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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Tennis


How Would You Prepare Mentally
To Play Pete Sampras?

How To Get The Winning Mental Edge

Bill Cole, MS, MA

Are you playing a winning mental game? How do you get that powerful mental game in gear? How do you get the winning mental edge-before the match even begins? If you view a big match the proper way, in the proper mental perspective, you can bring forth your best tennis, reach more of your potential and have a memorable match for a lifetime.

I've been helping people reach more of their potential for the past 30 years as a mental game peak performance coach. I'm currently the Mental Game Peak Performance Coach for the Israeli Davis Cup Team. Here I teach you the very same mental success approaches I use with top collegiate and professional athletes. The secret lies in having powerful, tested mental game peak performance strategies at your disposal. What your mind believes you will achieve.

One of my top players, Harel Levy is the number one player in Israel. He has moved from #270 in the world a couple years ago to #53 in the world now. He reached the finals of the Canadian Open last year, winning $211,000. He has wins over Safin, Chang and recently defeated the #10 player in the world, Tim Henman, in the quarterfinals of Scottsdale in March of 2001. He narrowly lost to #4 in the world Magnus Norman in the following close 3 set semi after having 5 match points.

He drew all-time legend Pete Sampras in the first round of the Italian Open in May.

Here are some of the mental preparation strategies I designed specifically for his match against Pete. These tips work for any match, but may be used particularly in what might be seen as "big matches" or against "big names". Any time you have a pressure match coming up or will be playing in a situation that potentially intimidates you, try one or more of these ten mental strategies.

1. Take the Zen approach. Zen says there are no big matches or big names. Every match is just that--another match. The only big events are in your mind. Keep your mind calm and don't make the match something it is not.

2. Realize that this is NOT a one-time opportunity. You will have many other chances to play top players over the years. Enjoy the special significance of the match, but don't blow it out of all proportion.

3. Play one point at a time. You don't play the entire match at once. You don't play an entire set at once. You don't play an entire game at once. You play only one point at a time, only one shot at a time. Keep your mind in the here and now and only focus on one point at a time.

4. Play within yourself. Play as you normally do--nothing special, nothing above your normal ability. Have faith that your normal game will be good enough to win. You can't play shots you don't own. Stay within your capabilities.

5. Allow your training to take over. Have confidence in yourself and come from a mental place of strength. Don't hope for an easy match-strive to be a strong person. Have faith that your practice and training will carry you through. Don't analyze or second-guess yourself.

6. View your opponent as a teacher you will learn something from. It's common for players to give "better" opponents far too much respect, and thereby psych themselves out of the match before it ever begins. Don't do that to yourself. Give your opponent the proper respect--but not too much respect.

7. Set learning goals for the match. Determine that you will learn something new about the opponent, about yourself as a competitor and about performing. Then work the process and let winning take care of itself.

8. Remember that the pressure is on the opponent. He realizes that and must defend his reputation and position. Keep the match alive a long time and he will feel the pressure more and more.

9. Exploit the Underdog Factor. The opponent has a tendency to view this as an easy match and to go to sleep mentally. As the underdog you have the edge and can exploit that by gaining an early lead and by taking momentum when the opponent least expects it.

10. Visualize success. Before you can win on the court, you must win in your mind. A simple truth, but more players could follow it.

Oh, by the way, Harel won the match against Pete, went on to reach the quarterfinals and pocketed over $65,000 for the week. Follow these mental preparation tips and you can beat YOUR Pete Sampras.

Copyright © Bill Cole, MS, MA 2001, 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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