Monday, August 29, 2011

The Perennial Philosophy of Mental Tennis

The Perennial Philosophy (Latin: philosophia perennis "eternal philosophy") refers to universal insights and truths common to all the world's major philosophies and religions.

The idea of Perennial Philosophy originated in antiquity, and was voiced by influential figures such as Cicero, the famed Roman philosopher, and St. Augustine, the historic Catholic theologian.

The concept was popularized in more recent times by Aldous Huxley
in his seminal 1945 book: The Perennial Philosophy.

What might be the Perennial Philosophy of mental tennis?

Over the years, a wide number of excellent books, authored by some major coaches and players, have made significant contributions to mental tennis literature.

Major among them are:
The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey, Mental Tennis by Vic Braden, Fearless Tennis
(a/k/a The Best Tennis of Your Life) by Jeff Greenwald, Winning Ugly by Brad Gilbert, and recently Tennis: Winning the Mental Match by Allen Fox.

Each of these authors offers a differing perspective, and each says things in different ways. Yet, I believe that the similarities of these books far outweigh any differences.

What common ideas do these books share? And what simple suggestions can be drawn from them about mental tennis?

I propose that these books collectively suggest 3 simple ideas and admonitions on mental tennis.

1) The critical dominance of the mental game
Each author emphasizes the pivotal nature of the mental game. The mental game is huge. It is always there and never goes away. Most competitive matches are routinely decided by who wins the mental component.

Understanding this well and dealing with it decisively becomes critical for success at tennis at all levels.

2) Physical looseness and relaxation is the foundationstone for good mental tennis
These books, through different examples, re-iterate that our best tennis can only be played when we are supremely loose and relaxed physically. This helps to allow mind, body, emotion and spirit to work together more harmoniously. How can the human machine reach this state?

For nearly everyone, some practical ways to help do this: literally shake loose your hands, arms, shoulders and face. And focus on deep, diaphragm breathing. And consider slowing down the pace of play.

3) Focus on what you can control, and thus strengthen your self-belief
Putting your mind's attention on what you can control, especially regarding the process of tennis, allows you to achieve calm, cool steadiness and stability. Focusing on things like the score, game results, and things such as actions and reactions of others, which you don't control, will just put you out-of-kilter.

Here's a short list of factors to put your mind on which you can control 100%: awareness, footwork, level of effort, body language (including the "ready position"), on-court routines and rituals, technique mechanics, breathing, and of course what you choose to put your attention on.


Tennis Quote of the Day #1: Jimmy Connors

"[I] see a lot of changes happening in the game - the good, bad and some of the ugly of it all. [It's] interesting ... to see how the equipment has changed with the racquets and the strings, and what that means to the way the guys play. . . I think that I come from a generation that is lost. . . Our attitudes were different; our games were all different; nobody played the same. Everybody plays the same game now. We had variety and we had charisma. [We] had it all."

-Jimmy Connors
Tennis Magazine
"One More Time",
Pages 31-32
September/October 2011

Tennis Quote of the Day #2: Intensity

"The difference between competing at 100% intensity and 95% intensity is virtually indistinguishable except that at 100% you win and at 95% you lose. [Why?] [Because] the difference between winning and losing is a surprising few points. In a close set, the winner only wins an average of 4 more points that the loser."

-Allen Fox, Ph.D.
Tennis: Winning the Mental Mental Match, (Kearney, NE: Morris Pub., 2010), Chapter 10, Page 111.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Western & Southern Open (Cincinnati) 2011

Lindner Family Tennis Center, Mason, OH-

Andy Murray (No. 4, Britain) defeated Novak Djokovic (No. 1, Serbia) 6-4, 3-0 (Retired) at the 2011 Western & Southern Open (Cincinnati) today, one of the last major tune-ups for the U.S. Open in New York.

Murray, Britain's best hope for a major title since the days of Fred Perry, played solid tennis throughout the tournament, and earned his second Cincinnati title.

Djokovic, who is enjoying one of the best tennis seasons ever,
was forced to retire in the second set due to a right shoulder injury. It was only Djokovic's second match loss this season, putting him at 57-2.

