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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Tennis


Create A Mindset For Winning Tennis

Your Competitive Nature Can Be One Of Your Biggest Weapons

Bill Cole, MS, MA

We all love watching Wimbledon in June and July. The English championships are grand as always. I view them with some nostalgia, because it seems every time the camera pans to the stands, I see some players I competed against years ago. One in particular is memorable. The coach of Tim Henman, the British #1, is Paul Annacone, the former coach of Pete Sampras. I played Annacone in 1984 when he had just won the United States College NCAA Singles Championships. It was a doubles match in the Hamptons of Long Island. It was memorable because I was able to run a young 18-year-old kid around the court, hit some crowd-pleasing shots and give him a run for his money. I lost 6-4, 7-5, but I played well.

That match was on Memorial Day and just a month later Paul lost to Connors in the quarters of Wimbledon in a very tight match. I like to think maybe I toughened him up for the Jimmy match. He went on to become a top-20 singles player and Bill Cole went on to begin teaching in California a few months later. That was a few years ago, but I do remember how competitive-minded I was that day.

Here are some of my favorite competition tips to help you tune your mind up to compete at your best.

"Competition is about bringing out the best in each other. Tough competition is an exercise in cooperation." --Bill Cole

Make Your Own Meaning And Significance

What match would you remember many years afterwards? The match where you beat a very weak player in a very easy match, 6-0, 6-0? Or a very close match where you beat a player far better than you, requiring you to use every ounce of your mental, emotional and physical strength to win, handling every conceivable difficulty imaginable, after battling multiple match points, finally winning under incredible pressure?

You'd remember the tough one far more.

Choose to view your tennis match on YOUR terms. Here's how you create more meaning in your tough matches:

  1. Realize that you will have a story to tell. The tougher the match, the better the story. This gives you perspective and objectivity, and reduces your fear.
  2. Know you will be a far tougher competitor as a result. This reduces your pressure.
  3. Use the fear of losing as a stimulant to help you focus and compete.
  4. Strive to "compete fully". This means to risk the pain of losing and all the potential heartache that comes with putting yourself on the line in front of other people.

What Motivates You More, Wanting To Win, Or Hating To Lose?

Do athletes say that the pain of losing is greater than the thrill of winning?

Many athletes say this. As a result, many athletes use the so-called negative motivation of "hating to lose" more than the so-called positive motivation of "wanting to win".

If hating to lose helps you win, go for it. It's NOT negative.

Avoid These Examples Of Behavior Designed To Save Face

  1. The opponent cheats and you say, "If you want the match that bad, take it." Why would you not stay there, fight and either win in spite of the cheater, or win to teach them a lesson?

  2. How you close a match is closely related to how you handle projects in the rest of your life. If you get things done in real life, you probably "get it done" on the tennis court also. Do you engage in procrastination? Or do you make sure to complete things and hate to have "dangling loose ends"?

  3. No pain or bad feelings after a loss? This means you don't care enough and you are seeking an out instead of competing fully. You are defending yourself from the pain of potential loss. Face the fact that you DO want to win and you will win more.

Questions To Ask Yourself About Your Competitive Attitude

  1. How bad do you want to win?
  2. How committed are you to winning?
  3. How much do you defend against losing face?
  4. How much pain can you take?
  5. How uncomfortable are you willing to be to win?
  6. How many excuses do you make when you play?
  7. Are you creating excuses even as you play so you can explain why you lost?

Now, go forth and use these winning mind tips to play better and win more matches!

Copyright © Bill Cole, MS, MA 2004, 2007 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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