Tag Archives: mental toughness

Novak Djokovic’s Mental Training

Novak Djokovic’s mental training has been a key factor in his recent return to form.

His mindfulness-based approach to the mental game has helped the Serbian get through a difficult two years dogged by injury, which saw him take 6 months off the tour and undergo elbow surgery.

Coupled with rumours of problems in his personal life, and a general loss of motivation, Djokovic had hit a career crisis that many felt he would never recover from.

Like his arch rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer before him, Djokovic has emphatically proven that his career is far from over.

The Serbian’s stunning win at Wimbledon last month ended a two-year Grand Slam title drought, and quashed suggestions that he could no longer compete with the best in the game.

His win in Cincinnati last weekend means he is the first man to win all of the Masters 1000 events.  This is an achievement that speaks to an amazing level of consistency and mastery across all surfaces, at every stage of the tennis season.

It also speaks to an extraordinary level of mental strength.

Djokovic first revealed that he was using a mindfulness-based mental training approach in his 2013 book ‘Serve to Win’.  He described his daily mindfulness practice as just as important as his physical and on-court training.

Djokovic says that mindfulness has helped him to overcome fear, anger, worry and self-doubt. He explains that mindfulness has enabled him to focus fully on the present moment, notice negative thoughts and emotions and allow them to pass.

This mental approach helped Djokovic overcome the inferiority complex that held him back in his encounters with Federer and Nadal prior to 2011.  He showed them too much respect, and engaged too much with his mental idea that they were superior players.

In reality, Djokovic was also a great player, but it took a change in mental approach for him to realize his potential against his two main rivals.

Mindfulness training gave Djokovic the power to recognize difficult mental experiences, accept them, and stay focused on playing his game. He now holds winning records against both Federer and Nadal.

Mindfulness has also helped Djokovic keep his fiery temperament under control.  Always an emotional player, it’s not unusual to see Novak get angry on court, perhaps due to a disagreement with the umpire, or as an expression of frustration if his standard drops in a match.

Mindful mental training has enabled Djokovic to move on quickly from such moments of anger.  He doesn’t get rattled for long.  He allows his anger to pass and refocuses on the task at hand.

Mindfulness teaches that anger is not something we need to resist.  We need to be aware of our anger, see it clearly, and then choose a helpful way forward.

I often use Djokovic as an example in my client sessions.  Like all of us, he’s not perfect, he gets angry, perhaps more so than many other players.  But he is able to refocus quickly.  He doesn’t allow anger to linger and lead to poorer performance.

Being mindful means not getting carried away by emotion. It doesn’t mean you have to be placid, inexpressive or unemotional on court.  The important thing is to be able to notice and acknowledge your emotions, whatever they are, and refocus quickly on the task in hand.

Djokovic’s mindful approach has helped him through his two year slump, where injury and personal issues prevented him from playing to his potential.  He has been patient, tolerating sub-par performances and defeats this year as he regains his rhythm and physical fitness.

There is a mental lesson in Djokovic’s approach and experience for all players.  Every tennis player will go through slumps and loss of form.  Injury, and recovery from injury, is part of the game.

Varying levels of motivation across a career are normal and to be expected.  In addition, we all have personal lives off the court which can affect how we perform on court.

We need a consistent mental approach to ground us through these inevitable ups and downs.

Tennis-specific mindfulness enables us to maximize our potential whatever experiences we’re going through.  It enables players to stay calm during rocky periods in their careers and it ensures that a return to top form will come as quickly as possible.

Crucially mindfulness enables players to deal effectively with the challenging thoughts and emotions that occur when injury strikes or when motivation dips.

By noticing and allowing difficult mental experiences, rather than engaging with them, players can avoid exacerbating injuries and ensure that losses of motivation are short-lived.

Djokovic has remained dedicated to his mindfulness training.  It has helped him regain top form and once again be a strong contender in every tournament he plays.

If you want to transform your mental approach to tennis, then I offer coaching via Skype or phone. Feel free to contact me to arrange a free, no obligation 30 minute Skype or phone coaching session. 

You can also download my Mindfulness-Based Tennis Psychology audio course and book here.

Mental Toughness In Tennis

Mental toughness in tennis is not about ‘being tough’ in the traditional sense.

Toughness on court is not primarily about showing grit, determination, or courage, though all of these can be useful at times.

Rather, the mentally toughest tennis players adopt a gentle, light approach to their mental experience on court.

They are able to deal with the inevitable difficult emotions, pressures and events of matchplay with a sense of measured internal calm.

They have taken to heart the epic Rudyard Kipling quote inscribed above the players’ entrance to Wimbledon’s Centre Court:

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same…”

A tennis match contains multiple mini-Triumphs and mini-Disasters.  How we respond to those triumphs and disasters determines whether we play to our full potential or not.

Mental strength means not getting carried away by our experiences during a match, whether good or bad.  It means staying focused on what’s happening right here, right now.

We need to aim, as Kipling suggests, to respond with equanimity to whatever happens to us in a match.

We may have hit a fine winner and experienced an exhilarating rush as a result.  We still need to refocus immediately on the next point.

We may have hit a short ball into net and missed an open court. We still need to concentrate with full attention on the next point.

So, how do we treat triumph and disaster ‘just the same’ on court?

It’s not by being tough with ourselves.

The tougher we are to ourselves in our minds during a tennis match, the harder it is to find the ease, freedom and flow that we need to play our best.

Instead, we have to adopt a light mental touch. We need to develop an ability to notice our triumphs and disasters on court, accept them and move on quickly.

In a sense, we need to be soft not tough.  We need to be able to relax quickly, whatever is going through our mind.

This is the psychological skill that all the great champions have.

This might, at first, seem counterintuitive.  You might think that you have to try hard mentally in order to perform well in tennis and to control your emotions on court.

You might believe that you need strict mental discipline to maintain concentration during a match.  But ask yourself this: when you’re playing your best, when you’re in the zone, are you trying hard mentally? Are you being ‘tough’?

No. You’re actually in a state of deep flow and relaxation.  You’re not consciously doing anything much with the mind.  You’re in the moment. Right here, right now.

Ever notice what it feels like to make a mistake when you’re playing in the zone? It doesn’t feel like much at all.  We simply accept the mistake and move on.  We have an inner confidence, an inner peace which knows that the mistake is not meaningful.

Likewise, when we’re in that flow state, hitting winners might bring us a rush of positive emotion, but we don’t get distracted by those feelings.  We just let them be and move on.

This is real mental toughness.

But we don’t need to be playing in the zone to experience this mental approach to tennis.

Anyone can learn how to treat triumph and disaster just the same on court.

The key is to regularly practice noticing what’s going through our minds.

The key is to regularly practice allowing our experience to be as it is, without interfering with it or trying to change it.

The key is to regularly practice refocusing the mind on the present moment, on what’s happening right here, right now.

The more you try to interfere with your mental experience on court, the less calm, focused and mentally tough you’ll be.

The more you engage with emotions on court, whether positive or negative, the more distracted you will become.

The truly mentally tough mind is a mentally soft mind.  Understanding this is an essential part of mastering the mental game of tennis.

If you want to transform your mental approach to tennis, then I offer coaching via Skype or phone. Feel free to contact me to arrange a free, no obligation 30 minute Skype or phone coaching session. 

You can also download my Mindfulness-Based Tennis Psychology audio course and book here.