Fearless Tennis: Set performance goals

Fearless Tennis

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

Reprinted with permission from Fearless Tennis

Depending on your aspirations in the game and how often you plan to compete, setting performance goals can be extremely helpful. Many players talk about outcome goals they hope to achieve, such as being nationally or sectionally ranked, or becoming a professional tennis player, but they don’t spend enough time setting goals that are more short-term and performance-based.


Setting these goals based on your tournament schedule is critical because you want to make sure you are adequately prepared and rested leading up to your events.

Once you have an outcome goal, which can help motivate you, establish the aspects of your game that are most important to help you get there; these are called performance goals. To keep these goals short-term, plan in three-month intervals. Examples would be attacking the net ten times per set, improving your recovery time between points with a lower heart rate, increasing your first serve percentage to 60 percent, and increasing your depth on the backhand crosscourt. After you have recorded your performance goals, establish process goals—this will be the weekly and daily action items you need to put into your schedule. Using the examples above, these could be an approach-shot drill for thirty minutes twice per week, thirty minutes of interval cardio training four times per week within your target heart rate, twenty minutes of serves to both sides with targets after practice three times per week, and backhand crosscourt drills with cones three times per week for thirty minutes.

Your goals should reflect the time of year and your schedule. Ideally, you will have time before the heart of the season arrives to build up your cardio and strength for about four to six weeks, followed by strength training and, finally, simulated footwork exercises that mirror points on the court one to two weeks prior to the first tournament. Setting your goals based on your schedule will give you optimal stamina and help you manage your energy so you don’t burn yourself out before the tournaments begin.

The key with goals is to make them flexible and realistic. Many players can get too ambitious and end up not following through. This can erode your confidence. It is better initially to make the goals small and achievable and gradually adjust them than to make them too lofty in the beginning.

Goals are helpful guardrails that can keep you on track on a daily basis. Once you establish what you want to achieve in a given year or over two to five years (the long-term or dream goals), you can begin to map out the necessary steps that will help you get there. The performance and process goals are the blueprints to your success and will keep you accountable. And, of course, we can all use some accountability, so you may want to find a confidant who will make sure you stay on track.