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Mindfulness and tennis performance: A review of literature and practice
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Photographer: Srdjan Stevanovic

INTRODUCTION

Many athletes will improve their performance through a host of techniques. Coaches, parents and athletes will focus on technique, improved nutrition, equipment changes, and strength and conditioning. This holistic approach also includes psychological skills training (PST) otherwise known as mental skills training, used by athletes to gain a mental edge and achieve marginal gains in performance. For tennis players, being able to concentrate and focus on a task at hand without becoming overwhelmed or distracted, is just one example of when mental skills can make the difference.

Sport psychology practitioners work with athletes to help them optimise performance by implementing interventions that change behaviours and thought processes. Over the years, PST has focussed on cognitive modification, preparing the mind and body for performance. Yet despite this, Thompson Arnkoff, and Glass (2011) discovered that such methods that replace negative thoughts or supress anxiety, may lead to increased frequency of negative thoughts and anxiety experiences, while mindful acceptance is associated with greater psychological adjustment. As such mindfulness training has become widely used in sport performance. Rather than supress thoughts and bodily experiences, players are encouraged to raise awareness of them without accompanying judgement. Some practitioners however, may weave in psychological skills training with mindfulness. Baltzell, McCarthy & Greenbaum (2014), suggest that a performer who is mindful can acknowledge what is unfolding in a non-judgmental way and subsequently select a mental skill that would be most helpful to them.

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