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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Tennis


Mental Game Secrets Of Winners

Becoming A Mentally Tough Competitor

Bill Cole, MS, MA

This article continues a discussion of the seven major sports winning strategies. The first three were discussed in the article Mental Game Secrets Of Winners: #1: Don't Beat Yourself, #2: Play Within Yourself and #3: Play the Percentages. The second article looked at #4: Adjust To Conditions, The Opponent and Yourself and #5: Know Why You're Winning. This article looks at #6: Winners Find A Way To Win and #7: Don't Choose False Paths To Victory.

Learning about the mental game of winning is an exciting adventure, whether we are playing the mental game of sports or the mental game of business or the mental game of life. The principles of strategic and tactical planning, and of in-the-game mental execution are the same. Only the context changes. To become adept at bringing the outcome around to our favor more often, we need to become intimately familiar with the complex emotional and psychological processes of the competitive process itself.

Mental Game Skill #6: Winners Find A Way To Win

Winners know how to identify and avoid the pitfalls and false paths that lead them away from victory. Winners know the dynamics of game playing in the competitive arena so they can extract their best performances.

At the heart of finding a way to win is your unending determination to do whatever it takes to secure victory. You will make up your mind that you will continually look for ways to play better, to score points, to make the opponent play less well, and even when things look darkest, to continue to hang in there, hoping for a break.

You believe you are never out of the running, that you always have a chance, that somehow there might be a little opening for you to win. Fierce competitors are forever looking for what works. They keep trying things until they find a way to win.

Successful competitors view the game process as an exciting venue in which to try experiments. They are invested in the process and love to push themselves to see if they will pass their own tests. When they are down in the contest, they come alive even more and rise to the occasion, because at this point the test has become almost life and death, where competitive, primal instincts kick in. Top performers seek out this set of uncertain circumstances because they know this brings out their best play. They love the excitement this brings.

Mental Game Tip #1: Learn to love the craziness of competition. Love the uncertainty.

Mental Game Tip #2: Push yourself to stay positive in the face of adversity and expect your best play to emerge.

Mental Game Tip #3: Continually look for ways to win until the contest is over. Keep experimenting to throw off the opponent and to find something that works for you.

Mental Game Skill #7: Don't Choose False Paths To Victory

Just as smart competitors seek the best ways to win, they also ardently avoid any and all seemingly good, yet false paths to a win. Consider these players with a huge lead. Bob suddenly begins blasting the ball or begins going for impossible shots because it seems like "the lead is huge and there is no chance of losing." The lead is quickly lost. Martin, who was winning going to the net and by being aggressive, decides to relax and take it easy because the match "is in the bag". He loses. Pete, with a big lead decides to play it safe because "Don't blow a good thing" sounds so sensible. He sees the opponent come roaring back. Jim decides to try some cute drop shots or lobs or angles that he hasn't hit in months because "I can afford to miss a few interesting shots and still win". He loses momentum and never recovers. Steve begins to rush when he gets a lead in his hurry to get the match over with "before the opponent makes a comeback". He loses badly.

These scenarios are all too real. They happen every day on tennis courts around the world.

Mental Game Tip #4: Know what the false paths to victory are. Recognize them before you fall victim to them.

Mental Game Tip #5: Stay the course when you have the momentum. Stick with what brought you to the dance. Don't change a winning strategy.

Mental Game Tip #6: Tolerate the uncertainty of being in the lead and enjoy it. Don't rush it and don't fear you will lose it. Be in the moment and learn from it. The more you learn how to win at this critical juncture, the more often you can return to this vantage point, and, using the signs you noticed the last time you came down this road, continue your winning ways.

Winners and high achievers realize the critical importance of vision strategizing, tactical planning, contingency planning, competitive process wisdom, and capturing the lessons learned from the battle. These successful competitors are self-aware, situation-aware, time-aware and momentum-aware. They understand how the mental game and the strategic-tactical game come together to form an impenetrable bond leading to mental toughness and more 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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