Serious progress in any endeavor requires an initial effort to determine where the needs are. If you are taking tennis lessons, for instance, your pro will hit some balls with you before concluding that your forehand needs a major overhaul. The same holds true in counseling and mental skills training. Sport psychologists conduct a careful and detailed interview and evaluation before rushing off to treat. In my professional experience, no two clients ever had the exact same needs! Each person brings a completely unique set of issues. Awareness of this truth requires patience and caution on my part, and a total respect for the individual.
In your journey toward becoming a better and more satisfied performer, it's easy to become overwhelmed with information. It's also easy to assume that everything in your game needs fixing! While this may be true, focusing on everything hinders progress. The mind works best when there is one problem to solve at a time. Progress occurs by identifying the greatest need, and working to improve in that area. This month, let's outline some of the most important needs in performance and you'll be asked to determine which area needs your greatest attention.
There are many ways to identify your most pressing needs. Looking over the Mental Equipment column archive, attempt to pinpoint the article addressing your greatest current need. Another resource for identifying needs is the first chapter of Smart Tennis in which you're instructed to complete a 100-item true/false quiz, the Tennis Mind Body Checklist (TMBC). I've had many claims that the TMBC assisted in helping people identify important areas needing improvement.
In addition to reviewing the Mental Equipment column archive and/or taking the Tennis Mind Body Checklist, you might also review the model of performance excellence below. I'll briefly review each area, so look it over and determine your greatest need.
Three Factors Leading to High Performance
Your natural ability and talent as an athlete are very hard to change in the short-term. While you can certainly learn new skills and refine old ones, this factor is relatively stable. When you have success, don't be afraid to give yourself credit and attribute it to your talent, but there is no point saying you have no ability when you perform poorly. If you are training hard and receiving quality instruction, you're probably doing the best you can with the exception of switching to a new set of parents or new coach!
I've clumped these three together for the sake of simplicity. Contrasted with talent/ability, this cluster is the driving force in any success. Everyone can improve here. While effort and hard work easily reflect motivation and willpower, discipline involves extra skill in the areas of organization and efficiency.
These are the key elements of focus, intensity regulation, goal setting, imagery and confidence. There are many other mental skills, but these fundamentals provide you an extra advantage. Raw effort and talent do not alone suffice unless you have set proper goals and remain focused and in-the-moment. If you are succeeding in mental skills, you're well on your way.
Where Do You Stand?
Remember that even if you excel in all of the three previous areas, this does not mean you'll always win. Success also depends upon the opponent's full inventory of mental and physical skills. By improving in these areas, however, you will perform better, and this in turn improves the probability for success!
What do you think now? Do you need to put in more effort, take more lessons, or increase your use of imagery? Or is there an area off the court that needs to improve before your mind fosters excellence? Whether you discover your greatest needs in consultation with a sport psychologist, by taking a questionnaire, by reading sport psychology articles, or by reviewing models of performance, you'll be a better player by focusing first and foremost on your greatest need.
I Want to Hear From You
Please send me a message using this form and let me know what you have identified as your greatest need. I'll publish these in order of importance in a future column, and keep your name anonymous.
USA Tennis Teacher's Conference
I have the privilege of meeting many fine tennis coaches and teachers again this year, as I've been invited to speak during the US Open at the USA Tennis Teacher's Conference, held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel August 26-28. My talk is entitled: "Improving Tennis Performance By Instilling Confidence, Focus and Proper Intensity," and will be held on Sunday, August 26 from 9:00-10:00 AM in Ballroom A Theater. This is a great conference and wonderful excuse to go to the Big Apple for a few days and see the best tennis on the planet.
See you next month...