Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Mental Conditioning of Tomas Berdych

“What I’ve been really trying to work on is mental strength and preparation for every single match. They are very important aspects of today’s game. Especially now. Everybody can play a good forehand and backhand. There is no difference at all. It’s really just about the small details and one of them is the mental preparation, which I’ve been trying to improve. I believe I did so, but you can improve these aspects a lot. I hope this is something that can take me higher.
“There’s a lot you can say about that really. It’s concentration in the match. It’s also what you do around: how you deal with the situations on court and off court. It’s not only about once you step on the court. It’s been the work of my team. Part of it has definitely been my tennis coach. He can help me with that as well. I’ve also been working with one guy, not a sports psychologist as such, but a mental coach, which is a little bit different than a psychologist. It works, quite well. I’ve been working with him for two or three years.” 
--Tomas Berdych, tennis pro, who is improving ever year and becoming a force on the professional tour. 

Berdych beat Roger Federer and Roger Federer en route to the 2010 Wimbledon final, only to lose to Rafael Nadal. Since then, Berdych has become a Top 10 tennis player. This year, in 2013, he has reached back-to-back ATP World Tour finals at the Open 13 in Marseille (in which he lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) and the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, (in which he lost to Novak Djokovic). He has won 14 of his 18 matches. His goal is to continue to close the gap on the likes of the big 4, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal.

Can he do it?  Will mental conditioning help?

Let's look at the general techniques often used in mental conditioning:

Autogenic Relaxation – autogenic also known as self-generated training has the power to actually alter your neural pathways as you change your behavior. Autogenic relaxation is a kind of self-hypnosis that enables you to root positive phrases and mental images in your unconscious. It brings your mind and feelings into harmony with your body as you take on and adjust to new behaviors.

Visualization – visualization is your ability to imagine in your mind certain situations. It not only includes visually seeing the events happening but also allows you to feel like you are almost in the situation. All five senses are present in the visualization including sound, smell, touch, etc. Visualization is a powerful tool when used in a positive matter. However, in many cases athletes replay negative events causing a negative effect on performance. The more vivid the visualization the more it attaches to your memory.

Affirmations and Positive Self-Talk – Affirmations are positive statements that you can use to replace your negative mind-chatter. Using affirmations can be a powerful way to transform many of your old attitudes and expectations into positive and vibrant ones.  These affirmations will allow you to take control of your self-talk and internal dialogue that can contribute to your performance.

Neuromuscular Coordination – muscle/brain imprinting through controlled plyometrics, body and motor control training helps "train the brain" to react naturally and unconsciously when brought into a real playing situation. Slow motions that imprint movements that are consistent with the sport will improve overall efficiency.

Do you do any of these techniques regularly?  There are more and more studies that suggest that these techniques are very valuable to the young athlete.  

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Excerpt from "Tomas Berdych:  The Mental Game,"  by Robert Davis," (February 5, 2013).