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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Tennis


Are You In A Tennis Slump?

Learn About The Psychology Of Slumps
Avoid Them and Perform To Your Potential

Bill Cole, MS, MA

Slumps. We've all been in one at one time or another. You can't perform to your potential, you seem to be having a perpetually bad day, and nothing you do helps extricate yourself from its deadly grip. Slumps are not fun.

What Is A Slump?

A slump is any decrease in performance, over time. A slump can have mental origins or many other causes. Let's see why you have slumps and how to avoid them.

How Slumps Start

Many slumps may not be mental. I know that sounds strange. Everyone believes slumps have only mental origins. A slump may start innocently enough. You might simply lose a match. It bothers you somewhat. You lose another match. That bothers you more. Then someone makes a comment that "you might be in a slump." You lose again. Suddenly you decide you are in an "official slump". That's when the slump becomes mental. Your depression and anger about "being in a slump" fuels it and makes it worse and maintains it. Your poor play worries you. You begin to think so much of how to fix it that you "get into your own head" too much. Now it really is a slump. Now it really is mental.

How Do You Get Out Of A Slump? My Top Ten Tips.

1. Be Clear About Your Definition Of A Slump. Make sure the slump you are in is a real one. If you assume you are slumping after one bad performance, you are far too quick to judge yourself so harshly. A good working definition of a slump would be a series of poor performances.

2. Don't Let People Talk You Into A Slump. Some people love to tell you that you are in a slump. They think they can see that slumping pattern you are in. Don't let them be negative around you. Make up your own mind about your performances.

3. Change Your Routine. Sometimes a slump starts because you are bored. The game isn't as much fun as it used to be. Your practices are too predictable. Mix it up! Try some new drills, some new practice systems and some new venues to play. Often just a change in routine will wake you up and give you a new perspective.

4. Practice Harder And Improve Your Weaknesses. Simple as it sounds, sometimes you play poorly not because you are weak mentally, but just because you have a technical weakness or a physical limitation. Try practicing longer, harder, better and smarter and work the slump out on the practice court.

5. Check All Non-Mental Causes Of The Slump. Make sure you cover all bases on diagnosing the reasons for the slump. There can be numerous tactical, strategic, physical and other causes, some of them quite subtle, yet easy to fix. See a coach for a complete diagnostic checkup.

6. Stop Trying So Hard. Slumps are very frustrating. They can drive you crazy. They can make you exert more and more effort. From a performance psychology standpoint, only a perfect amount of effort gives great results. Too little effort and your performance can fall flat. A slump brings out too much effort in an effort to defeat the slump. Relax and try softer, not harder.

7. Remind Yourself Of Your Skills And Abilities. Remember that you are a skillful athlete, that you can and have played well, and that this too is temporary and will pass. Think back about past successes and particularly, about how you overcame past slumps and went on to play well.

8. Get Some Coaching. A qualified, experienced coach can guide you through a slump by seeing what you can't see and by having the experience to know what interventions will make the biggest impact. In fact, seeing your coach when you are playing poorly can be one of the very best times to go, because the coach can help you figure out how to de-bug your game under real game conditions.

9. Play For Fun More Often. People who often fall into slumps often take themselves and their performances too seriously. Lighten up. Play more for fun with friends and make the outcome have less importance.

10. Take A Break. Sometimes the ticket away from a slump is distance. Take some time off, get a fresh perspective, clear out your mind. When you return you will feel eager, you won't expect as much, and your body will be more relaxed. Even the top athletes in the world take planned breaks from their sport to avoid slumps and burnout.

What Should You Do Next?

Make sure your definition of a slump is a clear one and don't assume you are in one before it is truly there. Have a slump plan ready to go and take concrete, positive action should the slump rear its ugly head. Stay one step ahead of the slump and you'll keep your performances soaring.

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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