On the women's side, Maria Sharapova (No. 4, Russia) defeated Jelena Jankovic (No. 14, Serbia) in a 3 set showdown, lasting 2 hours and 49 minutes, 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3.

In her customary hard-hitting style, Sharapova fought back bravely after a first set letdown to take her second tournament title this year.

The Western & Southern Open is quickly becoming one of the big draws on the professional circuit. It attracts the very best men and women players in the world to compete in a venue considered a major prelude to the U.S. Open in New York at the end of the month.

Congrats to all the winners, players, fans and supporters!


For more on the W&S Open, visit: CincyTennis

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Online Course Review - "Match Tough: Practice Great and Play Even Better!"

"Why is my tennis game far better in practice than in competition?"

Match Tough is an online Audio Course, consisting of 4 modules with Study Guide, Bonuses and Videos which attempts to answer this question and raise a player's game in competition.

Online audio and video tennis courses such as Match Tough have increasing become common on the Internet, allowing large numbers of players worldwide to benefit electronically on their own pace and time.

Match Tough is offered by David Breslow, a Peak Performance coach for 25 years, former Director of Mental Toughness at the National Tennis Center in NY, and author of the book on successful golf, Wired to Win. Mr. Breslow runs The Personal Best Academy, and can be found at:

In Match Tough, Breslow takes a non-traditional approach to the "mental game" in tennis, a phrase he does not especially like, preferring a term such as "peak peformance". Breslow suggests that the "mental game" is not a part or piece of a player's game but literally "is your game".

He eschews tennis "tips" as short-term quick fixes, and avoids usual admonishments about confidence and staying positive, which he says are obvious. He disdains vague "mental" theories or concepts.

Rather, Breslow's bold insight is that a player's "mental game" is really about 4 essential parts
working together: mind, body, emotion and spirit (by which he means a person's core essence). To change or improve performance, a player must literally change who he or she is.

Breslow offers a practical and simple methodology to help a player do so. He draws on what he
calls "laws of human performance", which he says are as undeniable, provable and unalterable as the laws of physics.

And he offers a way for players to "re-start" or re-boot themselves, and encourages them
to focus on what they can control on court. In this way, a player's long-term confidence and self-belief is elevated, and wisely not connected to things such as results or the score which always fluctuate.

Match Tough is a unique exploration into how a player's thoughts and choices help drive who he or she is, and thus molds what his or her performance level is - and ultimately can be.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Book Review - "Tennis: Winning the Mental Match", by Allen Fox, Ph.D.

Tennis: Winning the Mental Match, by Allen Fox, Ph.D. (Kearney, NE: Morris Publishing, 2010) 159 Pages, 14 Chapters, with Foreword by Justin Gimelstob (Available on

"Tennis is more difficult mentally than most other sports. Because of its one on one personal nature, it feels more important than it is. Competitive matches can be highly stressful, and losing can be very painful."
-From Tennis: Winning the Mental Match, by Allen Fox, Ph.D.

Allen Fox is uniquely qualified to talk about the psychological aspects of tennis from multiple perspectives - namely, as a world-class player, top coach, writer and thinker. Fox, a Ph.D. in Psychology from UCLA, is an author of multiple tennis books, former Wimbledon Quarter Finalist, former coach of top-ranked Pepperdine University, and regular contributor to Tennis Magazine and Tennis Channel.

He has made a significant contribution to mental tennis literature with this short yet lucid book.

Tennis: Winning the Mental Match offers a thorough compendium of ideas and suggestions for better managing this most mental of sports, collected from Fox's years of tennis experience.

In 14 Chapters, Fox dissects a broad range of mental tennis topics, among them: our need to win, emotional issues surrounding competition, reducing stress, confidence, game plans, breaking your opponent mentally and doubles psychology. He offers focused and practical suggestions to help players deal with these issues.

For example, on stress reduction, Fox suggests that players develop a more "realistic" perspective on the game - namely, take it as a "game to enjoy". For Fox, this includes simply accepting outcomes which cannot be controlled, resisting the narrow focus on winning, and avoiding excessive perfectionism.

