Jeff Greenwald is an internationally recognized sports psychology consultant and licensed therapist. He is a speaker, author of The Best Tennis of Your Life and Fearless Tennis audio program and a former world-ranked pro on the ATP Tour who went on to reach the No. 1 ITF ranking in the world and U.S in the men’s 35-age division. Jeff has been helping athletes, parents and coaches in sports psychology since 1998. He has been a faculty member and supervisor at John F. Kennedy University for graduate students in the sports psychology program as well as a guest speaker for numerous sports organizations. He has served as a mental skills consultant to the United States Tennis Association for the past decade. Jeff earned his B.A at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He consults with league, college, junior and pro players worldwide.
You can read Jeff's advice from The Best Tennis of Your Life in every edition of Courtside SF. See this month's article about engaging in your own learning process.
1. What were your motivations for becoming a sports psychologist?
I became deeply curious about why we could play well one day and the next day or match could be entirely different. I also hated the idea that I had more potential and athleticism in me that I wasn’t actualizing. This bothered me to the core. So, I decided to go back to school to learn the science behind performance and try to better understand this mysterious mind-body connection. As I became aware of my own gap between how I was playing in practice versus tournament matches, I started to notice the same thing with so many other players. It became clear to me that the mental aspect of the game was not being taught enough or in a way that was hitting the core issue: fear. So, for the past 20 years I’ve been on a mission to help players learn these lessons and apply practical tools so they can play fearless tennis and on their terms.
2. What is the day-to-day like as a sports psychologist?
My work and business has a great deal of variety in it. While about 75% of my private practice is comprised of athletes (majority of whom are tennis players), I still see a handful of adults and adolescents who may not play sports but are trying to develop more self-confidence and manage overall performance or social anxiety, in some cases. I usually work both on and off the court depending on the client and issues we are working on.
I have also teamed up with a friend and former client, Jeff Salzenstein, who was a stand out at Stanford and top 100 in the world. He has a successful online tennis coaching business and we have combined our expertise and now coach groups of adult, highly motivated players and take them to destinations like La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club and Tucson to coach them on all aspects of the game (technical, mental, strategic and conditioning). Basically, it’s one stop shopping for rapid development. They love it and are getting a ton out of this unique program.
Finally, I am just about to launch a new Fearless Tennis Team Training program for Junior players where they can interact with me on a regular basis and get the most relevant content for their age and circumstances. This is an exciting new program I believe can give young players a mental edge early in their development.
3. What are the most common issues players come to you with?
The most common issues I see in my practice have to deal with the fear of losing—essentially the anxiety that comes with not knowing what will happen, yet coupled with a deep desire to fulfill their potential and win. So, there is this tension that creates deep frustration over mistakes or poor performances, muscle tension, tentative play in matches, worry about college and parent’s expectations. Many players get stuck not knowing how to make adjustments when their game goes off in a match and this is incredibly frustrating when you don’t have the right tools to fix it. I help players become more aware of themselves and their patterns and then give them practical tools to clean things up so they can play with more focus, looseness and intensity—all at the same time (aka Fearless Performance Dials).
4. What advice do you have for adults who play USTA league or other types of competitive tennis for balancing competition with fun and recreation?
It is important to strike a balance between competitive tennis and the other social aspects and fun available in league tennis, in particular. I know league tennis can create a lot of pressure for players with the lineups and perceived judgment related to winning and losing. It is important for players to find perspective, focus on what they can control on the court, have specific goals when they play beyond the outcome so they can feel good on the court. It is possible to enjoy the matches, be good sports and still play competitively. There is a lot of mind-reading that goes on and often our perceptions are not always accurate. It’s important to let go of the negative energy and try to focus on bringing your best each day and remember to be grateful for playing this great game. Letting go of the little, petty stuff is so important.
5. How good are you at taking your own advice when you are playing tennis?
I have spent years trying to crack this nut—how to play my best under pressure—because I want to fulfill my potential as a player on the court. I realized that playing tentatively is not how I want to remember myself in the game. I am pretty confident that the titles or gold balls won’t hold nearly as much weight or satisfaction as the memory of playing freely and enjoying the competitive moments. Having this longer view does help me play looser and focus on things that will help me execute and thrive in these moments. I still get tight from time to time but I am able to manage this very well and rarely feel that my mental game gets in the way of playing my best or winning. But, it didn’t happen overnight! But, I love the process of learning and coming back over and over to see if I can do just a little better the next time. This makes the game still fun for me.