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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Tennis


Do You Know Why You Win Or Lose?

Ten Street-Smart Questions To Ask Yourself

Wise Tennis Competitors Know These 10 Savvy Questions Will
Take Them Closer To Victory By Discovering What Really Wins

Bill Cole, MS, MA

Your teammate comes off the court after losing. You ask, "Why'd you lose?" They answer, "We played bad, and they played good". Another teammate comes off after winning. You ask them why they won. They say, "We played good and they played bad."

Pretty incisive, deep, probing self-analysis, isn't it?

This is the level of introspection most people have in tennis. Sad, but true. But it's not their fault for these reasons:

1. Tennis is a tough game to figure out. It's complex.
2. In the heat of battle, who can stop to see what's really happening? It's all too fast.
3. People don't realize HOW they win points, sets and matches.
4. It takes practice to do this with accuracy.

Sometimes people will get the reasons they are winning or losing all mixed up, with no accurate connection at all to the true reasons. Then they can't make any strategic adjustments in the match. Adjusting is a very important thing to be able to do.

Here are 10 vital questions to ask yourself the next time you are in a match. These questions will help you figure out WHY you are winning, so you can continue doing what is helping you win, or, they will help you figure out WHY you are losing so you can change what you are doing. Ask these questions between points.

1. Are You Using The Simplest Tactics That Will Win? Don't make things difficult by using complex, finicky tactics you don't know well. Use the tactics you know how to do that will win for you. Tricky tactics are usually not necessary.

2. Did You Ask Yourself Why You're Winning? Don't take that answer for granted. Figure it out so you can keep doing what's winning, so you don't accidentally change it.

3. Did You Ask Yourself Why You're Losing? There is a reason. Find it out and then stop doing it.

4. Is The Problem Your Strategy Or Your Execution? Don't immediately assume your tactics are at fault. Maybe you're missing shots. That's poor execution. Sharpen up your shots and then see if your tactics are at fault.

5. Did You Almost Always Change A Losing Game? Do you keep doing the same thing, yet expect different results? That's the definition of insanity. Stop using losing tactics and try something new. New ones can't be that bad. You're losing as it is.

6. Did You Rarely Change A Winning Game? Keep doing "what brung you to the dance." That's WHY you are winning.

7. If You Could Replay The Match, What Would You Do Differently? This is a critical question. To win, what would you change?

8. Did You Only Use Shots And Tactics That You Own? Stay within yourself in your matches. That means don't use shots and plays you don't know how to do. Trying hair-brained, low-percentage or panicky shots and tactics rarely pays off.

9. Did You Adjust When The Opponent Adjusted? Good competitors hate to lose. When you are beating them, they're over there figuring out ways to beat you. Notice this. Just because you have a lead does not mean they will roll over. Be alert to their next tricks and then adjust again, to those.

10. Did The Opponent Win, Or Did You Lose? This is the most important question you can ask. If you beat yourself by being erratic or trying dumb plays, they did not beat you. You lost to them. The #1 rule in all of competitive sports is this: DO NOT beat YOURSELF. The opponent is already trying to do that. Don't help them.

Ask yourself the right questions IN your matches and your friends will be asking YOU how you WIN so often.

Copyright © Bill Cole, MS, MA 2001, 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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