A three-step plan for using visualization techniques to improve your game. (AP)

How does a player go from looking like a shell of his former self to winning three Grand Slam titles in the space of 12 months? If you’re Novak Djokovic, it’s all in the mind.

“I think that’s probably the biggest secret of my success, or probably any other athlete, is self-belief,” Djokovic said after winning his 15th major title at the Australian Open in January. “Always digging deep in the moments when you’re facing adversity...visualizing yourself as a winner, trying to be in a positive state of mind.”

“I’m a true believer in visualization,” Djokovic continued. “I do that a lot. I think that I had to do that more than ever in my life 12 months ago.”

After missing the second half of the 2017 season with injury, Djokovic slowly worked his way back into form as 2018 began, and took some surprising losses along the way. But when he regained his health
and confidence, he didn’t waste time turning his visions into reality. Of course, even Djokovic admits that hitting a perfect shot in your dreams is not the same as hitting one in real life—“It’s a lot easier said than done,” he said.

But are there ways to train yourself to make the leap from imagination to reality more easily; to increase your chances of reproducing with your body what you see in your mind.

Frank Giampaolo, a longtime tennis instructor and author of The Tennis Parent’s Bible and Neuro Priming for Peak Performance, has developed a visualization plan that he recommends every recreational player follow in the days and hours before a match. While all of us work to improve our strokes, not enough of us do the same with our minds. Instead of fortifying ourselves with productive, beneficial thoughts, we let anxiety fill the void.

“What we think about often dictates what we create,” Giampaolo says about players. “Positive, constructive visualization trains a player to perform the skills imagined calmly, without hesitation.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

All smiles for clay season. Let’s goooooo ???????????? #NoleFam #Idemooo @rolexmontecarlomasters

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Before Match Day:

Starting three nights before a competitive event, set aside some time each evening and relive a winning performance from your past. Allow yourself to re-experience the feelings of coming through under pressure. This positive reinforcement will help combat fears or nervousness.

During Training Sessions:

As you hone your strokes and go through drills, constantly assess what you want to achieve with each shot or pattern of play, and picture what a successful result would look like. Many of us have been taught to try to make our minds go blank when we’re on court, but thinking positively can give us more energy and help us train more effectively.

Like anything else, confidence comes with practice. As Giampaolo says, “A winning mindset is a performance-based plan.”

Day of Match:

Arrive at the site of the competition early enough to set aside 20 minutes to mentally rehearse the goals you’ve been trying to achieve in practice. Find a quiet area away from other matches and competitors and begin by closing your eyes and taking several deep, relaxing breaths. Then create what is called your “positive movie”: create a vivid mental image of yourself performing various tasks—strokes, tactics, patterns of play, emotional responses to adversity—successfully. Once you’ve watched the film, it’s time to turn the movie into reality.