In our last article, we discussed “How to Practice Tennis to Win– The French & Aqeel Khan Way”, how the French tennis system promotes the art of winning matches in practices to create gamers along with enhancing mental toughness for tennis. We also shared some experiences from Pakistan’s number one singles player Aqeel Khan, who has a 20 year plus reign in singles is always treating every single match as a real match to build match acumen with his views on tennis mental training.
In this article, we would like to highlight a different way from Taylor Dent, a former world number 21 ATP player.
Over the years, I had many discussions with Taylor on what kids should focus on mentally during practice matches and real matches.
One of the aspects Taylor talks about and promotes in his coaching at Dent Tennis Academy to have an individual vision of a game six months out or a year out. The idea is to focus on one or two areas to get better.
He does not use the phrase “performance goals”, but it is basically that. An example would be for a player to want to be more assertive about taking short balls and coming into the net, or being aggressive on second serves with spin, etc. And not get too wrapped up in winning or losing.
Taylor feels that this approach would help the player focus on improving tangible aspects as opposed to getting sucked into a vicious cycle of negativity associated with self-induced match-winning pressure.
Taylor recommends this approach for practice and is also open to players trying this in matches. He is not too concerned about short-term wins and losses but believes that “doing the right thing” over time will yield the results.
I have been involved in tennis for over 35 years. I have seen players reach their best potential while trying to bring in Yoda-like focus and desire in practice matches and treating them like real matches. I have also seen players bring that match-like intensity day in, day out and end up quitting tennis at 16 years old.
Alternatively, I have seen the long-term vision-based approach that Taylor promotes work for players. Taylor himself is an excellent example. I have also seen dedicated players who kept on trying to do the right thing, not winning much, quit tennis because of lack of results.
Our purpose here is to expose you to some separate ways of going about things and for you to discover what works for you. It does not have to either or it could be a blended approach as well. Good luck!
Anirban Dutta is the Co-Founder of Tennis Wizard. He is a former NCAA DI College player and assistant coach, minority owner of tennis club & academy, USTA TX board member, USTA National Pro Circuit committee member. He has two teenagers playing ITF juniors.