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Mental Strategies for an Optimum Tennis Warmup

By Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc. M.Sc.(Hons) B.Ed.

Some Fallacies about 'Warming Up'

By now, most serious tennis professionals and up-to-date coaches and sports trainers have heard about the potential problems with 'static stretching' prior to sports performances. Contrary to the consistent, mandatory advice of many years, it has now been proven scientifically that extended static stretching prior to intense physical activity actually leads to a decrease in muscle performance, and even a greater potential for injuries.

Wiemann & Klee (2004), Jones (2004), and others have clearly demonstrated that static stretching can cause damage to myofibrils in muscles, and hence intense (stretching to maximum tolerable tension) muscle stretching before a sports performance leads to reduced performance and a higher risk of injury. It is now suggested that the best results are obtained by engaging in a general aerobic warm-up (e.g.. a five minute jog), followed by low intensity exercises similar in nature to those to be used in the actual performance. Any stretching should be submaximal and dynamic - not intense and static.

Further, when speaking of the warm-up few people even consider the mental and emotional aspects of preparing oneself for competition - attention is almost always focused just on the physical body.

So what is the best advice for the warm-up to get the best out of yourself? How can you warm up mentally and emotionally - as well as physically? What can you do now with the time that used to spent on stretching in the warm-up?

First, let's consider when the actual warm-up really begins. Many people think of the warm-up as the ten minutes prior to a game commencing, or perhaps the thirty minutes prior to that. However I believe games are won and lost on the day before, and the morning of competition, as well as during the actual time of competing! I suggest that you want to see the warm-up as starting the day before, and to initiate a series of actions that you repeat as a regular routine in order to get the best out of yourself on a consistent basis.

Having a planned, positive routine established which you follow consistently gives you a sense of familiarity and confidence, no matter where the venue is, or whatever the surface.

To establish the best routine for yourself, think back to the times you played your very best .... what did you do the day before? What did you eat? What did you think about? How did you direct your emotions? What did you have for breakfast on the morning of the match? How did you warm up? What were you thinking then?

Obviously, you will want to tailor a warm-up routine specifically to suit you, but here are a range of tips and ideas that may be helpful. Note that not all the suggestions may be suitable for everyone, and it is not suggested that you do all of these things - select those that work for you, and establish them as a routine for consistent success.

The Day Before

* First thing in the morning, do a light aerobic and general muscle toning workout : for example a 15 - 20 minute cycle or jog, followed by easy abdominal and general upper body exercises with light weights, and gentle, submaximal stretching. Drink plenty of water - before and after. [I recommend starting every day with a glass of purified water before you do anything thing else!]

* Follow this with a soak in a bath, or spa, and a light massage (no deep tissue work). A thorough 20 - 30 minute self massage of your legs, abdomen, chest, arms, and especially your feet and hands - is cheap, and simple to do. While you're massaging yourself (or being massaged), imagine your muscles strong and powerful and ready to perform tomorrow. Picture each muscle group being massaged, and imagine the blood vessels supplying it with oxygen and nutrients and taking away waste products. Visualise your neuro-muscular system working as an efficient unit, quickly responding to the demands you will put it to, and easily coping with the work load. Say to yourself that you are fit and ready; think of your body as fit, strong, and flexible.

* Sometime during the day, (if you don't have to go to work), spend a couple of hours relaxing and reading / listening to / watching a motivational book / CD / video. For example, watch replays of great tennis matches - particularly players who's style is similar to your own, and with whom you identify. As you do this, remind yourself regularly of the strengths of your own game, and imagine yourself playing like your role model.

* In the afternoon or evening, spend 30 minutes drawing up a game plan for tomorrow. Focus on yourself and how you want to play, rather than the opposition. Replay and relive in your mind some of your very best performances - times in competition or training when you played your very best. Remember specific highlights, and feel strong and powerful, and deliberately visualise playing the same way, and doing similar shots tomorrow.

