How The USF Men's Tennis Team Embodies Mental Toughness
When I first met Coach Fisher a few years back, he was playing professional tennis on the ATP Tour with my brother, Eric. Since then, he has become the Head Men’s Tennis Coach at the University of South Florida. During his time as Head Coach, he has led the Bulls to 2 AAC championships in 3 years. One of the keys to his team’s success has been that they spend significant time strengthening their mental game. This helps his players not only during their matches, but in all other areas of their lives as well.
Developing mental toughness is a focus of the men’s tennis program at USF. They define mental toughness as, “the ability to focus on the next most important moment.” In tennis, as in many other sports, this means having to forget the past, whether it is positive or negative, and focus on the very next play or point, because that is the next most important moment. The challenge in this is to be able to do it consistently and in increasingly difficult situations. So the question is, how do you strengthen your mindset? There isn’t one magical answer other than hard work and persistence, and Coach Fisher was kind enough to share with me some of the methods they use at USF to build their mental toughness.
What does it look like to be a great competitor?
With the technology we have today, they are able to film practices and matches easily. Therefore, the players have the ability to watch themselves after they play. Coach Fisher takes this time to teach his athletes “what it looks like to be a great competitor”, and to determine if they are modeling those characteristics. What types of signals are they sending to their opponents and teammates with their body language? How does their body language look when they are at their best? Or at their worst? Are they giving off a sense of belief that good things will happen? The way a person carries himself matters. If you can get your body doing the right things, oftentimes your head will follow!
Positive vs. Productive
It is unrealistic to think that athletes, or anyone for that matter, will never have doubts or negative thoughts. With people having an average of 60,000 thoughts per day, some are bound to be negative, but here is where we can separate ourselves from the pack…. We can choose which thoughts we give attention and merit to. So the best idea is to hold on to the thoughts that assist you in progressing to your goals, while letting go of the ones that don’t.
There are two ways that the USF Men’s Tennis team works on this. First, they often start practice by having gratitude training. They do this by listing three things that went well for them that day. It is nearly impossible to feel negative while showing gratitude, so this is a great way to start off your day or an intense workout. Learning to be thankful and optimistic is a skill, and it needs to be practiced.
Find Small Victories
If there is a time when they feel like things aren’t going their way, the Bulls players try to find just one thing that’s going right. Identifying small victories is a great way to start to build momentum. Little wins are all around us; we just have to keep our eyes open. If something isn’t going great in the big scheme of things, it is easy to get negative and down, but by finding small victories, we can learn to turn those tides.
Making sure that you are carrying your physical self in a competitive and confident way can then strengthen your mental game. Pairing that with regular gratitude training and extra attention to the small victories are a smart way to develop both the body and the mind. Taking these actions is not complicated; the difficulty is in taking them consistently.
Remember to develop that championship mindset along with your skills!
Good luck on your journey!
You can follow Ashley Fisher and the USF Bulls tennis team on twitter at