What does it truly mean to believe in yourself? When you believe in yourself, you have full confidence in your physical skills and ability to execute shots in tennis. My definition of self-confidence for tennis is how strongly you believe in your ability to execute a successful shot or win a match. Don’t confuse believe in yourself (self-confidence) with self-esteem. Self-esteem is all about how you view yourself and how you appraise your self-concept (how you see yourself), also called self-worth.

Self-confidence comes from a baseline of past success in matches, practice, preparation, and a strong mental game of tennis. For example, a beginning tennis player has little or no confidence in his ability to execute a service in tennis. But with practice, he becomes competent in the skill of serving. With competency or skill mastery confidence improves. You can also get confidence from the belief that you are physically talented, which mirrors the definition of confidence.

When working with my personal coaching students, I discuss two different types or levels of confidence. The first is a general or broad belief in your ability as a tennis player – the feeling that you can win or perform well. The second type of confidence is the specific belief in your ability to nail a successful overhead or hit a winning serve. Both broad and specific confidence are equally important and they influence each other.

Over my 20 plus years as a mental game coach, I’ve come to learn that many athletes have “practice self-confidence,” which comes from working hard in practice to develop your skills. However, these same athletes don’t always transfer that confidence from practice to playing matches. They lack what I call “tournament self-confidence,” for many reasons. Match or tournament self-confidence is critical to your success in matches.

It seems irrational that you can gain a high level of self-confidence in your practice, but can’t transfer that confidence to tournaments. Most of the time, this problem is due to the mental game getting in the way and how you practice, which I’ll discuss in another article.

One of my readers recently asked this tennis psychology question: “What is the checklist for gaining confidence before a tough match?” I have no simple answer to this question because every player reacts differently to a tough match. However, I’ll give you the top four strategies that every player should apply:

1. Check your expectations in the parking lot. I believe that expectations (demands you place on your game) are harmful to high confidence. You want to believe in your skills and your practice, but without demanding how the match should go.

2. Review the reasons why you deserve to play well before each match. You might default to your practice, your experience, or your superior talent.

3. Prepare five positive self-talk statements you can use between points when you need a lift of confidence. These statements can be as simple as “I deserve to play well today.”

4. Cut off any last minute doubts. Doubt is the opposite of confidence. When you engage in doubt and allow it to feaster in your mind, you confidence suffers. Acknowledge any pre-match doubts you have and practice rebutting your own doubt.

Author's Bio: 

Tennis psychology and mental game expert Dr. Patrick J. Cohn is the founder of Sports Psychology for Tennis by Peak Performance Sports. Dr. Cohn is devoted to helping tennis players and their parents improve confidence, focus, and success in tournaments. Get free sports psychology for tennis articles, podcasts and videos by visiting Dr. Cohn's tennis psychology website at: sportspsychologytennis.com

Improve your mental game of tennis quickly by picking up Dr. Cohn’s free report, “Six ‘Unforced’ Mental Game Errors Tennis Players Make Between Points”