Are You Confused About How to Use Your Mind in Tennis?

Are You Confused About How to Use Your Mind in Tennis? image

Are you confused about how to use your mind in tennis? This post will hopefully set you on a clearer path. Answering this question will enable you to make significant strides with your tennis. We all know that thinking too much is detrimental to performance, yet the best players nearly always make good choices under stress. Deconstructing Tennis and the 4-D System is all about giving some clues as to how to go about thinking/not thinking and the proper sequence of the four types of Attentional Direction. A player should begin with Step 1 and move clock-wise through the various types of Attentional Direction.


Attentional Direction

The 4-D System looks like this:


 Observe What Happened (1)                            |                    Adjust/Plan (2)                               

External--------------------------------------------   FOCUS  -------------------------------------------Internal

           Watch the Ball (4)                                    |                    Calm Down (3)




Craig O’Shannessy has shared Andre Agassi’s between points mental checklist. It is, like 4-D, a 4-step system, but it differs in important aspects. At each step, I will give Agassi’s description and then follow up with what 4-D prescribes. In a couple of cases, the steps are nearly synonymous, but in a couple of others, there is a stark difference.

The Agassi System (according to Craig O’Shannessy):

Step 1: Review the Last Point and ask 2 questions: What Happened?; and 2) What was My Strategy? The first question is the same as 4-D’s Step #1: Observe What Happened. The second question, as Agassi describes it more fully, is actually more like: did I stick to my strategy?

        1B) Another part of Review the Last point for Agassi is the use of what he calls the “Notepad” – this is the same as Build An Inventory, an important component of Step 1, Observe What Happened in 4-D. This means that an opponent’s tendencies are being catalogued for future use. Without this Inventory, there is no realistic way of making adjustments within a match. Here we agree that there is “learning as you play” going on. Bayesian economists call this the Prior. After each point, top competitors update their Priors.

The 4-D System puts these 2 steps, 1) and 1B), into one step.

This is Broad External Focus and it is non-judgmental, as if you were watching someone else, whom you didn’t care about, play.


Step 2: For Agassi, step #2 is a show of determination. You show this in how you walk or the look on your face. To call this a mental step is, I believe, erroneous. Think of modern doubles and all of the bouncing around and high-fives. This energy creation should happen without thinking. It is a part of playing. If you waste time thinking about this, then you are wasting valuable time. As a point of contrast, in the 4-D System, step #2 is adjusting/making a plan for the next point. There is an easy transition from Broad External focus to Broad Internal focus. In other words, you take what you have learned from Observing and incorporate it into your plan. Nearly always, there is no change. However, by repeatedly touching base with your plan, you now have the flexibility to change, if you need to.

Here is a clear example:

When you execute your plan perfectly and your opponent is there to hit a winner, it most likely means that they were anticipating your shot. When Federer made his miracle comeback at the Open a couple of years ago, it was his opponent, John Millman, who demonstrated this skill (he should have won this match!). In the earlier parts of the match, when Fed approached against Millman’s forehand, he was passed nearly every time by a cross court winner. In the middle of the match, Federer guessed cross court and hit a winning volley off of a good pass. Millman immediately switched to his down the line pass and was successful in passing once again.

Step 3: For Agassi is touching base with being relaxed. This is the same as 4-D. The shift is from Internal Broad to Internal Narrow attention. Remember, relaxation helps on 2 levels. First, your shots become technically more efficient and second, your mind makes better decisions. We agree here. Notice that the mental shifts required only change one dimension at each stage of the transition. This is a quality of 4-D which makes it easier to implement.

Step 4: For Agassi, step #4 is All About the Next Point.

Now this is problematic because we don’t want focus to be broad internal here because we are GOING BACKWARDS IN THAT CASE. Execution requires a Narrow External focus, step #4 above – pure and simple. He NEVER touches on this. Or, maybe he does, but is deliberately vague as all he says is “it’s all about the next point.” Giving this final shift to Narrow External short shrift is a common error among the top pros. Next time you’re watching a match on television, notice how many times a returner mishits his return of serve on break point. He missed Step #4!

Stick with 4-D! If Agassi had it, he probably would have won a couple more Slams!

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