Tennis is NOT 80% mental
In the first of a series of special articles, Danish sports psychologist Adam Blicher writes about the significance of a person’s mentality in tennis. He is a member of the International Sport Mental Coach Association.
I often hear that the mental aspect is the most important performance parameter within tennis. Some people even go the extent of saying that the mental aspect of tennis accounts for around 80 percent of one’s performance.
That is absolutely balooney! You can be the mentally toughest player in the world, but if your forehand keeps landing in the bottom of the net, it really doesn’t matter.
The reason why we often tend to think that the mental aspect is more important than the other performance parameters; the technical-, the tactical- and the physical aspect is that we spend significantly less time on practicing those abilities. For example, when a player is practicing finding his or her focus, the player will often say ”hmm, this doesn’t really work for me” after three or four tries. However, if a player works on his/her forehand, you will never hear that player say ”forehand, no that is not really for me” just because he/she has missed it three or four times.
The problem is that sometimes players do not have the humility to work on their mental skills. They do not always understand that it is going take time to develop them. You are not born mentally tough or mentally weak. Of course, some players will naturally be better at dealing with nerves, closing out matches, or showing good character under pressure, just like some players naturally move better or pick up the right technique faster. But gaining a mental advantage over your opponent undoubtedly takes a lot of practice.
Another reason why we tend to overestimate or misunderstand the importance of the mental aspect is that some parents or coaches think that mental skills are a short term fix. Parents will sometimes contact a sports psychologist and say ”My kid has a problem. You need to fix my kid.” They think that five consultations and a few exercises will make a permanent difference for the kid. But to think that way is utopia. Just like the forehand or the serve, the mental aspect will break down now and then. Some days, it will be excellent, but other days, you will find your self struggling all day long. This emphasizes why it is so important to practice mental skills on a regular basis.
However, no matter how much we practice one aspect of our tennis game, it will never be perfect. If it is always your backhand that tends to break down during matches, then no matter how much you practice it, it will probably still be one of your weak spots. The same goes for the mental aspect of the game. If you are really bad at closing out matches, it will most likely never be your biggest force. With time, though, it will begin to feel easier if it is incorporated in your practice routines
So all of us need to remember that training your mental abilities will never be a permanent fix. We will still have ups and downs in our mental skills performance. Some days, it will be incredibly easy for us to close out matches, deal with cheaters or play when we are ahead. Other days, those same abilities will be extremely difficult for us to perform.