Demystifying Mental Toughness

Why You Should not Aim for a Fun Tennis Journey 

Adam Blicher

Adam Blicher

A lot of aspiring professional tennis players have this romantic idea that along your tennis journey, you will feel joy all the way through. They think that you should not lose the joy of tennis, and that if you do, it is better to go spend your time doing something else.

But if you are an aspiring young tennis player, you are competing in the world’s biggest individual sport with 75 million players worldwide and only a little more than 100 males and females being able to make a good living from it.

So it is not going to be joyful all the time, and to be quite honest, it is probably not joy that is going to be the dominant feeling for you on your journey to the top.

In your everyday practices, you are going to feel pain as you will of course practice hard and give your best effort. You are going to feel doubt and have worries when you find out that you might not make it as a professional tennis player. And you will feel anxious when you step out on the court and want a win really badly.

Some players are seeking pride from the fame and money, but that feeling will wear off quickly again as well. So what you really need to be seeking is meaning.

It is always meaning over joy and there will always be two sides of the coin.

On the one side, there is going to be the joy, the love of the game, and the feeling of accomplishment. However, on the other side, there is going to be doubt, anxiety, pain, and all of the unpleasant thoughts and emotions.

The question is not whether you can avoid all of these unpleasant thoughts and emotions. The question is whether you are willing to commit to something that is important to you, knowing that you are going to get both sides of the coin on your tennis journey.

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Know You Are Average  

Coach David Mullins

Coach David Mullins

I am not a huge basketball fan but like most sports fan, I do enjoy the NBA Playoffs. I remember watching one game where the star player of the team was having a terrible first half and did not score a single point despite the fact that he averages about 25 points per game. Early in the second half, he started gaining some momentum by making a few shots.

The announcer said something along the lines of, “You know these shots are going to start falling for him at some point, and I have no doubt he will be somewhere close to his average by the end of the night, so watch out!” Just because he was scoreless in the first half meant nothing, and it was likely he was going to contribute in some meaningful way on the stat sheet by the end of the game. He ended up with 36 points!

This made me think about how knowing your percentages, and when to shoot could relate to a tennis player’s decision making process. Obviously every opponent, court surface, conditions, score-line, etc., will influence a tennis player’s statistics from one match to the next. But what if we had a clear understanding as players to what our average unforced error count, winner percentage and forced error percentage was in each set or every 10 games? What if we really knew how we won and lost points?

The players I coached that had a true sense of this did not second guess their decisions, and typically played well under pressure because they stayed true to who they were as a player when it mattered the most. Understanding our strengths, our limitations and our averages, will allow us to be more decisive on match day.

Let’s say Player X (we will call him John) has a big first serve and an average first serve percentage of 63. He also averages 4 aces per set on a medium paced hard court. He considers his first serve to be his biggest strength. He is playing an opponent of similar ability and struggles to perform in the first set. He gets broken twice, hits no aces and his first serve percentage is languishing somewhere in the low 30’s. Instead of trying to make adjustments by just spinning it in (like many coaches will tell him to do), he decides to continue to go after his serve, living and dying by his strength.

He has the same mindset of the basketball player who keeps taking and TRUSTING his shots. Once they started falling for him, he could not stop scoring and he blew by his average. At some point, John is going to start hitting his aces and getting his 1st serve percentage back to where it usually hovers in his matches. I am all for changing game plans when something is not working, but taking away our biggest strength or overreacting to a couple of poor games or our opponents inspired play is not the answer.

Over the last few months, I have returned to playing competitive tennis. At age 37, I am very conscience of how I want to use my energy resources as they are not what they used to be! If I find something that is working, I literally go to it every single time. I don’t expect it to work every time, but I do understand it will work enough to get me the win. I am now incredibly disciplined at not deviating from what is working and I don’t worry about becoming too predictable.

If someone has a weak backhand return, then they have a weak backhand return, and it is not going to magically improve during the course of this match. It is a flaw in their game and I am absolutely going to expose it every chance I get! If anything, I have found that if I continue to expose their weakness, it will probably get worse. In order to conserve energy, I play very boring disciplined tennis and love it! If only I had the patience to do it when I was younger!!

