A common mental tennis challenge is that young players get trapped in a training mentality, which cause them to over-thinking or over-analyze their technique during matches. The problem starts in practice when you spend too much time in the practice mindset working on your strokes. Part of this training is critical to your improvement, but you don’t want to get trapped in a training mindset when you play.
At the advanced or expert stage of learning, your skills become well-learned, which allows you to play virtually on autopilot. With a well-learned forehand, you can make a good stroke without thinking about how to make a good stroke because of your prior practice. But you get in your own way when you try to “coach” yourself through the shots during matches, rather than playing based on instinct or practice.
To perform your best you just need to be relaxed and trust the skills you learned in practice when it’s time to compete instead of over-think the how-to’s. We call this getting into a performance or trusting mindset. You have to simplify your thinking on the court trust what you have practiced when you play.
In the second round of the Australian Open No. 8 seeded Andy Roddick had 17 aces advancing to the third round with a straight-set victory. After the match he discussed some of the advantages of performing in a trusting mindset, “the court just makes sense; decisions come easier to you. A lot of it comes naturally. There’s not a whole lot of thought process. You’re not forcing a lot. The ball kind of, I guess, reacts the way you want it to,” said Roddick.
One way to help you avoid getting trapped in a training mindset, and perform with trust is to reduce the amount of technical details you focus on during a match. Instead of trying to think about six things you work on daily with your instructor, you might only focus on one thing, such as your footwork or strategy for the match.
Another option is to perform with simple feelings or images instead of coaching yourself with verbal commands. For example, maybe you focus on hitting your target or balance instead of all the “how-to” of stroke technique you learned with your coach. Less is often better when it comes to performing your best on the court. Let go of stroke mechanics and react to the ball on the court. You’ll have more fun and become a mental tennis genius.