We all know the old adage that tennis is just as much of a mental game as a physical game. However, tennis is actually significantly more mental than physical – 84.2 percent mental to be exact, according to two time Olympic gold medalist and 17 time Grand Slam champion Gigi Fernandez.
Throughout the course of her career Fernandez grew to be known for her fierce mental toughness, but this was not always the case. “I was not born with mental toughness. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I had a pretty bad temper,” explained Fernandez.
“I used to pay my fine to the WTA before the year started because I knew I was going to get fined. Four years into my career, I almost quit because I just hated losing and I hated not being able to manage my emotions,” she recalled.
Prior to the 1988 US Open, Fernandez connected with Dr. Jim Loehr who changed the entire course of her career. Dr. Loehr inspired Fernandez to embrace mental toughness so that she could discover her true potential on the court.
“What he taught me and the work we did leading up to that Grand Slam helped me win. It was probably going to be the last tournament I ever played because I was just so over it that I was going to quit,” said Fernandez. “At that Grand Slam I realized I needed to figure things out. And I did figure it out, but there was a lot more to it than winning. After that, I went on a 10 year journey of figuring out how to handle myself so that I could play my best tennis on the court.”
Now years later, Fernandez feels compelled to share her secrets to mental toughness with the tennis community. “Now that I’m retired and am helping recreational players, they struggle most with the mental part of the game. I thought it was time to share my secrets to mental toughness,” she said.
Beginning on January 9, Fernandez will be debuting her online Mental Toughness Workshop. In the introductory free edition of the workshop, three specific areas will be covered – the physiology of the fight or flight response to stress, how to respond to your specific response to stress without succumbing to pressure and finally the bullet points of the full program. Those who wish to go deeper into the process of developing mental toughness will be able to purchase the complete program at the end of January.
Based on the experiences Fernandez has had while coaching both high level and recreational tennis players, she has come to learn that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to teaching mental toughness.
“There’s not one thing about mental toughness that you can tell your students that will make them get better right away because mental toughness is very dependent on the situation,” said Fernandez. “There’s not a straight line to mental toughness and there’s a lot of things you have to do off court before the match.”
“You have to understand yourself and the physiology of your body under pressure. You have to try to learn tricks to counter the feelings you have when you’re competing. You have to set goals for yourself. If you want to do anything in life, you have to set goals. I equate not having goals in your life to getting in your car and starting to drive. You wouldn’t just get in your car and start driving without knowing where you’re going, because you wouldn’t know if you’re on the right path or the right road,” she explained.
Fernandez first realized the importance of teaching mental toughness through her Gigi Method Doubles camps and clinics, which she created after noticing a major gap and large amount of misinformation in the teaching of high-level doubles.
“I saw so many mistakes and so many bad teachings out there, so over the last three or four years I have been sharing my knowledge of doubles. In that process, I have worked with thousands of students. In working with these students over the past few years, I have realized what people struggle the most with is the mental part of the game,” said Fernandez.
“I’m not surprised by that because the average time of an ATP Tour match is two hours and 45 minutes in a three out of five set match. Of that time, the players are playing a point for only 24 minutes. That means that 84.2 percent of the time that players are playing, they are not actually playing a point, and this is the same with WTA and recreational matches. So, when people ask me what percentage of tennis is mental, my answer is 84.2 percent because all that time when you’re not in a point, you’re in your head and you’re thinking.”
Due to this statistic, Fernandez found it pertinent to share her strategies for attacking the mental component of the sport. “Many athletes will say, ‘Yeah sure, I want to work on the mental part of the game,’ but they don’t even know where to start. That’s why I put this product together because it really gives people a good road map of what to do if they want to become more mentally tough,” she said.
For coaches, Fernandez offers very simple advice for improving their athletes’ mental toughness. “The mentality of a player is very complex. It’s so easy to go on the practice court and hit 1000 balls and be perfect. Then you get out there in the match and stress is real, pressure is real. Be patient and try to be part of the solution as opposed to being part of the problem.”
By enhancing her mental toughness, Fernandez went from a talented player who nearly quit the sport entirely because she could not get a handle on her emotions to a Hall-of-Famer and one the most successful athletes the sport has ever seen. While there is no single method for developing this quality in tennis players, a workshop from Fernandez herself is certainly the right place to start.
For more information on the Gigi Fernandez Mental Toughness Workshop please visit http://www.gigifernandeztennis.com/mental-toughness-workshop.html