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.


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