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Book Reviews - Tennis: Winning The Mental Match

The International Mental Game Coaching Association

Tennis: Winning The Mental Match
By Allen Fox, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Bill Cole, MS, MA, Founder and President, IMGCA

Purchase Tennis: Winning The Mental Match: printed version or Kindle edition

Welcome to The IMGCA Expert Author Interview Series.

Click on green arrow to hear Bill Cole interviewing Allen Fox about his book, Tennis: Winning The Mental Match.

Tennis: Winning The Mental Match, book reviewThe new book by Dr. Allen Fox, Tennis: Winning The Mental Match, is a visionary, groundbreaking treatment of the mental game that all tennis players need to own. Dr. Fox covers volumes of new material that has never been discussed anywhere before.

The International Mental Game Coaching Association enthusiastically endorses Tennis: Winning The Mental Match, and highly recommends it to all tennis players, tennis parents, tennis coaches and tennis-teaching professionals. It is an extremely valuable addition to the sports psychology literature. It is so well done, and applies to all sports so acutely that the IMGCA believes any athlete, parent or coach could benefit from reading it.

Allen Fox is without doubt, of all the mental game of tennis authors, the best player, the deepest thinker, the writer with the most clarity and simplicity of ideas, and with the most practical treatment of the mental challenges facing tennis players. Dr. Fox truly is one of the Renaissance men of tennis. He has worn every hat there is to wear in the game, and has done so with high distinction.

This book, Tennis: Winning the Mental Match, is his Magnus Opus, the grand culmination of a life's work as a player, coach, teacher, analyst, observer and writer.

Dr. Fox is a supremely clear thinker and precise, creative teacher of the mental game. He is able to quickly cut through the clutter that seems to abound in the sports psychology world and diagnose and prescribe the exact concept, approach or technique needed to handle the particular issue a player is facing. That, among his other talents, may be his lasting claim to fame. He gets to the heart of the matter directly and gives practical, actionable advice like no other writer on the mental game, in any sport.

Too many sports psychologists come from very weak, ineffective positions when giving psychological advice. Either they began their careers in physical education departments, and may have earned a Ph.D., yet they have a second-class citizen inferiority complex mindset in the academic community. They then try too hard to make people think they are smart by using an overblown vocabulary, and by referencing everything they say to a research study of some sort. Or, the sport psychologist came up through a department of psychology, but had very few actual courses in sports psychology, and as a result, they are extrapolating from research based on non-athletes, or even from populations of rats and people who are mentally disturbed. Worse, in many cases, the sports psychologist, from any background, has a very limited (if any) background as an athlete, teacher or coach.

Dr. Fox is a different breed of sports psychologist cat. He's the consummate dispenser of psychological wisdom that hits its mark like the arrow launched from a Zen master's bow. Since he has worn so many hats, as an analyst, performer, teacher and coach, he knows what actually works, and what does not work. He's had to get real results on a daily basis with his athletes, and what he says has been tested in the trenches of tennis warfare for years. This is where the usual sports psychologist falls far short. They live in a world about two levels removed from what the athlete needs to hear, and even though what they say may (or may not) be backed by research, it has such little end-user value as to be virtually worthless, or confusing, or actually downright wrong.

Dr. Fox has the street smarts, backed with high-level academic training, to quickly go to the exact place his athletes need to go. He then leads them through their mental morass and brings them out the other side, and gives them the tools they need to bring forth peak performance when they need it most-under pressure.

Here are just a few of the many concepts Dr. Fox teaches in his book that you will want to investigate further.

  1. Tennis is an intensely emotional game. The goal is to manage these emotions.

  2. The three biggest issues Dr. Fox sees are: Anger–the easiest to fix, tanking, and choking–the hardest to fix.

  3. A prime question all players face is the existential one that causes untold stress: What does winning and losing mean to me? Dr. Fox has a way of cutting to the chase by asking us to remember that tennis is a game, and to treat it as such. Enjoy the sport.

  4. Don't lie to yourself about your actual desire to win. Honor that goal and drop your defense mechanisms and compete fully.