In my experience, I have found that most even players entering the highest levels of college tennis (meaning they were top national and international juniors) have just a basic – and sometimes non-existent – understanding of how they win points, how they lose points, what their strengths are and how to expose opponent’s weaknesses. They have spent most of their time worrying about technique rather than what patterns they should be playing and practicing in order to highlight their strengths and take advantage of their opponents’ areas of weakness. Most All of the top players in the world play extremely one dimensional pattern’s that they try to recreate over and over again.

Roger Federer is going to serve wide and look for his forehand pretty much every time it is 30-30. We all know it is coming, but he does it so well that it rarely matters. Take a look at Craig O’Shannessy’s work at to learn more about the patterns of the pros. It is fascinating to see the simple game plans the best players on the planet are implementing point after point, match after match.

Continue to work hard to improve those positive averages and reduce the negative averages on the stat sheet, but be very clear on what they are and who you are as a tennis player. When you step on the court to play a match, understand your identity as a player, embrace it and believe that what you have is good enough to get you the win.

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Why Is Team Tennis Misunderstood?

Important facts to consider:

  • 2 Million kids tennis play ages 13- to 17-year-olds.
  • In high school age 184,000 girls play tennis and 157,000 boys play
  • There are 7.8 Million kids in High school sports
  • Tennis represents 4% of high school sports
  • Odds of playing DI tennis from high school 1.4%; DII 0.9%; DIII 1.9%
  • 1570 boys and 1840 girls will go to play DI tennis
  • 5 scholarships are available in DI and DII for men 1.5 of which are foreigners. That leaves 3 for USA
  • 8 scholarships are available for women DI and DII that leaves 4.5 scholarships for men
  • Common rate for drop out of sports is 75% by age 13.

Javier PalenqueI have been wanting to write about this subject for a very long time, unfortunately time is so precious I never got around it, but yesterday something happened that just made me find the time to write and share my opinion with everyone.

One of the kids we play and train moved from one part of the city to another forcing her parents to change coaches and academies. Then this parent friend of mine called me and told me that the coaches forbid her daughter from playing Team Tennis as it was a waste of time, and that her daughters’ strokes needed a complete fix. This of course means tons of private lessons in order to fix the supposed problem and by isolating the kid from Team Tennis depriving the child of the fun involved in the sport and much more.

My friend, who is a normal parent, knows very little about tennis and now does not know what to do. Most of the competitive coaches and academies in my area are horrible at understanding the facts and very good at selling hot air to uninformed parents who fall trap to the good salesmanship, where hundreds of parents fall into.

From the numbers above you can reach several conclusions’ let me share  with you mine, out of 2.2 million kids that play from an early age on, only 1.5 % will play High school tennis and of those only 0.0015% will play DI tennis. For those who can’t think in math terms, imagine a dollar bill, divide in one hundred pieces and take one of those pieces and divide that again by one hundred pieces and that little piece left divide it by 2. Those are your odds. Conclusion, it is extremely unlikely that you will play DI tennis.

So, what happens to the rest? The 1.8 Million who at some point loved the game are now lost the consumers, fans, athletes and parents.  All the coaches and academies I know fail to be fair and honest with their customers and rip them off, they steer away kids from Team Tennis under the false premise that they will reach higher levels by only playing USTA ranking tournaments and more private lessons. Unfortunately, the poor uniformed parents fall for it and we all lose as a whole as a country, as a tennis community as a group.

Parents never learn the proper value of team tennis as it is not supported by most of the academies and therefore the parents fail to support it as well based on the incorrect knowledge of its benefits.

Team tennis is the absolute best vehicle for the early part of the development of the kids which is the romantic stage from ages 5 to 12. It fosters, community, friendship, teambuilding, winning and losing in an individual sport. These are the stages of development that coaches fail to explain to parents:

Stage 1 ages 5-12   (Romantic – make kids love the game),
Stage 2 ages 12-16 (Technical – give them solid skills for highest achievement),
Stage 3 ages 16+    (Competitive – prepare them for as high level as they can achieve).

If you bypass these stages or accelerate them, you are really increasing the odds of the child quitting and leaving the sport all together or getting hurt.  Consider that for those kids that maybe slower in the skill acquisition area, competing
in Team Tennis is a perfect set up to compete in high school and improve the participation numbers in the sport for the benefit of all. Of course there are a few kids who are indeed extraordinary and this model does not apply to them, those are the stars who have maybe a chance at being professionals, but those odds are even more horrific if you care to study them.

