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.

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