Recent developments in sports psychology research are bringing fresh insights into tennis psychology. There is now a significant and growing body of research evidence demonstrating that mindfulness meditation techniques enhance overall sports performance by increasing an athlete’s ability to function ‘in the zone’, by sharpening concentration and awareness and by improving accuracy. In contrast, the old model of tennis psychology is based on Psychological Skills Training (PST), which research shows does not significantly enhance sports performance and can lead to a deterioration in performance.
PST theory suggests that athletes perform best when they are able to control their thoughts and emotions. In order to develop this ability, athletes learn PST techniques which seek to modify negative internal experiences and replace them with positive ones. But this approach simply encourages more cognitive activity (thinking), which draws the athlete away from flow states, and makes it less likely that he/she will enter ‘the zone’.
The Mindfulness-Based Tennis Psychology approach takes the opposite view – that athletes will perform to the best of their ability when they give up on trying to control internal experiences, and instead hold thoughts and emotions in a non-judgmental awareness, accepting whatever their internal experience is at any moment. This non-judging acceptance frees the athlete to place his/her attentional focus on the task in hand, rather than grappling with thoughts and feelings.
In the mindful approach to tennis psychology, we accept that we cannot control the initial frustration we feel when we double fault or slam a smash into the net. With practice we learn to simply experience that frustration and any associated thoughts (ie. ‘Not again! What’s wrong with me today, why can’t I play? I’ve practiced that shot a thousand times’ etc) before choosing to refocus our attention on the task in hand – the next point – rather than ruminate between points about how badly we’re playing, or how we’re going to have to practice extra hard after this match is over to make sure we don’t hit shots like that again.
Gradually, by practicing the mindful approach to tennis psychology, you will find that your negative responses to missed shots and lost points decrease, and that you are increasingly able to brush off mistakes and get on with the job.