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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Tennis


Mental Game Secrets Of Winners

Don't Beat Yourself, Play Within Yourself, and Play The Percentages

Bill Cole, MS, MA

A previous article provided an overview of the 7 Strategic and Tactical Tools of Winning. Here is a wrap-up of the #1 tool, Don't Beat Yourself, and two more tools, Play Within Yourself and Play The Percentages.

#1: Don't Beat Yourself

Winners talk to themselves differently than do losers. During breaks in the action, winners intentionally use self-talk to positively and successfully program themselves and to pump themselves up mentally. Memorize a few of these and apply them in your next contest.

1. "I'm not going to give any free points to the opponent."
2. "I will make the opponent hit the ball."
3. "I will make the opponent work for their points."
4. "don't give the contest away."
5. "don't give the opponent the win on a silver platter."
6. "I will give the opponent a chance to lose, make mistakes, or get nervous."
7. "I going to make the opponent play well to beat me."
8. "I'm going to keep the ball in play."
9. "I'm going to reduce unforced errors."
10. "I'm going to work the point."

It is vital that you be scrappy and dig to get all balls back in play. Remember: the worst-hit ball that lands IN is far better than the best-hit ball that lands OUT. You DON'T even have a chance to win if you try for perfect shots, and they go out. AT LEAST you have a hope of winning the point if you get the ball in the court. The question is "How many shots are you willing to miss before you decide to just get the ball in the court, no matter how you do it? If your threshold for errors is high, you will continue to bang away and lose point after point. Only when you decide that you are sick of being so erratic will you begin to maintain overall steadiness. Remember, don't beat yourself-your opponent is already working on that.

#2: Play Within Yourself

Select the strokes, shots and tactics you KNOW you can execute that you have a reasonably high percentage chance of making and avoid those that you have a low percentage chance of making. By definition, you can't play your very best all the time. You can often only play slightly better than your normal ability, so don't try to play over your head. If you can win by playing average, do so. If a basic, average shot or tactic will win, use that. Don't use a $2.00 shot in a 2-cent situation. Know yourself and play your game, not someone else's. Know your limitations and stay within them. Play the game you KNOW you can play, not the game you HOPE you can play. Play the same way you play in practice and don't add extras in a contest because you don't think your usual game is "enough" against a tough opponent. Don't allow fear and doubt to make you play out of your groove and normal ability zone. Maintain an awareness of your shot choices as you play, and make sure they are shots you own. Avoid those shots you make rarely or once in a while. Go with the tried and true. This gives you your best chance of winning. You will also enjoy yourself more and be less frustrated.

#3: Play The Percentages

Playing percentage tennis means knowing when to play safe and when to take risks. It means already having the game's high and low percentage plays identified, ahead of time, so when you are playing you can select various intelligent shots quickly. Better still, practice the high percentage plays so they are automatic and so you can call upon them at any time, even under pressure. For example, down the line shots in tennis are low percentage for three reasons. First, the net is 2 inches higher than in the center on crosscourt shots. Second, the court is shorter, only 78 feet long down the line, but over 82 feet long crosscourt. Third, the court area to make the shot is narrower down the line. So by definition, crosscourt is always safer and therefore higher percentage than down the line. It is also important to know the major strategic and tactical levels of competing: defense, neutral, offense, attack and emergency. This helps you select intelligent, high-percentage shots that will probably work most of the time. Percentage shots, not tricks, or desperation shots, are what win. It is better to play a series of average shots, instead of a few exciting shots, hoping to win quickly. Be methodical, not flashy. Percentage play is smart, thoughtful, savvy, seasoned play. Percentage players use their heads to win, not just their emotions. Be known as a person who makes wise choices and who avoids the low percentage options which only work on occasion. Be a percentage player.

In our next article we look at the next two mental game secrets, How To Adjust and Know Why You're Winning.

Copyright © Bill Cole, MS, MA 2000-2010 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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