The concept of keeping your mind focused on the process, not the results, is becoming very well known in many areas of life, especially in competitive tennis. It is becoming so commonly understood that it is nearly cliche to point out. Yet, this is precisely the message we continue to hear over and over from the most successful tennis players and beyond.
“I think what I did not last year, but two years ago, getting to know my body better, getting to know my team better, this was a very important step for me. This is all the process, and the hard work occasionally will pay off.”
– Jannik Sinner after winning 1st Grand Slam at age 22.
But what is process? “Process” is defined by Oxford Languages as “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.” So it has two elements. One element is the “particular end” or goal. In tennis development, we use both “performance goals,” goals focused on the result which you don’t always have control over like winners/errors/outcomes, and “process goals,” goals focused on something you do have control over like technique/intensity/decisions. Focusing on the process then means putting most of your effort towards “process goals” and a lot less emphasis on “performance goals.” Performance goals are valuable in evaluating your progress but the majority of the time we want to focus on our process goals to maximize our improvement. The other element in the definition is “a series of actions or steps,” not random or impulsive action, but consistently following a plan step by step. A process based mindset gauges success not by the result, but by the execution of the plan. So why is it hard for many of us to stay focused on and commit to process rather than results?
We are essentially trained to have result based thinking by the structure of tournaments, schools, and society in general. What level tournaments I play, what school/classes I’m in, my grades, how much money I have, what neighborhood I live in, etc. These results are very significant and relevant for the opportunities we have in life. This social/economic system develops a result based mentality in all of us. It is our challenge as tennis players, and people, to train our minds to stay focused on the process and avoid result based thoughts. We need to take another look at failure not as something negative, but as a necessary opportunity to learn and improve ourselves. To be the best versions of ourselves, and ultimately produce good results, we need to stay present and focus on our day-to-day processes.
For competitive tennis players, we have come to learn that the process means:
Preparing for a tennis match: Train hard for many hours on and off court over many years.
Before and after a tennis match: Have consistent physical, mental, nutrition, and hydration routines.
Within a tennis match: Keep your mind focused on one point at a time, on your intentions/strategies for that next point, on your controllables. Be consistent with rituals for starting points, in between points, and in response to success or adversity.
These are well known elements of a tennis player’s process and are hard to execute consistently. If you are working on them, you are improving every match. Beyond the necessary experience of playing many matches, a good coach and knowledgeable family/friends are your best resources to progress with these skills. An outside perspective is critical to understanding and progressing your process-based mindset. In the long term, your ultimate level is determined by how consistently you improve and how well you develop your process, not how talented you are or who you train with.
“I try to be always the better version of myself the next week comparing to the week before.”
– Novak Djokovic
In this article, I want to go beyond the match and long road of improvement to discuss how intentional thinking in day-to-day routines can create positive results. The first step, and most import one, is to commit to being consistent with our routines. Our routines will get better over time as we adjust, but before there is an effective process, there must be commitment to consistency. Start small and easy, and build up the dynamics and complexity of your routines as fast as you are comfortable doing so.
“Overall if I have to see things from a general perspective, what I learned as a player is…that consistency is the key, sticking to the routines, and things that make you a better player and improving. Improvement is a constant process.”
– Novak Djokovic
What are realistic expectations? The needs of a high performance tennis player are many and most players need help with designing, adjusting, and managing their mental and physical training routines. Most established professional players have multiple experts working with them. Though it is very important for players to take initiative, they perform best when they have a team to help manage everything involved in their tennis careers. Scheduling, equipment, practice plans, PT routines, nutrition, hydration, etc. To be optimal in all areas it is best for a player to have trust in their team, give 100% in executing the plan they set forth, and focus on their mental priorities.
Optimizing all of these areas is the hardest for developing juniors. By the time they are in college, or on tour, they have access to expert full time coaches and trainers. But when players are developing, a lot is dependent on them and their family to learn, plan, and execute all of the elements needed to train and be prepared to compete. The key is starting small with one or two positive and knowledgeable coaches/trainers/family members. Build up your team with people you trust and allow them to help you plan your routines and developmental process. Having a team, and trusting them completely opens your mental resources to fully optimize your mindset. To be your best mentally requires a commitment to your daily intentions and often help from a mental coach/psychologist. Below, I will give you an example of my mental daily intentions, how I execute them, and the results that I have accomplished.
