Category Archives: mental

Are you Playing Present Tennis ?

If you’ve been playing tennis or around sports for a while you’ve probably familiar with the phrase “play in the moment” and if you really understood what that meant then you should be playing a lot better tennis today. If you are not playing better then this post will certainly provide you with enlightening information.

Playing in the moment means that you play your best, without effort, hitting your best shots practically every time. It is attune to playing “in the zone” as we refer to it sometimes, a state we sometimes reach but for very brief moments.

I like to refer to these moments of perfect play as playing “present tennis”. However, a lot of us do not really get what this means or maybe do understand but don’t know exactly how to play in the moment or how to reach this state. A lot of books have been written on the subject, including one of my favorites being  THE INNER GAME OF TENNIS, which you can see here. However, I think this blog will benefit you in understanding some key basic steps which will guide you to reach a state of being where you can effectively play “present tennis” to improve your game. Let’s go over the steps:

1. Watch the ball on every point all the way past impact. Yes the key here will be on every point and past impact. Have you watched the pros do this? You already have a sense of the dimensions and angles of the tennis court so when you hit the ball your focus should stay on the ball until after you strike it and only then should you look up to admire your shot. Trust me, your shot will go where you are aiming for, just watch the ball. Here’s a sample of what you should strive for. Watch the maestro Roger Federer at work.

2. Let go of the result of the last point. When you win a point it is fairly easy to move on and focus on the next one. However, losing a point you should have won is tough to put behind you, I know. The key to your success as a player will be how well you can develop the skill to forget about the last point and stay focused on the next one.

3. Trust yourself. You need to be able to trust that the practice you have put in will get you through the match and that you will be able to consistently hit your shots. Of course for this to happen you will need to have put in the time on the practice court. If you practice diligently and are satisfied with your results then this step should come easily with time.

4. Go with the flow. The game of tennis like life has many ebb and flows during a match. You cannot play your best when you are stressed out. You will have great moments and you will also go through some where things are not working out your way. But as you learn to go with the flow and to get centered and trust yourself more, you will begin to experience more of these moments where you are playing some of your best tennis. Stay patient.

Every time you practice, be conscious about these steps and in time this will become automatic. The key is consistent practice.

Now, let me give a couple of additional secret ingredients that will get you playing “present tennis” faster. These are meditation and yoga. Two disciplines which are more similar than you imagine.


Meditation is a powerful practice which will help you calm down quickly, get centered, and stay focused on the present moment. Get into the habit of meditating at least for 10 minutes every day. Remember that if you can’t stay still for 5 minutes then you definitely need to meditate for 10 minutes daily.

Yoga practice incorporates slow, deep rhythmic breathing which relaxes the body and mind enabling you to also get centered, focused and also stay in the present moment. Get into a local gym that offers yoga or if you don’t have the time for that then at least download a basic yoga app on your phone and start this practice tomorrow!

The combination of yoga and meditation will help you reduce and eventually almost eliminate the internal chatter that seems to come up inside us at the worse times during a match. Quiet the mind and watch yourself play some of your best tennis!

Thanks for reading!

Nadal’s Mental Toughness

I’ve been following Rafael Nadal since he burst into the Grand Slam scene in 2005 winning his first of eight French Open Titles! What a feat right? Through his ups and downs in the last 8 years, there have been a lot more satisfying moments then disappointments. And it is amazing when you think about his relative short grand slam career that he has won 13 grand slams in the last 8 years.


So what does this mean? Well, that Nadal is the example of extreme consistency and an amazing mental toughness on court. How does he do this? What drives Nadal to overcome incredible odds to beat most of the top 10 players day after day? Its funny when you read Nadal’s autobiography “RAFA”, you would not think that this guy who is scared of the dark would be so mentally tough on court. But it goes to show you that what happens off the court has nothing to do with what your mental mindset is on the court!

Off the court Rafa is a very nice quiet, maybe timid but very caring human being, very humble I would dare to say. But on the court he can transform himself into a full fledged beast that will stop at nothing to win the match and to mentally destroy his opponent. This guy does not give up on any point! No wonder he has been nick named “The Bull” and Nike even has a logo of the bull on his tennis shoes.

The point here is that Rafa is the example of what we should be doing when we get on the tennis courts. All things being the same on the tennis court in terms of skill level, the player with the strongest mental toughness will to win will pull through.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

So how does Nadal achieve this mental strength? Well if we carefully analyze his performance and actions on the court there are some clues which he gives us that we can follow at any level of the game.

