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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Tennis


"Listen" To Your Tennis Racquet

For Better Serve And Overhead Timing

Bill Cole, MS, MA

Is your timing erratic on your serve or overhead?

Does your power come and go?

Do some shots feel good, yet others feel very odd?

Do you know how to correct your timing issues on these two shots when they act up?

It may be that you need to pay closer attention to the constant feedback the ball-racquet connection provides to you. You may not be listening to or feeling the specific reactions your racquet makes when it contacts the ball at three distinct timing spots on its face.

What is this specific feedback telling you?

A ball hit on the racquet's sweet-spot will have more power, go to its target straighter, take less effort and feel better than one hit off-center. In addition, balls hit off-center may lead to tennis elbow, especially when hit on the frame.

Your Racquet Is Talking...Are You Listening?

Here's how you can gain valuable corrective feedback and improve your timing every time the ball contacts your racquet on a serve or overhead. Since your racquet is vertical at impact, and since the ball is dropping through the hitting zone at that point, you can memorize the following:

1. If the ball hits the racquet early, near the tip, you will feel the contact as being weak and as sounding tinny. Probably your power will be muted as well.

2. If the ball hits the sweet-spot, it is well-timed and it will feel powerful and solid, sound loud, and should pop. if you are hitting flat. If you are hitting spin, it will feel somewhat less solid and give off a scraping sound.

3. If the ball hits below the sweet-spot, near the throat, your timing is late and the shot will feel weak and sound dull or muted. Here's how to use this critical information:

  • As you notice you are timing the ball too early, simply wait longer to swing.
  • As you notice you are timing the ball too late, simply swing sooner.
  • As you notice you are hitting the sweet spot, continue the same timing.

As you repeat the process of actively listening and feeling your ball-racquet impact, your timing will automatically sharpen. You are giving yourself high-quality feedback. You can then attend to this process as needed.

Every particular brand name of racquet will feel and sound slightly different, but with practice you can identify what characteristics your particular racquet has. Across all racquets, the feedback I've described here will be true.

The process of identifying the various sounds and feelings can range from obvious to quite subtle. Yet, the feelings and sounds seem to be universal across all players and all types of racquets.

Musicians Know Adjustment Is Key To Learning And Performing

As a former musician, to play well, I had to attend very carefully to the sound and tone of my instrument (I played the trombone). If I failed to do so, I played out of tune, off-beat with my fellow musicians and had the wrong tone relative to the passage I was playing.

Anytime I needed to make an adjustment to any of these three areas, I would listen to my horn and make the appropriate changes, on the spot, right during a performance.

In-The-Moment Adjustments In Tennis

Tennis players who DON'T pay attention to this serve and overhead feedback -- either the feelings or the sounds -- are losing out on some very critical feedback. Additionally, they are not aware of other, subtle performance issues taking place. For example, if they contact the ball in the tip of the racquet, they are not aware that:

1. Their head is not up.
2. They are too anxious to see their result on court, so look there too early.
3. They are rushing mentally.

NOT knowing this feedback information results in you NOT being able to adjust. Then guess what? You roll along, making the same error over and over.

But you can stop that sad scenario. You can simply begin noticing, on a regular basis, moment to moment, what your ball-racquet connection is doing. Try first being aware of this information in your lessons and on the practice court before you notice it in matches. You'll be able to figure it out much easier.

This system is not valid for other strokes, since other strokes do not have the racquet vertical at impact, with the ball falling through the strike zone. I have other techniques for timing in this regard.

Best of luck in hearing and feeling all this new information!

Listen to your impact and your racquet will do all your talking for you.

Now, go forth and use this winning stroke production tip to play better and win more matches!

Copyright © Bill Cole, MS, MA 2003, 2006 All rights reserved.

This article covers only one small part of the mental game. A complete mental training program includes motivation and goal-setting, pre-event mental preparation, post-event review and analysis, mental strengthening, self-regulation training, breath control training, motor skill training, mental rehearsal, concentration training, pressure-proofing, communication training, confidence-building, breaking through mental barriers, slump prevention, mental toughness training, flow training, relaxation training, momentum training, psych-out proofing and media training.

For a comprehensive overview of your mental abilities you need an assessment instrument that identifies your complete mental strengths and weaknesses. For a free, easy-to-take 65-item sport psychology assessment tool you can score right on the spot, visit This assessment gives you a quick snapshot of your strengths and weaknesses in your mental game. You can use this as a guide in creating your own mental training program, or as the basis for a program you undertake with Bill Cole, MS, MA to improve your mental game. This assessment would be an excellent first step to help you get the big picture about your mental game.

Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching Association, Bill is also founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps organizations and professionals achieve more success in business, life and sports. He is a multiple Hall of Fame honoree, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published book author and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For a free, extensive article archive, or for questions and comments visit him at

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