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League News: Mental Toughness — The Key To Being A Better Partner

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ALTA men's league player

By Lamar Scott, Men’s League Vice President

Being away from tennis for months has most of us eager to get back on the courts. As we prepare ourselves physically to resume league play, we also must prepare mentally. We all know the wise old saying that tennis is just as much of a mental game as a physical game. According to 17-time Grand Slam Champion Gigi Fernandez, tennis is 84.2 percent mental.

At times, it can be a daunting task to prepare for our weekend opponents, but playing doubles isn’t just about getting primed; it’s also about preparing mentally for our partner. It’s your responsibility to not only keep yourself focused, but also to keep your partner focused. Here are a few things you can do to prepare to be a great partner on the court:

Maintain perspective
You and your partner need to start working together for the one cause — to win the match. The best way to do that is for both of you to get your heads into the match as soon as possible. That means that all of your thoughts are centered entirely on the match; anything else is a distraction. Help keep your partner strong mentally by staying in the “present” if you want to maximize your performance and minimize interference from any mental hurdles.

This means that any dialogue between the two of you (and to yourselves in your head) must strictly be about what is happening in the match because it is the only thing you can control. Avoid statements like “I can’t believe how bad I was in the last service game,” or even, “How good was the drop shot I just played?” Your concentration must be fully focused on what is happening now, which means the next point.

Encourage your partner
Staying positive and being encouraging seems obvious, but a lot of doubles teams don’t do this, and it can be draining on a team’s mentality. The key is to ALWAYS be encouraging your partner. When they’re playing well or hit a good shot, tell them. When they’re in a slump, it is your job to get them out of it mentally. Stick with positive phrases like “We’re good, we have the next one.”

Positive Language/Energy >> Positive Thoughts >> Better Performance

Help your partner play his or her strengths
Whether you’re the stronger player or not, you need to help your partner get in the best position for their doubles style based on their strengths as a tennis player. That might mean changing your mental doubles strategy. Especially if you’re the stronger player, you need to find a way to help your partner get in position where they are most comfortable. This will help them take advantage of their strengths and help your doubles team win.

Take ownership (especially if you’re the stronger player)
Taking ownership or blame for a lost point or game is uncommon in many doubles teams. When you’re the stronger player, you should be taking the pressure off your partner and letting them play their game. Don’t be negative with yourself, and don’t let your partner do that either. For example, if you’re partner misses an overhead, you can say something like “No problem, I should have ended the point earlier on that volley.” Do not say things like “That’s my fault, I’m blowing it.” Always ending language on a positive note is important.

Taking ownership on the court shows your partner a few things:

  • My partner has my back.
  • We’re a in this together.
  • It’s not your fault; I have to be better, too.

This will take pressure off your doubles partner, help them feel supported, and let them play with confidence.

Communication
Obviously, communication is important. One characteristic of a good mental leader is that the people around them feel like a team and on the same level. This is true with the mental game of doubles as well. One easy tip for becoming a better doubles partner is to avoid the word “you” in any negative context. Doubles is a team effort, so it almost always should be “we.”

Unless you prepare mentally to support your partner, you could be in for a frustrating match. Following these guidelines on how to be a good doubles partner, combined with developing a good strategy, will help your doubles team win more matches this season and beat teams that might be more talented than yours.