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Not a Trick Question: Is Tennis More Mental or Physical? 

01/25/2017, 5:00am PST
By Kelvin Cech


One of the best parts about the days starting to get longer and the temperature returning to hospitable levels is the army of people who will soon take to outdoor tennis and basketball courts, golf courses, and the good ol’ running path in your neighbourhood. There’s nothing like working on your game outside beneath the natural light of the sun. Or the rain, let’s be honest. 

One of the interesting things I’ve noticed about tennis players is how focused they are on improving their game when nobody is watching. Sure, over the longrun it’s definitely beneficial to have a coach watching over your development or a parent encouraging you (tennis parents, we’re encouraging our athletes on a daily basis, right?), but in any sport, the will to improve must be created within the blaze of one’s own intrinsic competitive spirit. 

So how do we stoke that fire?

The Physical Nature of Tennis

A few years ago I interviewed Garry Valk about his daughter Alli. Alli is attending San Diego State University on a scholarship. One thing the became crystal clear is the extent of the injuries young tennis players endure. I had never really thought about it before that - hockey players get injured as a result of large impacts and awkward hits and falls. Tennis players get injured because of the constant repetitive movements wreaking havoc on one specific spot like a shoulder or a wrist. 

In other words, tennis is tough on the body, and as such it demands nothing less than extreme effort in preparation. 

You need quick feet. You need a powerful core. You need the specific technique required to perform all the various types of shots used in any given match. 

If you don’t possess this physical component of the game, you’re in trouble when the match begins. 

The Mental Nature of Tennis

Injuries are also an important method to measure the mental aspect of the game. Every tennis player, young and old, experiences injuries both minor and severe. With an injury comes mental anxiety - how serious is it? When can I return? Will I lose a step when I do get back?

In addition to dealing with injuries, once you’re on the court, your brain is one of the most powerful weapons you have when it comes to exploiting your opponent. Tennis is a game filled with unrelenting pressure. You’re always on your own, even when you play doubles. Your partner is counting on you and there’s nowhere to hide. The crowd demands excellence and you demand excellence of yourself. It’s enough to throw even the most focused of tennis players off their game. 

That said, without meshing your state of mind with the physical aspects of the game, your mental state probably doesn’t account for much. On the other hand, the best tennis players in the world won’t get very far without concentration and dedication, both during a match and in the millions of hours spent preparing for it. 

So in the end, I think we can agree that tennis players depend both on their bodies and their brains, but I honestly don’t know which is more important to success on the court.

Do you?

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