Tennis skills are an essential part of every advanced tennis player’s game. To play tennis well, you’ll need physical, mental, and emotional tennis skills.
Tennis Skills to win a tennis match
An advanced tennis player must possess tennis skills to be a successful in the game of tennis. At the professional level, players at the top of the rankings possess physical, mental and emotional tennis skills.
The upside is that even recreational and club players can learn the recipes and tennis skills needed to succeed in tennis.
Physical Tennis Skills
Let’s discuss physical tennis skills. Firstly, flexibility, balance, aerobic health, and strength are all required in order to garner the best results from your tennis skills; that is, you need to work on all four areas to be physically fit for successful tennis.
How to achieve fitness in each area? Remember, it’s best to get fit to play tennis, not play tennis to get fit, so most of your workouts will occur off the court.
For flexibility, try practicing yoga. Yoga poses stretch not only the muscles, but the joints as well — and, a sequence of yoga poses will stretch the entire body, necessary for enhanced physical tennis skills. A body which is rigid at the beginning of learning yoga may become quite flexible, even those parts which have not been consciously worked upon.
For balance (essential for agility), consider the ancient art of T’ai Chi; studies have proven the association of T’ai Chi practice with significant improvement in balance which is a requisite for improved physical tennis skills. Your local fitness or recreation center may offer a class. (T’ai Chi’s gentle flowing movements also reduce stress.)
Aerobic Fitness for tennis
For aerobic fitness, consider the following. The benefits of aerobic exercise are many: strengthening the muscles involved in respiration, thus, facilitating the flow of air in and out of the lungs; strengthening the heart muscle, thus, improving its pumping efficiency; and, strengthening muscles throughout the entire body. Solid aerobic endurance sustains a player’s tennis skills for the duration of a game, which may last several hours.
For aerobic health, no one exercise is best for everyone. But it is always necessary to use large muscle groups repetitively for a sustained amount of time; and it is best to perform the exercise for 60 minutes, preferably five days a week.
The intensity of your aerobic workout can be determined by your heart rate. Use the following formula to ensure your exercise is helping you achieve aerobic fitness: subtract your age from 220, and multiply the resulting number by 60%, or .6, and by 90%, or .9. The resultant numbers represent the optimal low end and high-end heart rates you should maintain while exercising.
For instance, if you are thirty years old, your optimal low-end heart rate would be 114 and your optimal high-end heart rate would be 171. Choose an exercise you enjoy; swimming, running, and cycling are excellent forms of aerobic exercise. At the gym, ski machines, stair climbers, steppers, and ellipticals can all offer an aerobic workout.
And, finally, strength training augments your tennis skills; whether you want a stronger serve, groundstroke, volley, or overhead smash, building a stronger body is key. Tennis specific weight training will not only improves your tennis skills, it will help ward off injuries. But, strength training to enhance tennis skills must be very sport specific; you must find the appropriate amount of muscle mass for power — too much bulkiness slows down court speed. Working with greater repetitions and lower weights maintains agility and speed while appropriately increasing strength.
Mental Tennis Skills
Now, let’s discuss mental tennis skills. You may have dominant physical tennis skills — you may be more flexible, more balanced, aerobically more fit, and stronger than your opponent, but without mental tennis skills, you will likely lose to the physically weaker player with more advanced mental tennis skills. That is, no matter how skilled and fit you are, if you break down in significant matches and close calls, you will lose.
Mental tennis skills will prepare you for close matches and enhance your strokes — in essence, it will give you that all important edge.
Even over opponents with superior physical tennis skills, merely by the power of your mind. Mental tennis skills are crucial to the success of your game.
The techniques of cognitive-behavioral therapy, a type of psychotherapy developed by American psychiatrist, Aaron Beck, may be used to develop mental tennis skills. Cognitive-behavioral therapy challenges negative self-talk and provides more balanced reality-tested alternatives.
For instance, a technique in cognitive therapy termed cognitive rehearsal can be applied to great effect. Imagine a situation during a recent game in which you did not succeed. Consider what difference(s) in your game would have helped you succeed.
Visualization in Tennis Psychology
Then in a relaxed setting, imagine over and over again the situation playing out in that successful manner. When you are confronted with a similar situation again, the imagined, or rehearsed, behavior will be automatically drawn upon; you will play successfully. Statistically, it’s been proven that those who visualize the end they hope to achieve are twice as likely to succeed as those who do not.
Other techniques, which originated in Buddhism, improve mindfulness and can help you ‘let thoughts’ be, and dissociate yourself from sensory input which is a distraction from achieving optimal physical tennis skills. Other cognitive-behavioral techniques will also help you improve your concentration on set goals, your mind-set and mental attitude, your self-control and self-discipline, your ability to recuperate after training, your self-esteem and self-belief, your stamina in training, and your self-understanding and self-awareness.
Specific breathing techniques are also useful mental tennis skills taught through cognitive-behavioral therapy. Proper breathing allows you to practice moving between the left and right hemispheres of the brain; thus, shifting from the low arousal, goal within goal thinking associated with the left brain hemisphere to the high arousal, and more process orientated ‘take it as it comes’ attitude associated with the right brain hemisphere. Breathing techniques therefore can help you demonstrate your best physical tennis skill, remaining in the moment, without the need to reflect, analyze, or assess performance until after the game.
Check your local bookstore or library for books offering training in cognitive-behavioral therapy. Then practice the techniques. Once mastered, you will find yourself single-minded and present-focused in your game, demonstrating the most effective delivery of your physical tennis skills.
Emotional Tennis Skills
And, finally, let’s discuss emotional tennis skills. Certain emotions, in particular, those involving anxiety, can diminish even the best of physical tennis skills. Emotions frequently contribute to players losing to inferior opponents. Why? Tennis is inherently antagonistic, hence emotional, since each players use their tennis skills to combat his or her opponent.
Emotions on the tennis court
Threat and intimidation may play significant roles in tennis; it is a far more emotional game than it may appear to the observer. Closely contested matches become stressful — winning them is emotionally significant and uplifting, and losing them is emotionally painful. No matter how much you hone your physical and mental tennis skills, emotions will likely effect your game if not controlled. But, emotional tennis skills can be learned just as certainly as physical and mental tennis skills. And emotional strength contributes to success on the court.
The goal of emotional tennis skills is the ability to have a positive response in a negative situation and when feeling negative emotions. Whereas mental tennis skills involve positive thinking and good concentration under stress, emotional tennis skills involves positive feelings such as low anxiety, good motivation, calmness, courage, optimism, happiness, and confidence.
Emotional tennis skills allow you to consistently access empowering emotions during a match. Similar to developing mental tennis skills, but with variations, developing emotional tennis skills requires that you use controlled breathing, centering, and cognitive restructuring — and, that you transfer emotional tennis skills to games using visualization, imagery, and simulation.
In other words, the thoughts and images you have in your mind have emotional consequences; undisciplined thoughts and images will negatively affect your play. And you need to practice emotional responses. You won’t have a new emotional response to a difficulty on the court if you haven’t practiced emotional responses off the court. Just like muscles, emotional tennis skills need time and stimulation to grow. And, interestingly, when and what you eat and the quantity and quality of your sleep and rest can effect your emotional tennis fitness as well.
So, to be a top-notch player, or just to improve your game, practice physical tennis skills, mental tennis skills, and emotional tennis skills off the court; you’ll soon see the results on the court.
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