1. Nadal has a routine which he follows which gets him mentally prepared for his matches. If you watch him carefully he will do the same things in terms of setting up his racquets and drinks next to his chair; he will also charge back to the baseline after the coin toss much like a fighter going back to his corner of the ring to begin his duel. Rafa does not touch any of the lines when he changes sides. These things may seem small but it gets him and more important keeps him focused and mentally strong during the entire match. His mind does not waver.

2. Nadal never gives up, he fights for every point as if it is a set point or a match point.  Even when he is down 0-40, he does not give away any points. You should strive to do the same. This will send the message to your opponent that he will have to fight for every single point.

3. Positive attitude! Rafa always has a positive attitude and expects to win the next point. Even when he loses a long tough point he does not dwell on the negative or on the last point too long. You may see he was definitely displeased with the point he played but he quickly moves on. Learn from this; a positive attitude will help you create and expectation of success.

When we look at Nadal’s record in Grandslams, something really stands out right away. Take a look here at the table which shows his results since 2003. Amazingly he has an 83% match winning percentage in the Australian Open, as well as Wimbledon and US Open, and a ridiculous 98% in the French Open. For all 4 slams he has a combined 88% winning percentage!

This shows that in the biggest events, when the pressure is really on to perform, Rafa thrives and buckles down and focuses intensely. Of course these results are a by-product of his incredible work ethic but it is maybe even more due to his well groomed mental preparation before and during matches.


As you might know, Rafa’s main coach since practically the age of 3 has been his Uncle Tony. One of the things that stands out from one of the statements Uncle Tony made after the recent US Open was that even though he agrees with the praises that Rafa receives about his body (speed, agility, quickness); he said that Rafa was even better in the mind! He is amazed that people do not refer to Rafa’s incredible mental strength more often. He says that this is one of the main advantages that Rafa has over his opponents.

It’s apropos that as I write this, Nadal has just clinched the #1 ranking for 2013 with his victory over Richard Gasquet at the ATP World Tour Finals in London. Proof again that the mental toughness is pivotal for being really successful in sports.

Rafa himself mentions the importance the mind plays in tennis in his book RAFA, when he says “Tennis is, more than most sports, a sport of the mind; it is the player who has those good sensations on the most days, who manages to isolate himself best from his fears and from the ups and downs in morale a match inevitably brings, who ends up being world number one.”

Now it’s your turn to keep improving your mind for tennis! Check out our resource section to find books which will raise the level of your mental toughness!

The Importance of Goal Setting in Tennis

Most of us are fully aware that goal setting is essential part of achieving things in life and during this time of the year many of us have already created the financial, family, health and relationship goals we want to achieve during 2015. In tennis this is no different. Whether you are a beginner or advanced tennis player you need to create goals which will propel you to improve in specific areas. It is proven that setting the right goals in tennis will enhance performance and improve motivation.

One of the important things to understand is that there are different type of goals that you can set. There are outcome, performance and process goals. Outcome goals are more general and would be for example wanting to be the best player on your varsity team or winning your regional singles tournament. In order to reach your outcome goals you need to set performance and process goals. A performance goal will refer to your actual performance as a player and include things like increasing your 1st serve percentage or reducing your unforced errors in a match by 20%. This type of goal can be measured and progress towards the goal can be tracked. The last type of goal – process – refers to how a player will improve a particular stroke. The process involved in creating and perfecting that stroke will be the focus.

The other essential part to understand is that goals need to be SMART goals. What does this mean? It means the goals must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and be constrained to a certain Time or Time Bounded. Creating this type of goal will maximize the probability that you will achieve the goal as long as you also create a workable action plan.

Also keep in mind that a goal is categorized either as a short term goal or a long term goal. A short term goal can take days, weeks, or a couple of months to accomplish while long term goals are those which will usually take 6 months or more to accomplish. Don’t just set long term goals. It is important to maintain motivation by setting short term goals which one can see progress in as a stepping stone to your long term goals.

The Best goals are SMART goals!

