Mental toughness is one of those all-encompassing words that is frequently used but seldom defined. As coaches we often demand mental toughness from our players but the message is frequently lost because of the many facets contained in the expression. Here is an attempt to define “Mental Toughness in Tennis, “ by describing the character traits of a world-class player:
Resilience: Top players have to confront adversity day after day and come back for more. Success will only come by constantly showing up and being fully engaged day after day - especially when things are not going well.
Discipline: Discipline is doing what has to be done, when you have to do it, and that is the only way to improve. It is very easy to do what we like doing but most likely what you have to do and what you want to do are very different things.
Ability to Adapt: Tennis is a game of constant adaptation. Every shot is different, every opponent is different, the situation on the court is ever-changing. Top players are constantly playing in different countries, on different courts in different environments. Change is the name of the game, and only those who are willing to embrace this reality and are mentally flexible enough to adapt will rise to the top.
Capacity to Improvise: In competitive tennis players have to constantly improvise and find ways to win with the tools that they have on any given day. Learning to do the best with what you have is half the battle.
Pain Tolerance: High performance is not a comfortable endeavor because the only way to improve is by getting out of your comfort zone, by constantly challenging yourself, and that is usually painful. It hurts emotionally and it hurts physically, and the only way to succeed is by embracing the pain. You do not have to like it but you have to accept it as an important part of the process.
Unwavering Determination: The road to the top is incredibly hard, full of obstacles and disappointments and the fire to continue fighting has to come from within. Only highly determined players endure the fight. Players that will never take “no” for an answer.
Laser Focus: The ability to narrow your attention on and off the court for as long as it is needed is one of the most important skills of a champion. Ignoring distractions and concentrating on the relevant task during practices and during competitions is essential for success.
Self Confidence: Believing that you can accomplish your goals or at least giving yourself the benefit of the doubt by focusing on doing everything in your power to perform at your best every single second you are on the court or working on your game off court, is the only way to reach your potential. It is very difficult to commit to the pain and disappointment needed to achieve your goals if you constantly doubt your ability. “You will never know unless you try it – but make sure you are trying it as best as you can.”
Are you mentally tough?