Fox offers many incisive yet often-overlooked insights. For example, he suggests that our on-court body language makes a difference - in terms of winning and impact on our opponent. "[A]ll of your actions, not just your forehands and backhands," writes Fox, "have a profound effect on your opponent's mental state."

"Since human beings are a social species, they instinctively react emotionally to how other people treat them. . . If you fear [your opponent], they feel brave; if you show them they are hurting you, they feel strong; if you appear certain, they will feel uncertain; if you dismiss their efforts, they will feel weak. . . So if you appear strong, confident, and impervious to their efforts, your opponent will tend to feel weak and ineffectual."

For Fox, among the principal mental challenges in tennis pertain to:
*Anger - releasing and managing anger outbursts
*Tanking - improving a downturn in level of play stemming from overwhelming stress
*Choking - minimizing a debilitating fear which freezes a player's relaxed and effortless game

Here is a short list of ten (10) mental tennis ideas and concepts in the book worthy of consideration and study.

1. Tennis is an intensely emotional game. The goal is to manage these emotions. Your emotion rules every point. Thus, the trick is to maximize positive emotion before every point.

2. The primary question for players to pose, and the cause of stress is: What does winning and losing mean to me? (Fox admonishes us that tennis is a game, and to treat it as a game and simply enjoy it.)

3. Stress also comes from people attempting to control the uncontrollable. Winning a tennis match is not fully in your control. Accept it.

4. In tennis, you can play a nearly perfect match and still lose. The scoring system is "diabolical", making some points far more important than others. This compounds the pressure.

5. Recognize and take comfort in that every match offers multiple opportunities to win, not just one.

6. The Golden Rule: Never do anything on court that does not help you win.

7. In a close match, the difference can be only a few points. How you manage your mind and emotions will determine if you win.

8. In tennis, and most things, it takes courage to get hit, and keep going. Be tough mentally.

9. Optimism is one of your biggest on-court weapons. Use it and hone it.

10. Develop higher character values for more long-term respect and satisfaction, such as good sportsmanship, respect for the opponent and the sport.

In summary, Tennis: Winning the Mental Match offers thoughtful and important insights into critical mental aspects of tennis for players at all levels. It's a gem that should be read by all tennis enthusiasts who know that this game is ultimately a sport of supreme mental self-discipline.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Tennis Quote of the Day: The Value of Hope

"The most valuable commodity a competitor can possess when things are going wrong is hope. Confidence or self-belief . . . is not always achievable nor is it always realistic. But hope is always both . . . denying its existence, regardless of the situation on court, is just plain wrong. Hope . . . is always a correct and available emotional state, [and] hopelessness is [always] false. The question of victory or defeat in a tennis match is always a matter of probabilities, not certainties. Regardless of how far behind you may be, your probability of victory is never zero until the last point is played or you quit. Thus, hope for victory is always reasonable . . . never impossible. Maintaining hope under all circumstances is the true competitor's unalterable obligation."

--- Allen Fox, Ph.D. (Psychology), From: Tennis: Winning the Mental Match
, (Kearney, NE: Morris Publishing, 2010), Chapter 11, Pages 121-122.(Available on

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tennis Quote of the Day: Reducing Debilitating Stress with a New Perspective

"Tennis is a just a game you are playing for fun. It is not your life, nor is it likely to be anything more than just a game. If you happen to get more out of it (like trophies, scholarships, notoriety, pro contracts), it will simply be gravy. . . Your tennis game is merely a project that you work on diligently, like any other project, to see how good you can get. It is like building a model airplane. Your objective is to build as good a plane as you can, but it is nothing more. Naturally, you would like to play well and beat everybody all the time. and you can keep working toward this end. But the process itself should ultimately be satisfying. If you don't enjoy it, quit. You can get in shape by running on a treadmill. The stress comes from making tennis more important that it really is."

-Allen Fox, Ph.D. (Psychology), former world-class player, coach, and author of mental tennis books.

From: Tennis: Winning the Mental Match
, (Kearney, NE: Morris Publishing, 2010), Chapter 4, Pages 35-36.