Playing Tennis in the Zone: How Do You Get There?

It’s been said by just about everyone that tennis is a mental game. So in order to play your best, your mind and body must be connected properly. Just as your body alternates between action and rest, your mind has an active and inactive component.

Here I will discuss how to play the mental game of tennis by developing the proper relationship between your “conscious mind”, your “other than conscious mind”, and your body. You may be surprised to know that when your body is being directed by your “other than conscious mind” you will find yourself playing your best. If you think about it, your  conscious mind does not know how to make your body hit the ball well. It just thinks it does and this is where the problem lies. However, there is a place for the conscious mind and the strength, direction, and quality of your movement and strokes are determined by this relationship of the body, conscious mind, and the other than conscious mind.

When you pursue and find this ideal mental state, you will be playing in the zone. You’ll be more relaxed, enjoy the game more, and, of course, you will play better.

Your ultimate goal is, hopefully, to figure out how to play your very best every time by finding the state of mind necessary for you to play in the zone. I wish I could describe to you what this state of mind feels like, but I cant. I can, however, guide you so you can begin to discover for yourself how to get there.

Notice that I didn’t say that the ultimate goal is to win.

The path to this state of mind can be found in the mental game core principles, as I call them. Mastering them will be a process because you’ll continue to learn things about yourself and your game for the rest of your tennis life. Perhaps you’ll find some of these principles useful in other areas of your life as well.

There are four primary parts to the core principles of the mental game.

Other Than Consciousness: Playing letting “your other than conscious mind” direct your body is a more effective, reliable way to play. Unfortunately, most of us didn’t learn to play tennis that way. It does, however, require being aware of when you are playing with your “conscious mind” as opposed to your “other than conscious mind.” Once you are aware of the difference, you can then make the shift to playing more and more based on using your “other than conscious mind”.

Awareness: Awareness of what is happening when seeing the ball, breathing, relaxing properly, and how your strategy and stroke production are working are key to integrating the core principles. When you become aware of what is working and what is not working, you then have the ability to make the necessary and appropriate corrections to improve your level of play, immediately.

Breathing and relaxing: Proper breathing before, during, and after you strike the ball allows for optimal relaxation of every muscle in the upper part of your body. Relaxation through proper breathing is a critical element to winning the mental game of tennis. Relaxing all other muscles in your body except the ones you need to hit the ball is also necessary and critical.

Judgment: Releasing your attachment to winning the point, set, or match and how well you hit each ball, where you’ve hit it, frees you up to play your best, mentally and physically. When you judge your shots, your strokes, how well you are playing, or anything else, it is unproductive and can even cause you to play worse. The natural response to your judgment is to try harder. This leads to using your conscious mind to start controlling your body, thereby becoming more tense. Although trying harder may seem to work in the short run, you will find that when the match gets tight or when it comes time to win, your game may break down. I see this over and over with players and even with the pros.

Some of the mental game core principles 

  • See the ball the way I think it should be seen.
  • Breathe the way I know is the most natural and beneficial.
  • Relax every muscle except the ones you need to get the ball.
  • Take a full finish.
  • Reprogram if you need to when you miss.

Remember that the idea here is to truly get your conscious mind out of the way and turn over your play to your other than conscious mind. The conscious minds role is to help you determine what to focus on. Things like the ball, your breathing and strategy etc. By programming yourself with these principles you will be able to quickly and easily get into the state of mind that leads you to play in the zone. It just takes practice and discipline.

These core principles should be anchored into your other than conscious mind. By activating these principles before you play and as needed during your playing, your conscious mind, other than conscious mind, and your body will be in the best possible place to play at the top of your game; in other words, in the zone.

These core principles are the basis for playing mental game a more complete listing of them can be found in my book, Playing Zen-Sational Tennis.

About the Author

David Ranney has fine tuned the art of teaching the mental game of tennis over the past 30 years and has written the book, Playing Zen-Sational Tennis. As a junior, he was ranked nationally 6th in singles and 3rd in doubles, represented the U.S. at Jr Wimbledon, where he got the semi finals, played on the Junior Davis cup team and played at the University of Southern California when they were national champions.

Go to David’s website at to learn more about what David does and to purchase his book Playing Zen-Sational Tennis, so that you too can begin to play in the zone.

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