  5. Stress comes when people attempt to control that which is uncontrollable. Winning a tennis match is not under your direct control.

  6. Under pressure, our logic system becomes unreliable as emotion corrupts it. The trick is to manage the emotions.

  7. Make your mind the captain of the ship, with the emotions as first mate.

  8. In tennis, you can play a nearly perfect match and still lose. That compounds the pressure.

  9. Choking happens to everyone, so accept it.

  10. Recognize that every match usually has multiple opportunities to win, not just one.

  11. Stop getting upset at things you can't change. Accept reality.

  12. The unique tennis scoring system is diabolical, and must be understood to play within it effectively.

  13. The Golden rule: Never do anything on court that doesn't help you win.

  14. In a close match the difference can be but a few points. How you manage you mind and emotions determines your success.

  15. Angry outbursts are essentially the player giving in to feeling good instantly by blowing up to escape stress. Better to face reality, grow up and control yourself to get what you are really playing the match for–to win.

  16. In a boxing match, as in a tennis match, it does not take courage to attack the opponent. It does take courage to get hit and to keep going. Be mentally tough.

  17. Use dominance techniques and momentum-enhancing strategies.

  18. Manage expectations by pretending in your mind, even if you are expected to win easily, that you will be fortunate, and happily accept, a win in the third at 7-6. That way, anything else that happens better than that seems wonderful.

  19. Optimism is one of your biggest on-court weapons. Hone it and rely on it.

  20. Develop higher values and character traits that can serve you well on court and off.

Dr. Allen Fox is one of the most highly-respected figures in the tennis world. His years of observing the game from every conceivable vantage point has made Tennis: Winning The Mental Match a veritable goldmine of wisdom. He uncovers the essential truths about a multitude of mental issues a player faces in a match, and does so with great clarity. There is no fluff in this book. Every thought is as honest and searching and helpful as Allen is himself. He could write a book no other way. The man is a true original thinker, and the tennis world is the better for having him.

In summary, Tennis: Winning The Mental Match is as of now the best book ever written on tennis psychology. The reason I say now is because we will have to wait to read the next book from Dr. Fox. It probably will even be better and more revealing than Winning The Mental Match. Knowing the mind of Dr. Fox, I am sure it will be another gem worth waiting for.

To purchase Tennis: Winning The Mental Match:

Chapters in Tennis: Winning The Mental Match

  • Chapter 1: Why Do We Want To Win?
  • Chapter 2: The Emotional Issues Of Competition:
  • Chapter 3: Using Emotion To Help You Win:
  • Chapter 4: Reducing The Stress:
  • Chapter 5: The Problems Of Finishing:
  • Chapter 6: Choking – Its Causes And How To Minimize Its Effects:
  • Chapter 7: Confidence And How To Get It If You Don't Have It:
  • Chapter 8: Game Plans
  • Chapter 9: Breaking Down Your Opponent Mentally
  • Chapter 10: Maintaining Mental Effectiveness In The Heat Of Battle
  • Chapter 11: The Value Of Optimism
  • Chapter 12: Developing Your Game And The Role Of Parents
  • Chapter 13: Courage And Higher Values
  • Chapter 14: The Psychology Of Doubles

Bio For Dr. Allen Fox

Allen Fox
See the full bio for Dr. Fox at

To contact Dr. Fox, go to his website,

Playing Career

Allen Fox playing tennis in the 1960sHe's been a top player, college coach, analyst, writer, clinician, TV personality, promoter, and sport psychologist, among other notable roles.

Allen earned a B.A. degree in physics and a Ph.D. in psychology from UCLA where he won the NCAA Singles and Doubles titles and where he was named UCLA Athlete of the Year and All University of California Athlete of the Year. He was a three time All American.

He held the number four ranking in the United States, and was a three-time member of the US Davis Cup Team. In one magical week, at the 1966 Pacific Southwest Championships in Los Angeles, he defeated the current holders of all the Grand Slams–Wimbledon champion Manuel Santana, French Championships victor Tony Roche, U.S. Champions titlist Fred Stolle, and Australian Championships winner Roy Emerson. ALL in straight sets!!

