The Mental Toughness Checklist: How to NOT Lose Focus in a Tennis Match

Mental Toughness Checklist for Tennis Players

How does Nadal continue to fight so hard on the court?

Why does it seem like there’s almost never a dip in missed returns from Djokovic?

When you’re playing a tennis match why can’t you keep the same level of focus?

There always seems to be that one game where you have a few loose points and maybe a double fault, then all of a sudden, you’ve lost your serve.

Why does this happen?! And what can we do to stop it?


How to Maintain Focus Throughout a Tennis Match

“tennis isn’t just a mental game, it’s a game heavily influenced by sustained concentration”

Jeff Sackmann in his post Rethinking the Mental Game

Tennis is about mental toughness, but really what that means, is the ability to stay focused throughout a match.

You don’t double fault because you’re not “mentally tough,” it’s because you lose focus. Same thing when you miss a few forehands in a row. You’re playing looser or tighter than you should be for whatever reason.


The 3 Step Focus Checklist

Below is my checklist you can use to stay focused during matches. Anytime you feel a slip in focus, a dip in your level of play, or you have a BIG point coming, do these 3 things.

#1 Tell your partner exactly what you’re going to do on the next point.

Telling them where you’re going to serve, for example, will help you focus on hitting that specific spot, instead of just “getting it in.”

And don’t just signal to your partner, take them back to the baseline and tell them!

Then tell them if you’re going to come into the net after. Be as detailed as possible in your language. This will force you to focus on the details of the point, and it will help with #2.

Pro Tip: If your partner is the one losing focus, go to the back of the court and ask them specifically what they’re going to do on the next point.

If you’re a singles player, you can tell yourself what you’re going to do, then visualize it.

#2 Visualize the point like Steve Nash.

Steve Nash is one of the best free throw shooters in basketball history.

How was he so good?

Well, one technique he used was visualization. Before every single free throw, he would visualize the entire free throw including the ball going through the hoop.

We can do this in tennis.

After telling your partner what you’re going to do, visualize it.

Use your mind’s eye to see yourself hitting the serve into the body and running to the net for a volley afterward.

This is very effective and top pro athletes use this in every sport.

#3 Exaggerate your foot movement.

Often when you lose focus, the problem is that you get lazy and out of position on your shots or you get tight and stop moving altogether.

Exaggerating your footwork will help you fix this.

Focus on taking a lot of small steps as you prepare for your shot. Don’t worry as much about the swing – you already know how to swing the racquet. Just make sure you get in the right position.

A common mistake club level tennis players make is thinking that there’s something wrong with their swing when they’re playing poorly. Usually, it’s a footwork and positioning problem.

Plus, it’s not advised to change your swing technique during a match. That should be done on the practice court.

Write these steps down. You can look at it on changeovers in your league and tournament matches to remind yourself how to stay focused.

This is part 1 of a 3 part series. Read part 2 here.

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About the Author

Will Boucek is the Founder & CEO of The Tennis Tribe. He has played tennis for over two decades, including in college. Will has worked with ATP & WTA tour players and coaches. He currently lives in Austin TX where he plays USTA leagues & tournaments, writes about tennis, and teaches doubles workshops.