1. Face the fears.
Being honest and aware about your state of mind during a game is very important tool to overcome the obstacles in the development process. After the match was done, thinking about the match situations, emotions and thoughts that caused certain actions and reactions would be the first step in being aware of your psychological game.
The next step would be accepting them without judging yourself as a player or person. That is the only way to understand them, welcome them and work on yourself to confront them, or just make yourself a better person in the future. Most of the times, the struggle in the game doesn’t come from poor mechanics of the strokes or the strength of the opponent but from within the player’s mind (You are your own biggest opponent!)
2. Create a win-win environment
We live in the world where is all about winning and being the best, which can be very stressful, especially for the young athletes. Seeing the tennis game only in terms of winning or losing is very much stressing, frustrating and unhealthy. Having a win or lose philosophy of practicing and playing, focusing strictly of winning points (or not losing) is creating great psychological pressure and burden for the player, not just during the match but during the practices as well. Instead of being focused on winning points, the player should be focused on creating the win win philosophy.
This philosophy is based on the fact that the players gives his/her best to perform the stroke or technical tactical patterns. This approach is based on the feeling of internal happiness of performing as best as you can. If the player has done the very best that he/she is capable to do so in that moment, no matter what the score is, the player has created the win win situation. That is the way to keep the development process going, to keep improving as in these kind of situations the player would be complete in the moment and aware of his/her game, focusing on the best possible performance.
Don’t ask the player about the score of the game but about how does she/he feels about the game.
When a player is playing against the seeded player, the player has two options. First option (win-lose focusing on points) would be to consider the fact that the seeded player is better and that there’s no chance of winning. Second (win-win focusing on process and development) would be that he accepts the fact that he’s playing against the strong player and that he will do his best to play his game, concentrating only on his strokes and tactics rather then points. If he manages to pull out the best from him, he will feel truly happy about the game no matter the score. And in this way, he will acknowledge which areas of his game needs to be improved and what needs to be changed so next time he plays the same player he can be more in the controlling situation (follow example of Novak Djokovic press conference after losing match to Nadal at Roland Garros 2006). Once you eliminate the fear of losing, you can be concentrated on the technical and tactical elements of the game, keeping the confidence high and mind and body in a strong fighting spirit. Even if the crucial points are not won and the match is lost, if the player did what it should be done, then a match is not lost in the mind.
3. Play in the moment
Play a match shot by shot building up the point, having in mind that the stroke of the moment is the only thing that’s important. In this way, no matter of current score, the future score will be the consequence of your own true abilities at the moment. Being focused stroke by stroke will lead a player to building up the point when the chances of winning are higher. The build of the point is related to concentrated and planned strokes and movement in comparison with the completely wrong approach of trying to win the points by out powering the opponent or rallying and waiting opponent to make an error.
4. Playing without errors
Nobody will ever gonna perform without errors (maybe Djokovic?) as it’s normal to make errors. Thinking of not making errors, takes the player to the self doubt process. Keeping in mind that’s it’s normal to make errors will definitely improve the game. The one who concentrates better on the relevant cues and the moment of the point and game will win most of the points in the game. Philosophy based around that belief will enable the player to execute the strokes the way they were practiced and by that win more points and games.
5. Playing safe against playing your own game
In case of winning and being close to the victory, what separates the great from good players is the way their mind is setting to course of finishing the set or a game. At the point of having three break points (0-40) or having almost finished the set (5-2), there is always that little voice with whom your mind is playing with you and your approach to the game: “play it safe”, “he/she will lose the next point, just don’t make any mistakes” etc.
At this point, the mind is changing the way the body is responding, which changes the player’s style of play completely in approaching to the ball and the way the body positions towards the ball and creates the stroking movement. Until then, the mind was controlling the muscles in one way, but with thoughts changing are changing, the signals to the muscles do change as well. At this point, even the strokes that the player was sure that they would be hit with accuracy and speed are altered, making more errors and giving the opponent a new chance to come back to the game and build his/her confidence again. The change from complete control and the attitude of winning to the attitude of “not losing”, can create so much trouble for the players that already had the momentum of the game on their side.
6. Expectations and abilities
Expectations are based on the positive motivation, they help in anticipating rewarding and positive outcomes of the performance and training, which should be a strong base for the athlete to fully participate in the training process. This can even potentiate further learning, improvement and success. Higher expectations lead to increased interest for the tasks, reduced concerns and fears about the current abilities and higher levels of motivation for the participation in the whole training development process.
Expectancies affect attention and awareness. Expectations can influence an athlete to be more aware and focused on the task cues having the proper response accuracy during the task execution and having faster reaction time in a more difficult task related conditions.
Positive expectations are the foundation of the progressive development training process.
Conceptions of ability
Athlete’s conceptions of abilities is their perception of their own abilities and it can affect not only their motivation to practice but also influence their performance and learning progress. Athletes that have a limited perception of their abilities as far as for the development of the future abilities, tend to be more stressed and concerned with proving their current ability, and they perceive error or negative feedback as a threat to theirselves, because they show a limited capacity or lack of ability. In some cases, the ability hasn’t been even developed but because of their limited perception this can influence the decrease of the motivation and attention levels. An athlete who assume that abilities are changeable tend to focus more on improving the performance on a given task and is focused on the long term development which is based on trials and errors. These athletes are less influenced by any negative feedback indicating to an error or poor level of performance, and they increase their performance efforts in order to overcome these difficulties.
Conceptions of ability are very much dependable of the athlete’s perception of own current abilities and the future expectations. The current abilities are very changeable variable as they depend on the state of mind of an athlete and therefore should be noted after every practice session. Noted and graded (rated) abilities are easier to be compared on daily, weekly and monthly bases and therefore the progress rate can be determined. Based on the progress rate, an athlete can create healthy expectations based on the current abilities, and so can do on the progression of the abilities in time. The best method to be used by athletes is the Borg’s RPE (rating of perceived exertion) which can be modified for the athlete’s individual needs.
Ability and feedback
Feedbacks after the trials are important as they increase player’s perceptions of self competence and self-efficacy. The perception of having an ability to perform well now or in the future, creates such as positive affect which directly influences the current performance and progress of the training process. Positive feedback increases perceived own ability of the player. Even the (false) positive feedback compared with the negative one, is effecting the performance in terms of greater improvement then in the conditions of no feedback. The positive feedback reduces concerns and nervousness about the ability and increases the levels of satisfaction with performance and motivation to train harder and perform better.