Mental Daily Intentions
More significant than the details of my day-to-day tasks required as a human, director, coach, and tennis player, are my daily mental processes of being mindful and intentional. Everyday my process goal is to execute my mental intentions. They are my top priority, and what I am most critical of. The prioritizing of these daily intentions has been the key to executing all of my other processes at a high level day in and day out, week to week, month to month, year to year. This combination of personal commitment to daily routines, utilizing daily process goals, and the natural process of time and experience, have brought about consistently improved results.
Below are the mental intentions that I prioritize everyday. Of course I am not perfect, I make many mistakes, but with consistent effort I successfully execute these intentions most days. What is most important for each of us is defined individually and I encourage you to do so. These general intentions I find to be helpful and at the end of the day/month/year, they work. Take these concepts and apply them with specific intention to your daily processes.
- 100% positive attitude. Attitude is the make or break factor in the enjoyment and productivity within your process thereafter. First and foremost, attend to your attitude. 100% positive doesn’t mean that you are never critical or recognize error or flaw. Quite the contrary, it means within the constant process of hard work, analysis, and learning, we maintain a growth and solution-based mindset and drive. Always focusing on productive controllables, maintaining optimism, and seeing the best in others. It also means that we are steadfast in our acceptance of things outside of our control. Being present and accepting is the optimal mental state for controlling your attitude. Negativity (fear/anger/judgment) takes you out of the present and is not productive. In the negative state you will lose control of your attitude so try to stay 100% positive (present and accepting).
“What is he so good at?” Nava said. “I think it was just his consistency, but consistency mentally. Mentally he was always just so positive and on a straight line or anything positive. He was never up and down. And he’s always just positive and consistent.”
– Emilio Nava on training with Carlos Alcaraz.
- 100% effort. Get everything that needs, and can be done, done. This is the true factor for success. If you did everything you can, then that is as successful as you can be. It provides an edge over those who don’t give it 100% and it provides solace and satisfaction that you did everything you can. This aids in your acceptance and maintenance of process 1 when facing adversity. Also, effort is not restricted to doing your physical training on and off court at full energy. Yes, it means that, but it also means being mindful and prioritizing your thoughts and actions to the best of your abilities. Often it means prioritizing meditation, rest, and recreation to heal and energize the mind and body. It can take a great effort to be mindful and say no to one activity, choosing to do another which may require less physical effort, but is more productive in reaching your goals. Very often the need for rest and recreation is overlooked, but is critical to prevent injury, burnout, and to maintain passion and enthusiasm. Be thoughtful about what is best for you both physically and mentally and give it 100%.
- Learn and Improve. Take time to reflect, discuss, meditate, and be mindful in order to learn and improve. This is the ultimate edge over your competitors. Your level in comparison to others today is not nearly as important as it is tomorrow, next year, 5 years from now, etc. Have vision and take the time to refine your process goals, evaluate your progress, and learn from both success and failure. Doing this well requires stillness in mind and activity. Slow down, journal, discuss your processes with your family/team, meditate in some form, and take the time to cultivate and use your growth mindset. It is one of your most important skills and requires training like all others.
So how can we reinforce and evaluate our mental intentions? This requires regular routines to reinforce your process goals and to evaluate your execution and progress. I encourage you to integrate mental routines into your daily schedule for this purpose. For me, I have very consistent processes starting everyday with meditation/reading coupled with physical activation. Taking this time to prepare and focus my mind and body for the day is both joyful and critical to preventing errors and injuries. In the middle of the day, I take the time for additional meditation/reading and my daily mental training using an App, Level Up. This involves a web driven mental process of building confidence, breathing, utilizing vision/visualization, and setting/evaluating daily priorities. At the end of the day, I take additional time when driving back from the courts to reflect, evaluate, and build motivation for the next day. These are routines that work for me, they keep my mind focused on the most important mental processes I want to commit to. Additional routines used for this purpose include: regular discussions with coach/family, journaling, and reading print outs of your intentions.