So, let’s not focus on those elite players and talk about my friends kid (who is part of the original 2.2 million), who has now left Team Tennis and really has a minuscule chance at being a DI athlete and has been sold a fairy tail that does not exist by tennis coaches nearby. The trip to sectionals won’t happen, the doubles clinics won’t be attended led by a dad who loves tennis, the friendships of tennis loving kids will be strained and the opportunity to lead the team as the most skilled player will have been taken away from this kid. Now she will be training FH and BH day and night and spent weekends trying to improve rankings only to find that the price of doing so is giving away the fun.

You see while on our team, she was our star, we counted on her making the singles point and helping the less skilled kids improve their games, when we were on a tough spot, we could count on her resilience to help us all, and who can forget the great meals after a win or a loss. Not all kids want to play DI or can, but we need to make sure we keep playing as we need a base and fans and tennis consumers.

Those teammates that she has left are the future doctors and lawyers and business people that we need in a society and what better way of building friendship based on a common goal, the love for tennis. The worst part is that the USTA ranking tournaments and team Tennis are not mutually exclusive, yet it is the coaches who make it so.

When the kids get older and get their first job, they will learn the value of leadership, of being in a team, of needing to help, of carrying more than ones weight, they will learn that Team Tennis has taught them that and more. They will learn and know how to be cooperative, able, willing and being a contributor, they will learn that those skills are so needed in the marketplace and if you come to work with them they will have an advantage over the rest of their colleagues.

That resilience that she used to bring to court would be so much valued at work in any project. The ability to help others less skilled or less educated will come in so handy when managing people, and all that she  learned in Team Tennis. If by any chance this friend does get to college and play DI, those Team Tennis skills will be so valuable in bonding with the team and facing similar situations as we once did as a team. That college experience will be very manageable despite the newness given her Team Tennis experience.

Parents, and coaches, please understand the benefits of Team Tennis, is  not about the rankings, it is not about the wins and losses it is about the 1.8 Million left behind, the fans that tennis will no longer have, the consumers that the tennis industry needs, the customers that all of you coaches need. The future citizens, moms and dads who value sports and are active it is all so much more than tennis. Maybe my friends’ kids will come back, maybe not.

As long as I managed to persuade a couple of you, we can make up for the loss.  All I tried to accomplish through this article is to shed some light as to why we need to focus on where the future of the sport is, and it is not in one or two champions, it is in lots of us playing for a very long time. Support Team Tennis, it is what we need as a community, at the right time in the kids lives, as citizens of this great country we all love. Give it a thought.

I can be reached at @palenquej or

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Thinking Positive under Extreme Pressure – Come On!?

Thinking positive under extreme pressure – come on!?

Adam Blicher

Adam Blicher

A lot of kids who play tennis are often told to just think positively. You know, how hard can it be!?

To be honest, I do think that positive psychology is working in a lot of different areas, but I also think that it is only a short term solution.

If you are put under a high amount of pressure during a longer period of time – for instance a tennis match or an entire tournament – I am convinced that you will very often end up losing the fight to the negative thoughts. Because it is not in our human nature to be worry free when we are under pressure.

Follow me on this one.

Imagine a game of chess. All the white pieces illustrate positive thoughts and all the black pieces illustrate negative thoughts. There will always be the same amount of white and black pieces no matter how you play.

You might move a white piece forward and say: “I prepared well, I’m going to do this” , but then a black piece might move forward saying: “but don’t you remember the other time when you prepared well and then you chocked?”

Then another white piece moves forwards saying “But I prepared even better this time” .

Yet another black piece will move forward saying: “But even the best players in the world struggle from time to time and they are very well prepared as well, so why should it be any different for you”.

My point is that it is not just about thinking positive. If you engage in the fight with the negative thought, you will have no chance at fully focusing on executing your game plan and hitting the necessary shots to perform well.

So be more like the chess board it self. Hold all of your thoughts, acknowledge their presence, but do not engage in the battle.

Remember that it is much more important what you do than how you feel.

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