrated, remember that Roger had his racquets taken away for throwing them in anger. If Roger is capable of change why not you?

Being able to lose without also having to pay for new racquets because I smashed them to bits, I think that is AS GOOD AS AN ACE!

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