Fearless Tennis: Develop positive chemistry with your doubles partner


by Jeff Greenwald, M.A., MFT; sports psychologist

Reprinted with permission from Fearless Tennis

In virtually every seminar I have given on the mental game, players never fail to raise the question about how to handle the embarrassment, frustration, and self-sabotage they experience in doubles matches. “What should I do when I start worrying about my partner?” they ask. As I probe further, they confide in me that they worry about being rejected by their partner, dropped off the team, or simply looked down upon by peers.

Professional players are not immune to similar worries in the heat of battle when they feel they are not holding up their side of the court. However, this mind-set and psychological tug-of-war can wreak havoc on your game, not to mention your enjoyment. Creating a game plan to manage this self-defeating pattern can help you avoid what I call the “codependent trap.”

Based on research of doubles teams, conducted by Jim Loehr over the past decade, what has become apparent is that most professional doubles players spend approximately 75 percent more time than amateur players in matches engaging in either verbal or nonverbal communication. Often, you can see this when they join together at the service line to discuss their plan for the next point, when they tap their racquet strings in an attempt to support and motivate themselves and their partner before returning serve. Good chemistry is created with a plan, and it requires some discussion of what you like and don’t like in terms of interaction and feedback from your partner. Ideally, this communication should happen well before the match and usually does for players who play with one another on a regular basis. For many league players, this type of communication often isn’t possible due to the impromptu nature of their matches. Therefore, it is critical to become aware of your needs on the court so you can initiate this with your partner, at the very least, as the match unfolds. How much talking do you like? When is it helpful to you? Do you like positive encouragement when you find yourself in a rough patch, or would you rather figure it out on your own? What are your personal goals for the match?

It is important to become aware of what helps you play your best so you can create the kind of partnership that is supportive, motivating, and effective. Don’t hesitate because you are worried about your partner’s reaction. She will be far more irritated when it comes out anyway during the match!

Having a team mantra can be useful, too. When the going gets tough, it is helpful to have a saying that keeps you both on track. Some of my favorite sayings are, “Let’s rip away and see what happens.” “Ready to have some fun?” “We’re not out of this yet; let’s keep fighting.” You may also want to have your own personal phrase that keeps your mind from straying over to the worries about what your partner is thinking (i.e., I’m doing the best I can. Stay loose and go for your shots.). This type of communication needs to be only a few seconds. It doesn’t take long. But the positive emotions that come out of it are well worth it. Typically, this would include a brief discussion of strategy or a motivational comment. You would be surprised what consistent communication can do for you and your partner. It makes you feel connected and not so alone, which can help minimize your negative self-talk and stop your codependent behavior on the court.