Before moving to Florida in 2022, I did well progressing my work as a tennis coach for 10+ years in California and had developed good results in terms of our recreational and junior high performance programming. The program was at capacity and we were often winning low/middle level USTA/UTR tournaments. The time had come when continued growth, both personally and professionally, was becoming difficult for reasons outside of my control and I had to reach outside of my comfort zone to seek new opportunities in order to progress. I did not visit Florida with the goal of moving here, developing a new program, coaching at L1’s/ITF, etc. I simply knew that exploring new opportunities was a necessary part of my daily process in order to progress. Quite often, going out of your comfort zone and making sacrifices in some form is necessary to progress and continue improvement. During this transition, I stayed focused simply on my mental intentions and made decisions based on those rather than focusing on the fear and discomfort that go along with change.
With my work professionally, my last performance goal was achieved a couple years back. My goal was to work with and develop a player to a D1 commitment. Since achieving that I have learned the truth and power of the process-based mindset and I have not set any new performance goals. I have restricted my goals to mental and routine-based processes that I can control. Since this change of mindset and my move to Florida, I have achieved personal best results in nearly all areas, professionally and beyond. I attribute my growth, achievement, and most importantly the handling of adversity, to my commitment to day-to-day processes. Here are my results from the past two years:
– Coached multiple players at 4 L1’s, 1 ITF 200, USTA L3 – L7.
– Coached multiple players who placed at USTA L1 and ITF tournaments: 1st Doubles Clay Court Nationals ‘22, 4th Singles Clay Court Nationals ‘23, 3rd Doubles Clay Court Nationals ‘23, 1st Singles ITF J60 Delray Beach ‘23, 4th Singles Winter Nationals ‘24.
– Wins over ATP #429, #1679, and ITF Junior #104.
– Worked with junior players helping them to earn commitments to University of Texas, Northwestern University, Samford University, and Yale University.
– Coached a player to 3+ UTR gain in 10 months.
– Established a quality of living for home, kid’s school, and work that was not possible for us in the CA Bay Area.
– Built a recreational tennis program from scratch to sustain day-to-day passion and income.
– Improved myself as a player physically and technically. Preparing to be competitive on the 45/50+ ITF Masters Tour. Currently 43 yo 10 -11 UTR, my highest level yet achieved.
Like many others, in recent years I have faced great adversity living through COVID, California Wildfires, and a major transition from CA to FL. I have overcome great difficulty personally and professionally, at times I did not feel I could continue to bear the challenge. Yet everyday, I kept coming. Everyday I woke up and recommitted to my daily processes. Very rarely having a day without executing my routines. When the going got tough, I was able to stay focused on the day-to-day and continued to progress. This day-to-day focus on the process, whether things were going well or not, the determination and faith, this was a critical component to my success and progress. Without it, I could not have achieved improved results and would have drowned in the ocean of adversity. The suffering we go through on court is not much different than the suffering we go through off court. We are training ourselves to be better at handling life when we choose to compete and challenge ourselves on the tennis court. This relentless mindset in the face of adversity has defined the 4th intention I commit to day in and day out:
- Keep Coming. This is my mantra for use in response to adversity. It was first shared with me as a common concept used on tour and after my recent phase of adversity it has become a natural response. When facing hardship and failure, I keep coming with the process. Trust, believe, have faith, and Keep Coming. If you do, you are sure to progress and weather the ups and downs of a competitive and challenging life.
“He understands and he accepts that sometimes things are not going his way, but don’t try to find excuses. Keep working, keep finding solutions, keep doing the right things and adjust where you need to adjust with yourself, with your team, with whatever is needed to achieve your dreams.”– Aneke Rune (Holger Rune’s mother)
In conclusion, the process is only as powerful as your commitment and sacrifice. If you can really commit to your processes and embrace these four critical concepts as part of your day-to-day priorities, you are sure to progress. 100% Positive Attitude, 100% Effort, Learn and Improve, and Keep Coming. With improvement in self and process, improved results are certain to come.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”
-Live article originally published on 11/31/2024.
Author: Bryan Richter, head coach at Pure Pace Tennis Academy