Tennis Identity

Absolute Improvement: Decisions, decisions. Your mental tennis game.

Cuccaro headshot (Ivan Lendl IJTA)By Matt Cuccaro Ed. M., Director of Mental Training at Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy (IJTA).  

The lines of a tennis court are clearly defined. The athletes within
them, however, must have mental flexibility to maximize training time as well
as match day execution. Two prevailing methodologies to explore include “or”
and “and” mindsets. There are advantages to both; the time and place in which
they are used is the key to high performance.

The “or” technique is a simple one. This mindset is based upon making
quick judgments when little or no time is available. This reactive approach
allows the athlete to make decisions efficiently on the court without expending
too much mental effort.

Examples include “attack the net or hang behind the baseline,” “go cross-court or down-the-line,” and “hit with slice or topspin.” This method is highly effective for match-time when
the stress of the situation naturally places a limit on thought, attention, and
introspection. Competition is the time to simply embrace the challenge of the
match and react with an “or” approach on the court. Commitment to executing a
game plan with as little deviation as possible benefits even the best players
during the heat of match play.

The second approach — the “and” mentality – takes into account the
countless options and “shades of gray” offered when developing skills and making
decisions. This mindset opens the door to tremendous improvements over the
course of a career. Increased awareness of both the advantages and
disadvantages of various grips, strokes, and tactics allows a player to see the
game from multiple perspectives. In addition, it encourages players to create
their own style, which enhances confidence and ownership of their game.

“and” approach requires time, energy, and abundant resources of attention as
it’s filled with creativity, exploration, and experimentation. A high
percentage of practice time can be spent effectively exploring this “and” methodology
as the non-judgmental flow of thought allows for the true learning and player
development to unfold away from the stress of competition.

The “or” mindset and “and” methodology are both required
to create an elite tennis player. Where and when they are applied tends to be
the key for an individual to truly reach their potential.

As noted, long-term, high
priority areas of development will greatly benefit from an “and” methodology
when competitive emotion is low and introspection naturally runs a little deeper.
Lower priority, short-term, match-time decisions are best approached in an “or”
context, as stress leads to dwindling resources of attention and little
effectiveness of deep thought.

Those who perform at a high level consistently train
in cycles and remain aware of decision-making tendencies as they flow through
cycles of both training and competition. Be thoughtful about your approach to
the game and enjoy the challenge of finding balance in your decisions on and
around the court.

Ivan Lendl IJTA logoIvan Lendl IJTA exemplifies Lendl’s desire
to give back to tennis and develop future champions through a new-era
curriculum and holistic training approach. The Academy focuses on classic
fundamentals, leading-edge biomechanics, strength training / fitness and mental
preparation. Lendl, a former world No.1 and winner of eight Grand Slams,
subscribes to a hands-on approach with students instilling dedication, focus,
hard work, motivation and overall preparation.

Follow Cuccaro @MentalCoachMatt on Twitter