Allen competed seven times at the US Championships, twice at the French, once at the Australian, and five times at Wimbledon, reaching the quarterfinals in 1962. He had wins over many of the world's top-ranked players, including Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Stan Smith, and John Newcombe.

College Coach

He built the Pepperdine University tennis team into a national power, mentoring, among others, renowned coach, Brad Gilbert. Dr Fox's Pepperdine teams were ranked among the nation's Top five for 10 consecutive years and reached two NCAA Team Finals. He coached Robbie Weiss, NCAA Champion in 1988, and Marty Laurendeau, the current captain of the Canadian Davis Cup team. Allen was named to the Intercollegiate Tennis Coaches Hall of Fame.


Allen Fox was inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the Southern California Tennis Association Hall of Fame, the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame, the Pepperdine University Hall of Fame, and received the Tennis Educational Merit Award by the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the Plagenhoef Educational Award by the PTR.

Author And Speaker

Dr. Fox wrote the tennis best sellers, If I'm the Better Player, Why Can't I Win? and Think to Win, and the book we will focus on today, Tennis: Winning the Mental Match. He is an editor of and contributor to Tennis Magazine, writes for various web sites, and is well-known for his 1-Minute Clinics on the Tennis Channel.

He also lectures around the world on tennis psychology, including at the national conferences of the USTA, USPTA, and the PTR.

He has been a consultant and coach to players at all levels of the game, and is now working with the Russian Igor Kunitsyn on the ATP World Tour, currently ranked #66.

There are many notable tennis psychology authors who have made a lasting impact on the game's literature–

  • Tim Gallwey with his Inner Game series
  • Jim Loehr
  • John F. Murray
  • Vic Braden
  • Brad Gilbert
  • Scott Ford
  • Walter Luzski
  • Robert Weinberg
  • Robert Nideffer
  • Barry Tarshis

Dr. Allen Fox has firmly ensconced himself at the top of the tennis psychology hall of fame with his deep understanding of the many nuanced layers this game possesses. He is a tennis psychologist who "gets it", and who can "teach it". Tennis: Winning The Mental Match will be considered an all-time classic as a major contribution to the field of sports psychology.

Writer Steve Flink from Tennis Magazine called this book "Indisputably the best book yet in his field."

Enjoy this audio interview of an all-time great sports psychologist.

Questions Asked Of Dr. Fox In The Audio Interview

  1. What is the premise of your new book?

  2. What prompted you to write this book?

  3. How can listeners contact you?

  4. How can they purchase the book?

  5. Mental maladies in tennis run across all ages, levels and nationalities. Do you see some distinctly different psychological issues at higher levels, or is it largely a matter of degree?

  6. What are the mental skills and attributes that the very top echelon of tennis players possess that others do not?

  7. How do you teach mental toughness?

  8. You have coached many top players, including college stars and professionals. Observing confidentiality constraints, can you tell us how you worked with John McEnroe?

  9. What in your opinion, made Mac great, from a mental standpoint?

  10. Tell us about the diabolical scoring system that makes tennis unique, and how to deal with it from a mental standpoint.

  11. What is your golden rule of tennis?

  12. You have spoken about how you had a temper when you were younger, and how that came from wanting to win too much. You then made a conscious decision to be calmer, and things improved. In contrast, how do you teach an unmotivated, non-competitive-minded player (who sincerely wants to do better in competition) to have the killer instinct, and to be a more determined competitor?

  13. How do you work with players who are highly defended and think they don't need mental coaching? Or for players who come to you, but are know-it-alls?

  14. Is there a chapter in the book you see as the most important?

  15. What mental game advice would you have for parents of tennis players?

  16. What mental game advice would you have for coaches or teachers of tennis players?

  17. One more time, how can listeners contact you?

  18. Tell me about your tennis consulting business.

  19. Once again, how can they purchase the book?

  20. If you could leave your readers with one major idea, what would you want it to be?

A complete list of book reviews and interviews in the IMGCA Expert Author Interview Series can be found in the Book Review archive.

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