* Well before bedtime, take 20 - 30 minutes to go through a relaxation and visualisation exercise in which you imagine and feel yourself living out your game plan at the actual venue of the match. Imagine not just the physical aspects of positive stroke making and skill, but also how you want to feel in the match : confident, determined, courageous - and enjoying it! I recommend this is done well prior to going to sleep, since you don't want to become obsessed with the game and think about it all night! Do it once, then forget about it. [ There are many types of relaxation techniques and visualisation exercises that can be used for enhancing various aspects of sports performance, and I will write a more detailed article on Visualisation techniques shortly. Also, I have a range of six excellent tapes that cover Motivation, Positive Attitude, Concentration, and so on. See for details ]

* Prepare your gear for tomorrow, then get a great night's sleep, by hitting the sack early. If you're a bit nervous, a short walk outside for 15 - 20 minutes before bed clears the head, and is far better than watching the idiot box (TV)!

The Day of the Match

* Rise early, have a drink of pure water, and do 10 - 15 mins of deep breathing and positive affirmations in fresh air - preferably in a park. Affirmations are short positive phrases and statements used to build self belief and confidence, and to commit to the process goals you want to attain. For example: "I will get 70% or better of my first serves in court today"; "I'm fit and strong and ready"; "I can do it. I'm going to play to my best today."; and so on. [The Sportsmind book and training manual explain how to write your own affirmations, and have sample lists of positive affirmations that you can use - again see for details]

Most people feel better doing this outside in the fresh air, but of course if you prefer you can do them in your room, or even as you're driving to the venue.

* After breakfast, while you're checking your gear, play some of your favourite, up-beat music to get you excited and ready (e.g.. theme music from 'Rocky I or II', or from 'Chariots of Fire', etc. Think to yourself as you're listening that you're ready, you feel great, and you're really looking forward to the competition - you're going to play well, and enjoy yourself.

* Driving to the venue, again either say positive affirmations to yourself or listen to positive mood music.

* Thirty minutes before the match, go somewhere by yourself and spend five minutes quieting your mind of all self talk, and simply visualise (without words) playing well, staying focused and determined and positive. As the match time approaches it's important to switch yourself from 'thinking' to 'playing' mode. Positive self talk is essential in the match build up, but too much thinking is detrimental to playing from the 'zone' - where we simply 'play' unconsciously, without much conscious thought.

* Before walking on court, use a positive 'trigger' for accessing powerful resource feelings of confidence, strength, self belief, joy, etc. [ I will explain how to build a positive emotion 'trigger' in the next issue - or check out my Champion Thoughts, Champion Feelings book ] From now on you want to be totally in feeling - quiet your internal dialogue, and get into the rhythm of your shot making; fully feel your balance, the temperature of the air, your breathing full and deep and regular, the feel of your hand gripping the racquet. Since the brain cannot process an external and an internal stimulus at the same time, by deliberately focusing on external feeling sensations such as described, you take away the opportunity for yourself to feel internal nervousness, doubt, or fear.

Now you're truly warmed up and ready ... go out and play well!


Jones, M (2004) The Effects of Static Stretching on Performance, pp.27 inModern Athlete & Coach Vol 42 - 1

Wiemann, K & Klee, A (2004) The Significance of Stretching in the Warm Up Before Maximum Performance, pp.24-26 inModern Athlete & Coach Vol 42 - 1

About Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc.(AES) M.Sc.(Hons)
Jeffrey Hodges is a performance consultant to elite athletes, sporting teams and corporate clients. He is the author of the widely acclaimed "Sportsmind - An Athlete's Guide to Superperformance Through Mental & Emotional Training" and "Champion Thoughts, Champion Feelings"; creator of the Sportsmind performance enhancement workshops and audio tapes; and Director of the Sportsmind Institute for Human Performance Research.

He is a NLP Master Practitioner and Associate Trainer, and his Sportsmind programs have been endorsed by the NSW Dept Sport & Recreation, and recommended by top sportsclubs and successful athletes. Jeffrey has competed in many sports, notably Volleyball, Squash, Soccer and Golf, and currently trains in Aikido, holding a black belt.

Some of his clients to date include :
Australian Rugby Union
St. Joseph's College
Woodlands Golf Club
Financial Institutions Remuneration Group (FIRG)
Societe Generale
Qld. Swimming
Network for Fitness Professionals
North Sydney and Penrith Rugby League Clubs
Qld. Athletics Assn
NSW Netball Assn
Northern Inland Academy of Sport
Victorian Soaring Assn
Orange Agricultural College Equestrian School
Qld and NSW Departments of Sport and Recreation
Qld Academy of Sport
and the RAAF.

For more information, contact :
FLAXTON Qld. Australia. 4560.
PHONE 61 7 5445 7994
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