Personal Player Habits

In this article, I will be discussing habits that top tennis players have both on-court playing matches and off-court. Importantly, in tennis, we are generating these habits in an attempt to consistently find a central point of reason, no matter what the score and or situation the match is in.
Habits are made up of three components: 1. The cue, which acts as a trigger for the behaviour to start unfolding, 2. The behaviour, which is the habit itself. It is what you do when you undertake a habit. 3. The reward, this is how our brains remember this pattern for the future. In all aspects of life, we all have different things we do before we progress onto another part and or activity of our day. This may be making our bed in the morning, brushing our teeth for two minutes, having a 20-minute power nap at 2 pm. Let us think about why we do these things and what effect they have on us?

Why do we have these habits?

  • Provides us with a sense of structure
  • Maintains routine throughout the day

What effect do these have on us?

  • Keeps us composed
  • Brings us to a central point of reason where previous outcomes and future endeavours don’t make a difference!
  • Keeps us active

We can see that some of these things we are accomplishing throughout our day to day lives are not that complex, we now do not have to think to do them. So now analysing the tennis game – what simple ‘habits’ can we do and create in the tennis game that will improve our overall performance?

Most importantly, we will all develop on court in very different ways. We will find techniques, patterns, emotions etc. that we like to portray and act upon on court. As a result, it is important that we do not try and force certain habits upon players as this will cause a more un-natural feeling on court and possibly result in a performance that is not to our best ability. It is still vital that as players, we all try different methods and patterns to see and feel where we are most comfortable.

Here are a few ideas that I would like to put forward as an attempt to be able to control the controllable whilst on-court.


  • Bouncing a ball a consistent number of times before serving.
  • Using a towel in between points
  • Playing with your strings before you return
  • Standing outside the lines when the point has finished

How can we set about achieving these methods?

Achieving these or different habits will come down to a lot of trial and error, (no, I don’t feel it is more complex than that). Very importantly though – this is consistent trial and error – there will be a very limited chance of success if you only try these methods whilst playing matches. These methods have to be tested when training with fellow players, your parents, by yourself; as often as possible. This is to ensure we can fully explore whether these methods are creating a clear mind for us whilst on court. We will find our best individual solution to maintain a steady and clean mind by using the three stages needed to form a habit, the cue, the routine and the reward. For example, I will always have three balls when I serve. Let me break it down for you

  • The cue – A point has finished, I will need to serve again, therefore I need balls in my pocket ready
  • The routine – Individually I have found, having three balls works for me, for certain reasons, over a period of trial and error.
  • The reward – I have served, successfully or otherwise, but I know, that regardless of the point before or what was going to happen, I found myself in the best emotional position possible to serve the next point.

Here are some habits that the ball boys and girls spoke openly about of the players, during the ATP Masters final event in London 2013.

  • Nadal does not touch the lines in between points
  • Gasquet wanted to use the same ball as before if he had won the previous point on his serve
  • Wawrinka looks at and then hits two balls away at different times before he serves.

Coto is a friend of her Spanish coach Esteban Carril – and she speaks to him, even from Australia: “I’m in touch with him a bit but I make a routine of speaking to my family and to people who make you happy. I invest just as much time mentally as I do physically. That’s definitely on a par.”

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