Friday, December 14, 2018


IF the mind is such an important part of tennis, and it most certainly is, then visualization is one of the most effective methods of controlling the mind to think and react in the way we desire.

The action of visualization can change us from being sad to happy, from feeling cold to warm and from feeling hungry to satisfied.  The ways in which visualization can be employed are almost endless. 

In many ways we all use visualization in our lives without knowing it. We constantly play mental mind games to help us overcome moments during our day that come along  to test us.

I have seen these visualization "Mental Mind Games" work wonders on a tennis court to help players overcome their "demons", and to be equally effective in helping players to learn faster.

I have used three main visualization techniques over the years that have been very successful for me. These three techniques are:

  1. Evocative Role Model
  2. Evocative Phrase
  3. Evocative Animal

Here are actual examples I have used with players under my care.

  1. Evocative Role Model
Sunil (not his real name) had major confidence issues when competing. He was not able to play his best in competition because he became too stressed during matches and also had a very low level of self-confidence.

Training was helping, he was technically better than before and he now knew how to construct points better. But unfortunately when he played matches many of his old demons returned, especially if the match was close and he was under pressure. I needed something to give him to keep his mind positive and continue doing the topics we covered everyday in practice. I had to find a way to stop him reverting to his old negative ways.

I decided to give him an Evocative Role Model. This meant that he would have to come up with a player whom he admired a lot and who displayed the very same qualities he needed to adopt in matches himself.

I would then instruct Sunil to "become" that player. He would need to copy everything possible about that player, including his walk, habits, playing style and demeanour on-court. Most important though, Sunil would have to adopt the mental make-up of his Evocative Role Model.

Sunil decided to "become" Jimmy Conner's, one of the best players at that time and a player famous for his self confidence and courage under stress.

We needed to study Jimmy Connors a little, and we talked a lot about the energy and self belief Jimmy brought to the court in every match. We then went through a practice rehearsal on-court, trying to copy the mannerisms and mindset of Jimmy Connors. There was a lot of fun and laughter as we practiced our Evocative Role Model.

The transformation in matches was immediate. In our first ITF Junior tournament overseas Sunil went through the qualifying rounds and went all the way to the semi-finals.

The following week Sunil reached the final and had won the respect and admiration of the players and coaches on the circuit.

The final chapter of this story is equally important to understand. Eventually Sunil stopped being Jimmy Connors. It happened in a match in Pattaya, Thailand. Sunil was in a match and competing well until, for the first time in weeks, he stopped being Jimmy Connors!

A player will be able to adopt the Evocative Role Model for a certain length of time but eventually it will fade. By this time the player may have already become more able to maintain the mindset that you desired in the beginning.

If not, create a new Evocative Role Model and start again.

  1. Evocative Phrase
One of the greatest boxers of all time came up with a perfect Evocative phrase during the prime of his boxing career. Everyone has heard Mohammed Ali's "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" phrase. The genius of this phrase is that it does what all the best evocative phrases do... they evoke a feeling, an image and an emotion. They stimulate a response that can have an effect on a mental level and a physical level. 

Creating an Evocative Phrase requires you to sit with your student and find a phrase that evokes a positive change in your students reaction to a situation or a mental block regarding technique.

Having trouble staying mentally tough in tight matches? "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" might be the type of phrase that can help.

Come up with multiple phrases, mix and edit them until you end up with the phrase that touches the spot. Take your time. Getting the right phrase will evoke a strong emotion that will assist you in your matches or in accomplishing a particular technique.
  1. Evocative Animal
Similar to the previous two methods of visualization, Evocative Animal needs to stimulate an emotion and a positive response to help overcome a mental block in matches or in learning a technique.

The player must come up with an animal that will help them block the negative behaviour or response. 

Tina (not her real name) was developing her net game. Like all players who are new to net play she was having problems executing her new volley techniques AND being instinctive with her movement and positioning. 

Tina came up with an Evocative Animal that helped her mirror the demeanour she wished to copy when she was at net. She decided on a Tiger as her Evocative Animal. A tiger image helped her move quicker, change direction easier and close in on short volleys more instinctively, whereas previously these qualities seemed beyond her capabilities.

Visualization is a fun yet very effective teaching tool that can be used to overcome mental and technical issues. It can be used as a last resort back-up when all else fails or it can be used initially to assist a player understand a concept or physical action.

All coaches need to have visualization in their tool kit.