Now let’s look at some examples. Let’s select a short term goal. For example, you are looking to be able to hit the forehand volley down the line consistently, which would be hitting 7-8 shots in out of ten during a rally.  And you would like to achieve this improvement within the next 3 months. Choose a set of actions which are easy enough to follow on a continuing basis. A) Plan to set a side 30-45 minutes at least once a week to work on this stroke. The more time you dedicate to this the quicker your improvement of course but I know we all have time constraints and the important thing is that you stick to your plan and make it reasonable for you to follow. If you cannot find a hitting partner you can look at renting a ball machine from your local tennis club; for a 30 min rental pricing is usually very reasonable. B) If possible take a couple of private classes with a local tennis pro just to make sure you are using the right grip and you are using the proper technique. Sometimes all it takes is a little tweak of the technique for you to attain consistency and power. C) Determine to study videos available readily on You Tube that show pros hitting their forehand down the line to watch their technique in action. The mind learns visually also so the more you see something like a tennis stroke done properly, the easier it will be for you to emulate that.  D) Finally, review your goal and your progress on a regular basis to make sure there is progress. In this case, progress can be measured easily because you can track a 70-80% success rate in your forehand down the line.

As mentioned before, a long term goal is a goal that will likely take longer then 6 months to accomplish. If you are a beginner B player in your local league, a long term goal would be to improve your game enough so that you can move up to the A level in the next 6-8 months. This more then likely means that you will have to improve several strokes in your game and maybe add a new shot to your arsenal like volley or drop shot. These improvements to your game can be considered short term goals which you will need to develop as explained in the previous paragraph.

Whatever your goal is, the important thing is that you should write them down and make sure they are SMART goals. Studies have shown that you are about 30% more likely to achieve your goal if it is written down. Review them preferably every week or at least every 2 weeks to make sure you are on track. For long term goals it is essential to write down the progress you have made on a monthly basis.

Wishing you the best of luck in meeting your tennis goals in 2015!

How Yoga Can Boost Your Tennis Game

Yoga for tennis – a no brainer right! Yeah!

Well I bet most of the tennis players reading this do not practice yoga regularly. I know because I see it first hand every week at the tennis club I where I play and with almost every one I play against. Eventually the conversation with my peers arrives at the topic of getting older, getting injured more often and slowing down but that’s where I interject and tell them it doesn’t have to happen that fast…have they considered practicing yoga to boost their tennis game? Answer: uhh no. Well if you also answered no then read on and get a really good idea of what yoga can do for your game.


About 6 months ago I finally decided to start practicing yoga on a daily basis. Believe me when I tell you that it has been one of the best decisions I’ve made for my body.  You see I’ve had my share of injuries throughout the years as I’ve not only played tennis but also practiced soccer and even did numerous triathlons – I’ve suffered through pulled calf muscles, back strain, quad strain, etc – and I’ve been quite upset at myself because I knew these could have been avoided if I had taken stretching and yoga more seriously.

So what prompted me to finally decide to give yoga a serious try?

Well, a couple of years ago I suffered a partial tear in my left meniscus and I needed to have surgery to repair it. The recovery took several months and afterwards I still felt a little pain specially after playing on a hard court. I was aware that yoga had been used by athletes to recover from a knee injury but I never took it seriously. Only after suffering through the pain for several more months did I decide to look at yoga in more detail.

I didn’t have the time to attend a full class in the morning or evening, so I did the next best thing and downloaded  an app on my android phone and started practicing yoga on a daily basis. By the way, the apps these days keep on getting better and better! Well, in time I started to see the wonderful benefits that practicing yoga daily can bring. You see, yoga not only helped increase my flexibility but it also assisted in reducing the pain I felt in my knee. As I strengthened the muscles around my knee, the pain gradually diminished. This was my primary goal and I accomplished it.

However I also found other amazing  benefits which actually became my favorite part about yoga. The first side benefit received was learning to slow my breathing and to breath deeply. This has helped me recover faster from a high heart rate after playing a long point. Deep slow breathing also improved my mental focus. As I worked on slowing down my breathing between points I was forced to concentrate on the next point and the strategy that I was going to use.

Now that you understand the benefits, what poses should you do? Well, when I decided to look more seriously at yoga, I looked at the best possible poses specifically related to tennis and these are the most recommended poses that I found:

  • tree pose – helps strengthen your thighs, calves, ankles and back. It can also increase the flexibility of your hips and groin. Your balance and concentration can also be improved with constant practice.
  • triangle pose – this exercise builds up strength in the lower back and upper legs while you remove tension from the lower and upper back, the hips and the hamstrings through both the twist and the stretching. The exercise is good for your sense of coordination and sense of balance.
  • warrior II pose – strengthens your legs, back, shoulders, and arms, building stamina. It opens your hips and chest, and improves balance.
  • spinal twist – one of the few basic poses that rotates the spine. Most bend the spinal column either backward or forward, but to become truly flexible it must be twisted laterally as well. The movement also tones the spinal nerves and ligaments, and improves digestion.
  • chair pose – strengthens the lower back and the legs and by doing so,  creates more space in the chest and belly.

planting roots

Incorporate these poses into your regular fitness program and the most important part, of course, is for you to be consistent. You will be pleasantly surprised at how yoga can help transform your game.  Remember that while yoga is improving your flexibility, it is also increasing your strength and balance and even your focus. Practicing yoga will train your brain to relax during a match!

