Causes of Lack of Mental Toughness


 If I had a dime for every phone call I received like this…


“Hi my name is Mrs. Johansson. My child lost to a nobody again!  I hear that you can help.”

Her voice cracks as she chokes back her emotions, “Chloe is so good but chokes and loses to seemingly less talented player? “

“Why do you think I ask? “ 

“Chloe’s just not mentally tough!” she adds.

As we dig deeper, we uncover that Chloe’s issues aren’t mental at all. Chloe’s issues are due to inadequate development/training which translates into a lack of confidence in her own game. In order to fix a problem,you must first be able to identify the true cause of the problem.

broken-racquet-290x290What makes the mental toughness component so mysterious and confusing is actually quite simple. The answers lie in the true cause of the breakdown versus the actual visible signs of distress.  On-court distress (emotional breakdowns) is often labeled a lack of Mental Toughness, but the reality is that the visual emotional breakdown is a lack of confidence resulting from inadequate training/development.

Negative emotional behaviors may include:

  • Hyperventilating
  • Throwing the racquet
  • Screaming
  • Crying
  • Fast and mindless play

The actual cause of distress includes the four causes of error’s which include:

  1. Mechanical Flaws
  2. Inappropriate Shot Selection
  3. Poor movement and Spacing
  4. Weak Focus/Emotional issues

Listed below are 3 examples of mislabeled breakdowns:

  1. Joey is out of shape. By the third match, his lack of fitness manifests in anger on court. Parents and coaches don’t recognize the lack of fitness issues; instead they say “Joey has mental issues- he is just not mentally tough”.
  2. Shelly has emotional control issues. When hooked by a creative line caller, her emotions pull her focus toward the drama of the hook and away from her actual “mental” performance goals needed to close out the match. Parents and coaches don’t see the emotional disconnect and say “Shelly has mental issues- she is just not mentally tough”.
  3. Austin has a flawed forehand grip on his two handed backhand. This flaw leads to a rolling racquet face through the strike zone. Under stress, Austin muscles tighten and inhibit the smooth relaxed motion needed for him to roll the racket face within the millisecond window through the strike zone.  As a result, his backhand deserts him when he needs it the most. This “mechanical flaw” leads Austin to panic and play faster and faster without any between point rituals. Parents and coaches don’t see the mechanical breakdown and cry “Austin chokes under pressure. He is just not mentally tough”.

As illustrated above, an on-court outburst has an underlying cause that is very different than the visual actions of distress displayed.  Identifying the underlying problem and proper training to improve the flaw is the only way to become a more mentally tough competitor.

The most efficient training method uses the “school methodology”- systematically shifting through all aspects of training- stroke production, pattern play, fitness, etc.( Just as a school child is shifted from subject to subject daily- from math to science to history to language etc.)

All too often, tennis coaches focus only on fundamental stroke production or a singular component hour after hour, week after week, and year after year, while expecting the player to develop a COMPLETE GAME through osmosis.  It just does not work that way. The player’s game becomes unevenly developed and a lack of confidence ensues.

What is Mental Toughness?

Mental Components Relate to Analytical Match Decisions

  • Three Tiers of Match Strategy
  • Assembling Game Plans
  • Strategies to Play against the 4 Main Patterns of Play
  • Customizing the Top Seven Patterns
  • Positioning to Maximize Success
  • Opponent Awareness (Style of Play, Strengths and Weaknesses, Top Seven Patterns and  Frustration Tolerance Levels)
  • Shot Selection (Hitting the shot the moment demands.)
What is Emotional Toughness?

Emotional Components Relate to Athletes Ability to Handle Competitive Anxiety

  • Controlling Anger/ Fear/Nervousness
  • Staying Unflappable Under Adversity
  • Closing Out a Set/Match/Tournament
  • Concentrating for the Duration
  • Playing at Peak Performance vs Weaker Players
  • Overcoming Choking or Panicking
  • Successfully Handling Hardship (Injuries, the elements, bad luck, gamesmanship, or an aggravated opposing playing style)

Is your player training properly? 


Contact Frank Giampaolo for a Complete  Player Assessment:


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