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"The most important thing is believing that you can win the match."

Andy Murray, on beating Roger Federer


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Free tennis psychology tips

Here are some tips to help improve your tennis performance and to show the types of practical help I offer. The first section provides quick tips, then below you'll find a fuller section on setting goals.

Part one: Quick tips

Below you'll find tips for helping you to:

  1. Boost motivation
  2. Increase confidence
  3. Manage nerves
  4. Develop powerful imagery and visualisation skills
  5. Develop better concentration

1. Boost motivation for tennis

A. List the factors which motivate you to play, practice and compete.
It may also be useful to think about:

  • What do you gain from practicing/competing? (e.g., better health, competitive outlet, etc.)
  • What do you want to achieve?
  • If you didn't practice/compete what would you miss/lose?
  • Why did you take up tennis?
  • Why are you still playing tennis?

B. During practice and competition think about and observe what you like and do not like about what you are doing. Write these down.

2. Increase tennis confidence

In the situations where you are lacking confidence, try to become aware of the thoughts (i.e., self-talk) you are having. If a thought is negative and unhelpful ask yourself:

  • Am I thinking accurately?
  • Is this thought helping me?
  • Can I see things in a more helpful and accurate way?
  • What would a more helpful thought be?
  • Can I express my thought in a way that includes what I want, not what I don’t want (e.g., “I can..” or “I will…” rather than “I won’t…” “Don’t…”)?

3. Manage tennis nerves

When you notice physical tension on or off the courts, try the following:

  • Take a series of short inhalations, about one per second, until your chest is filled.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Then exhale slowly for 10 seconds while thinking to yourself the word relax (or calm or easy).
  • Notice your body becoming more and more relaxed, as all the tension leaves your body.
  • Repeat this process at least 5 times, each time striving to deepen the state of relaxation you are experiencing.

If this is a problem area for you, don't miss reading about my Tennis Stress Management programme on CD or available as an audio download. Read more details on my Manage Stress page or order straight away via PayPal.

4. Develop powerful imagery and visualisation skills

This can help increase your ability to create and store powerful images:

Part A: Imagine you are home in your living room. Look around and take in all the details. What do you see? Notice the shape and texture of the furniture. If you are sitting, what does the chair feel like? What sounds do you hear? What is the temperature like? Is there any movement in the air? What do you smell? Use all your senses and take it all in.

Part B: Later when you are at home in your living room go to the place you had imagined in the exercise above. What do you see, smell, hear and feel? Do you notice details that you didn't call up when your imagined the scene?

Repeat A (and B again if you like) and see how your ability to generate vivid and detailed images improves.

5. Develop better concentration

Here's one of many tips for improving your focus: Develop cue words that trigger the correct focus when you need it. How? List the key aspects of your tennis performance that you want to maintain. Next, write down the individual words or short phrases that capture the essence of such a perfect movement, your position or posture, or perhaps what you want to be thinking or feeling. Here are some examples: "smooth swing," "keep tall," "see it go in ," "let's go ," "keep forward ," "relax" or "do it."

Try out a word or phrase at each practice or competition, to see which one(s) evoke the best focus and help set up the movement or performance you want. Find a couple of these.

Next, identify something that will act as trigger for these words. For instance, you might place a mark on your tennis bag or racket. Then, when you notice your trigger, this will trigger you to think the words that you know can help. Not only does this help your focus, it will boost your confidence too which will have a beneficial impact on your performance.

If you want more tailored help for any of these areas then email me. We can then organise an individual assessment and programme by email, set up a telephone consultation or consultation in London.

Part two: Setting effective goals

setting goals to make your training more effective and competition more successful. This is taken from my more detailed programme on motivation and goal-setting.

It’s easy to be motivated when an important event is two weeks away. It’s more difficult when it’s six months away. At these times you might think:

“Does it matter what I do today? I’ve done some practice already this week. It’s still early in the year. I can take today off and do some tomorrow or the next day.”

So what will help get you out the door when your enthusiasm dips. Or even better, what can you do so you’re keen to get out the door in the first place?


The single most important thing you can do to improve performance and become more motivated is to set goals. Why is this? It’s because goals, when set properly, provide appropriate targets and give focus to your training, so you work on the right things, in the right way, and get results.
Most athletes know that goal setting is important, but many don’t do it, or do so ineffectively. Many set the same ‘woolly’ or vague goals each year. We often hear them expressed like these:

  • “I’m going to do better in competitions this year”
  • “I’m going to play better”
  • “I’m going to lose weight”

These statements alone aren’t enough, because:

  • How will you know that you have reached your target, as these goals don’t have a ‘finish line’?
  • When will these goals be achieved by – they have no deadline?
  • Also, there are no review dates to check progress towards the goal.

Three types of goals for tennis

  • Outcome goals relate to your final position or result (e.g., to win, qualify or beat someone). Outcome goals can be motivating but achieving them is often determined to a large extent by factors outside your control (e.g., who else turns up for the match) and therefore can often lead to disappointment.
  • Performance goals are more useful because they are based on your own performance and are unaffected (or affected only a little) by other people (e.g., a percentage of first serves in).
  • Process goals concern what you are doing at that particular moment. These may include physical aspects (e.g., level of tension), your behaviour (e.g., level of effort, biomechanics), your thoughts (e.g., positive, focussed on relevant factors), and your emotions (e.g., helpful ones such as excitement and enjoyment).

Most players focus too much on outcome goals, not enough on performance goals. Process goals rarely get any focus. This is the opposite of how it ought to be. By focusing on process goals – what you are doing moment-to-moment – you will have your greatest chance of achieving your performance goal, and consequently your outcome goal. This applies both to practice and competition.

So, make sure you set and focus mostly on process goals. What else?

Set short, medium and long-term goals

It’s best to have goals that have a range of deadlines. For instance, set a goal for the year, then three sub-goals for different times of the year, which when achieved, will put you on the road to your big goal for the year. Then work back again to set performance goals for each 3-4 weeks. These goals will then inform what you will work on during practice sessions (performance and process goals), acting as stepping stones to your monthly goals. You'll find your practice sessions become more focused, valuable and productive.

If you would like further help with generating your key goals and on setting up training to accelerate your improvement, then I’d be happy to hear from you.


Effective · Tailor-made · Professional

Dr Victor Thompson


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