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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Tennis


What I Learned From Coaching
The Israeli Davis Cup Team

At The San Jose-Sybase ATP Pro Tennis Tour® Championships

Bill Cole, MS, MA

Did you know that even top international tennis stars suffer from lapses of confidence, moments of self-doubt and downright frustration about their games? Even these pros are not immune from the mental maladies we all face daily on the courts. They have their mental gremlins too. They appear to be superhuman, but they too need to work hard on ironing out the kinks in their mental games.

At last month's San Jose Sybase ATP Tennis Tour® Championships, I was asked to be the Sport Psychology Consultant to the Israeli Davis Cup Team. I worked on their mental games and on their stroke, footwork and physical technique also, as it related to building a stronger mental game and performing closer to their potential under the tremendous pressures of international competition.

Let's see what lessons these world-ranked ATP® Tennis Pros can give us about building and maintaining strong mental games. First, let me introduce part of the team to you.

The National Coach of Israel and the Israeli Davis Cup Coach, Oded Jacob conferred with me about the psychological needs of each player and of the team as a whole. We determined that mental training is an absolute daily necessity for players of world-class caliber. Harel Levy, 20, who defeated U.S. Open Finalist and #17 ATP-ranked Cedric Pioline in three sets in this year's Davis Cup Tie with France in Tel Aviv, is a hard-working member of the team. He is focusing on staying aggressive when in the lead and in continually going for strong shots by keeping his confidence high through the entire match.

He lost in 3 sets to eventual quarter-finalist German Davis Cupper Bernd Karbacher in 3 hard-fought sets.

Kobi Ziv, 19, who was recently ranked #6 in the World ITF Juniors, took the finalist of the Sybase, Cecil Mamiit, to 3 sets in the final round of qualifying. He is working on staying relaxed and focused through an entire match.

Lior Mor, 22, who took South African Davis Cupper Grant Stafford to 3 sets in the qualifying rounds, is working on maintaining his ability to generate and maintain the killer instinct and finish off a match.

Mental Toughness Factors

One would think that since each young person in Israel serves an automatic three years in the Israeli Army, mental toughness would be a given. Mental toughness is partly borne from superb physical conditioning and discipline, but there is more that makes a champion. Here are some of those factors:

  • A deep desire to succeed.
  • Disciplined thinking.
  • Daily mental training habits.
  • The ability to focus for long periods.
  • The will to win under adversity.
  • The ability to tolerate uncertainty of outcome.
  • Deep faith in one's abilities.
  • The ability to relax on command.
  • A positive mental outlook.
  • Viewing trouble as a challenge.
  • The ability to be objective about oneself.
  • The ability to learn and accept coaching.
  • The ability to click onto autopilot.
  • The ability to take the long view in training.
  • Having high energy and enthusiasm.
  • The will to make practice as rigorous as competition.
  • The killer instinct with no guilt or hesitation.
  • The ability to raise one's game when needed.

Mental Toughness Lessons Learned

What can we learn from The Israeli Davis Cup Team's journey into the mental game?

1. Hard work breeds confidence and the feeling that you deserve to win because you've paid your dues and it's time to collect.

2. There is no substitute for excellence in technique. A positive attitude will not overcome technical deficits. With poor technique you will only be a happy loser.

3. Maintaining a professional attitude in all phases of training, practice and match play helps you sharpen focus, be a better sportsperson and play to your potential.

4. Playing with passion and remembering to have fun in this game will increase your enjoyment and your performance levels.

6. Thinking and acting like a team player helps each other out, reduces personal pressure, and makes the game more meaningful.

7. They are playing tennis as their profession. We play it for fun, recreation, exercise, sociability and other reasons. We need to keep the reasons we play in mind.

This was a rewarding experience helping these young professional athletes. It seems I bonded with the players and coach. They asked me to travel to Israel sometime soon to further train the Davis Cup Team, and to train the Israeli National Coaches in my Mental Game System.

I hope your mental game benefits from the lessons they learned.

Copyright © Bill Cole, MS., MA. 2000, 2008 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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