The practice of “Mindfulness” has taken a hold on the tennis world. Mindfulness is a meditation and awareness practise that teaches people to non-judgementally recognise and observe their thoughts without trying to stop them.
Perhaps the most influential advocate is Novak Djokovic. It’s been said that Djokovic’s dominance at the top of the ratings is due not just to his extraordinary physical fitness but to his innovative approach to the mental side of tennis through Mindfulness meditation.
So what is Mindfulness meditation and why is it so attractive to tennis players? Whether you’re already a fan; or simply keen to take a look and decide if it’s something you’re interested in, we’ve put together a guide for tennis coaches, players and parents.
Who Started It?
We Googled and it seems that the roots of Mindfulness go back 2500 years, or more! Some Mindfulness meditation techniques were practiced by Hindus and later by Buddists.
However, the current surge in popularity of Mindfulness is based on techniques drawn from the Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) work done at the University of Massachussets Medical Centre in the U.S. and an MBCT programme developed at England’s Cambridge University and Canada’s University of Toronto2.
What is it?
At least some of us, when we think about meditation, will imagine a serene state of mind where we put all thoughts out of our heads – probably through the repetition of a mantra. That is true of some meditation techniques, but it is not a part of Mindfulness meditation.
Rather than banishing negative or stressful thoughts, Mindfulness teaches people to recognise and observe their thoughts, but not try to blot them out or to judge them. The idea is that by learning to recognise negative thoughts as they happen, and being able distance themselves from them, a person can stop the process in which negative thought patterns create a downward spiral and overwhelm them.
Mindfulness meditations do not need to be long. Djokovic says that he does his meditation for 15 minutes every day3. A mindfulness meditation usually involves focussing your attention on your breathing (and sometimes on a different physical sensation); being aware of your breath as you breathe in and out. When your mind wanders, you refocus your attention back to your breathing.
Does it work?
Sports psychologists say that practising mindfulness meditation techniques can improve a player’s overall performance by sharpening concentration and by improving accuracy and precision.
Djokovic is certainly a big fan. In his book “Serve to Win” Djokovic says that his Mindfulness meditation is as important to him as his physical training. He explains that, “meditation has enabled him to let go of negative emotions such as self-doubt, anger and worry, and that this has made all the difference to his mental approach on court”…”I used to freeze up whenever I made a mistake; I was sure I wasn’t in the same league as the Federers and the Andy Murrays. Now, when I blow a serve or shank a backhand, I still get those flashes of self-doubt, but I know how to handle them”3.
Where can you go if you want to try Mindfulness meditation for yourself?
Probably because mental strength is such a critical success factor in tennis, there is something of a Mindfulness revolution in the tennis world. If you Google “Mindfulness in Tennis” you will find multiple websites with guides to practicing Mindfulness. We also found an app “Welzen Tennis – Guided Meditation for Tennis” which is available on both Apple and Android for £18.99. We haven’t bought or used these downloads so we can’t recommend any of them above another, but we can recommend the book by Williams and Penman “Mindfulness: a Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World” (available for as little as £11 on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mindfulness-practical-guide-finding-frantic/dp/074995308X). While the meditations may not be as useful without understanding the philosophy, you can access the free audio downloads that accompany the book “Mindfulness For Dummies” at http://www.dummies.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-824309.html .
Click here to go to our BONUS 10-minute mindfulness meditation!
We referred to some external sources in this post:
- Williams, M. and Penman, D. (2011) “Mindfulness: a Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World” Piatkus, Great Britain
- Djokovic, N. (2014) “Serve to Win: The 14-Day Gluten-free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence” Corgi Press (pages 171-174)