The path to becoming a winning tennis player, as I explained in the first article of this section, starts with mental training. Internal dialogue is at the very heart of this, as it is through such mental activity that you as a human being become aware of yourself and the reality around you. It is how you formulate hypotheses and judgments, understand complex concepts and develop pessimism or optimism. Each of us speaks to ourselves, and do so through that "narrative voice" that accompanies us in every moment of our existence, and which cannot be silenced in any way. Inner dialogue affects concentration and motivation. It can build up or demolish self-esteem. So you can guess how important it is to harness this in a positive way! Even more fundamentally, we can say that thought arouses emotions, emotions change your state of mind, your state of mind influences your actions, and actions condition the result.
Ergo: thought affects the result!
Thought> Emotions> State of mind> Actions> Result
If, during a match, a player starts to think thoughts like "Today, I suck, I'm a mess", "Today is not my day, I can’t hit backhand", "I won’t make this first serve", their brain receives only negative information. Then, "self-fulfilling prophecy" will start to kick in, and everything will go exactly as the player had feared. With an almost enthusiastic glee, the player will then tell themselves and those around them: “see, I knew this would happen!”
I am oversimplifying, but this sort of thing happens all the time. Because of the way we process information, the brain immediately takes a thought and tries to conjure an image for it. By thinking “I won’t make this first serve,” you are creating a mental image of a failed serve for yourself. That image will in turn evoke emotions connected to that mistake – emotions the player will actually want to avoid.
In part 1 of my book “The Winning Athlete,” I challenge readers to not think these kinds of thoughts on the court. Emotions are triggered by the images evoked by thought, not by thought itself. But it is also true that one cannot easily think something without picturing it! The only answer, then, is to think positive thoughts instead of negative ones. By doing this, we will still be caught in the chain of thought mentioned above, but the end result will be positive! So, when I say “positive thinking,” I mean it quite literally, and not in the sense of false hope or illusions that so many people embrace.
A positive internal dialogue can be formulated with phrases such as "I can do it", "I want to give the best of me", "Keep focusing on the ball", "Keep it up ", etc. In the example above about the negative internal dialogue, instead of saying to yourself "I won’t make this first serve", rather say “I can definitely make this next first serve.” Your brain will receive a positive signal and react accordingly. With adequate personalized mental training, you can learn to instantly reformulate negative thoughts. You will also have exercises that will, like physical exercise does for your body, keep your mind fit. The best part of it all is that people of all ages and skill levels can improve their mental game at any time!