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So You Want To Be Tough?

December 11th, 2020 | 2 min. read

So You Want To Be Tough?

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By Darren Woodford - USPTA Elite Professional and Instructor

How often have you heard a person complain about their mental game when explaining their lackluster performance?


The concept goes by many names: mental toughness, grit, or tenacity.  Ultimately, we are talking about the ability to perform under pressure or adverse conditions.  

When most people discuss mental toughness, they describe it as an innate ability.  What most recreational players discount, is that professional athletes continually train their mental game in tandem with their physical skills.  In this article, we will provide you with a couple of ways to train your mental toughness while you are drilling your strokes.

Stay in your three feet of control:

One of the primary reasons why people do not perform their best is because they experience stimulus overload.  They try to keep track of the score, they try to be aware of the position of the other players on the court, and then they try to imagine what the other players are thinking.  Ultimately, there is not enough time to sift through all of those thoughts and hit a ball that is flying at your face at a speed of one hundred miles per hour.  Moreover, it is not necessary for you to account for all of those ideas in order to be a highly effective tennis player.  

Therefore, to improve your mental toughness, focus on the three feet of personal space that you actually can control.  The next time that you are practicing or playing a match, focus primarily on watching the ball, making solid contact, and hitting the same strokes repeatedly.  You cannot control anything that the other player is doing or thinking.  So do not waste your mental bandwidth pondering the mysteries of the universe.  Place your focus on the areas that you can impact.  Simply see the ball and hit the ball.

Adopt A Problem Solving Mindset:

The second major reason why most people do not compete at the height of their abilities is that they have difficulty controlling their emotions.  They lose one point or hit one bad shot and the downward spiral commences.  There is no doubt that you will face adversity when you play tennis.  Tennis is a game of errors.  However, one of the great aspects of tennis is that you can make a significant number of errors and still win.  

As such, to help improve your mental toughness in competition, adopt a problem solving mindset.  When something goes wrong, there is no need to get upset.  There is a problem.  Find a solution.  All of the negative things that you can say to yourself will not help you make your forehand go over the net.  If you do not know how to fix a technical issue, then find a coach and get some assistance.

These couple of suggestions will help you improve your mental toughness on the court.  Nevertheless, the most important idea to remember is that people are not born great tennis players or athletes.  They train physical and mental skills for years.  As a result of their years of hard work, when the time comes to perform under pressure, they simply default to their training.  Therefore, if you want to be mentally tough, then you must train your mental skills as often as you hit forehands.