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Mental Skill Series #1

A Brief Note on the Mental Development of Young Athletes In Tennis:

It´s not rare that we see young athletes getting increasingly frustrated with the loss of points in a game. This frustration will significantly reduce the focus of the player in the remaining of the match, and, in most of the cases, the player will end up losing the game, not because of technical, tactical or physical issues, but because of his mentality (psychological component of the game).

The figure below sums up the vicious cycle that many young players go through, not only in game situations, but sometimes during practice:

In the image above, we can see how the loss of points, combined with poor psychological skills, will lead to, in a great number of cases, to the loss of the game, unless anything is made to break this vicious cycle.

How can coaches develop the mental component of the game in their athletes?

As coaches, we have the possibility to help our athlete to break this cycle, and start playing with the same competitive mentality, whether they win or lose the point. We can do this by stimulating the development of mental skills, such as (defined by USTA):

· Self-confidence;

· Ability to set goals (short, medium and long term), and to have a positive long-term vision;

· Using visualization and imagery techniques to work on competitive skills;

· Focus, concentration and attention;

· Ability do deal with adversity;

· Ability to develop a positive approach to competition;

· Creating on-court routines that avoid the occurrence of the cycle shown above.

We can contribute to the growth of these skills by creating a strong coaching philosophy. It consists of principles and beliefs that guide decision making and actions in dealing with players. We should also have in mind that a coach´s philosophy is not acquired by a single source, but a result of a number of experiences (and can be expanded through education) that will influence the way we interact with our players but also the way we motivate them and get the best out of them.

In order to have the best philosophy, coaches should be as educated as possible (degrees in training, sports science, strength and conditioning and updated coaching licenses, for example), so that they can help athletes develop all the components of their game:

Sidenote: Coaches can lack the knowledge to coach their players in some of these components (physical or mental, for example). In this case, it´s imperative that coaches recognize their limitations and search for help with a professional that has skills in those areas (strength and conditioning coach for the physical component and psychologist for the mental component, for example).

Furthermore, coaches should be able to properly plan their players´ training schedules, in order to optimize their capabilities, not forgetting that the young athlete has school responsibilities that he has to keep up with.

As the research points out, a plan of this nature can serve as a tremendous source of motivation and inspiration for the player to work hard to achieve his or her goals. A developmental plan should include the following:

· A long-term, comprehensive vision of the type of player the athlete wants to become (style of play, weapons, conduct, physical conditioning, etc.);

· The strategies and patterns that need to be mastered and the weapons that need to be developed;

· The training needed to make sound basic tactical adjustments and good shot selection;

· The techniques to be developed;

· The emotional/psychological approach the player will take to competition;

· Scheduling and periodization;

· Physical development (if needed with the help of a strength and conditioning coach);

· Goal setting (the goals should be determined by both the player and the coach).

Summing up, coaches should be able to integrate all their knowledge to bring out the best in their athletes, as it´s shown in the image below:

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