Here’s a quick list of all the positives that yoga practice can bring:

  • Increased flexibility
  • Improved balance
  • Stronger core muscles
  • Increased leg strength
  • More stamina
  • Restored and revitalized energy
  • Injury prevention
  • Improved full-body coordination
  • Symmetry and balance on both sides of the body
  • Improved mental focus

It doesn’t matter how old you are. Even if you are in your teens or twenties, getting into the daily routine of practicing yoga will provide great sports and overall health benefits. Follow a routine that you can do every day for at least 15-20 minutes or even develop your own routine. As I mentioned before, with today’s smartphones it is extremely easy to download an app which will lead you through a complete routine.

From experience I believe the best time for running though your routine is early in the morning as it will energize you and get your day started  with a great burst of energy. I also recommend that you have a shorter routine that you can follow right before you play your match AND right after you finish your match. This routine can be a short 5-10 minute routine which will warm up and stretch your body before you go into your hitting warm up full speed. The yoga routine after your match will help you cool down the muscles properly and it will assist in improving even more your flexibility.

Enjoy your yoga routine!





The Sport for A Lifetime!

Is getting kids to play tennis from a young age such a good idea? Well as you will soon see, it not only is a great idea but it could be one of the best things you can do for your kids! For all of us that already play tennis there is not much convincing that has to be done to get us to acknowledge the benefits that tennis has in our daily lives. Most of us play tennis to stay in shape and that’s fine. ( Although I would argue that as we get older it would help if we actually get in shape to play tennis to avoid injuries. )

Serving for the match

However few of us are really aware of all the benefits that tennis can provide. Sure there are the basic health and fitness advantages but there’s a lot more. I started thinking about this at least 6 years ago when I began to teach tennis to my 3 children when they were 5-7 years old. I knew that getting them outside was my first priority as I did not want them inside on the computer all day or watching endless episodes of Sponge Bob. So the physical benefits are obvious but I also began seeing that tennis was going to improve their motor skills, their concentration and their work habit!

Without realizing it, I had stumbled to some of the reasons that people today consider tennis the “sport for a lifetime”. I thought it would be interesting to see where experts stood today on this topic and thus decided to do a little research. Well, what I found out surprised me in a very positive way!

The results of my research actually led me to conclude that not only was I right but I was amazed to see how many other benefits there were to getting kids to play in a regular program. True, one of those benefits is that they might be incredibly talented and grow up to be a great professional player. That would be great but most parents are not thinking about that, they just want to keep their kids healthy, active and busy!

Of all the benefits I found I’m going to mention my top 10 here but I encourage you to visit  the articles I mention at the end which include at least 20-30 more reason of why everyone should play tennis.

Freeze - Right there!

My Top 10 Benefits of Playing Tennis Regularly (specially for kids!)

1. Provides aerobic fitness by burning fat, improves cardiovascular fitness and assists in maintaining higher energy levels.

2.. Develops fine motor control by use of touch shots like angled volleys, drop shots and lobs.

3.  Assist in bone strength and density by strengthening bones of young players and helping prevent osteoporosis in older ones.

4.. Improve immune system through its conditioning effects, which promote overall health, fitness and resistance to disease.

5. Improves hand-eye coordination because you constantly judge the timing between the oncoming ball and the proper contact point.

6. Assists in developing a work ethic and discipline because improvement through lessons or practice reinforces the value of hard work.

8. Promotes the accepting of responsibility by practicing skills and checking your equipment before a match, and by making accurate line calls during a match.

9. Helps control stress effectively because the physical, mental and emotional stress of tennis will force you to increase your capacity for dealing with stress.

10. Promotes the learning of problem solving since tennis is a sport based on angles, geometry and physics.

Again, all of these are amazing benefits that we sometimes take for granted because we don’t realize that we are receiving so much from the sport. No excuses now! Get busy and find a local program to join! But don’t forget the number 1 reason for being out there as always…and that is to have fun!

Supporting articles:

photos by: Frédéric de Villamil & Sudhamshu