Breaking Through the Mental Block of Late-Match Exhaustion

Tennis is a marathon, definitely not a sprint.  With the length of some matches, the victor may not be the one who is more physically gifted or technically sound.  The winner of grueling tennis matches often is the player who is tougher… MENTALLY!

There are a lot of similarities between tennis matches and marathons.

Dr. Alistair McCormick, an exercise psychologist, co-authored a new study published in the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology about the physiological experience of “hitting the wall” for marathon runners.

When distance runners “hit the wall” during races (feeling exhausted), negative thoughts become so overpowering they make it difficult to focus and keep up their pace.  There is an urge to mentally quit.

McCormick identified the psychological challenges experienced by marathoners which can easily be applied to tennis players, “A marathon becomes a real mental battle when runners ‘hit the wall.’”

The same is true for tennis players… late in the match, you feel mentally and physically exhausted… You can’t seem to get to balls that you could return early in the match… Your first serve has less pace and you are making more unforced errors… All these factors can make you give in a bit, fill your head with negative thoughts and cause you to just play to finish the match instead of fighting for every point.  This type of mental block dramatically alters how you play the game and takes you out of the game mentally.

You should understand that “exhausted feeling” is most likely being experienced by your opponent at the same time whether they show it or not.  Finding a way to move past that feeling can have a major benefit to your overall performance on the court.

There is an old expression, “Never let them see you sweat.”  If you can win the mental game but not show your opponent outwardly what you feel inwardly, you can win the mental battle which will cause you to feel more invigorated… A win-win scenario for you.  Advantage YOU!

Strategies to break through the mental block of late-match exhaustion:

McCormick provided a solution to the “hit the wall” dilemma, “Planning what to do if you encounter various problems can also be very valuable.”

A good plan can prepare you before “hitting the wall.”  Try these tried-and-true techniques to beat late-match exhaustion.

  1. Use a motivational phrase– Repeating a personally significant phrase can help distract you from what you feel physically and help push you through a tough match.
  2. Beat your opponent mentally – Knowing your opponent is feeling the same, commit to letting them break. This gives you a significant mental edge.
  3. Visualize achieving your goal – By seeing yourself finishing strong, you increase your chances of a successful outcome.
  4. Try “attention narrowing” – Focus on some object in the competitive arena. Focusing on something external distracts you from your internal thoughts and feelings.

With these helpful strategies, you can win the mental game and keep you head in the game!