by Jay P. Granat, Ph.D.
Stamina, mental toughness, exceptional footwork and timing are just some of the ways boxing can help you take your tennis game to the next level. As a psychotherapist, I have counseled many tennis players, boxers and martial artists looking to improve their mental game. Interestingly, I teach both tennis players and boxers the same kinds of mental toughness skills and techniques. World No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki, World No. 25 Victoria Azarenka and World No. 12 Andy Murray, are just some of the pro players who incorporate boxing into their training routine.
Fight fans call boxing “the sweet science”, which was originally coined by Pierce Egan, a British sportswriter who acknowledged boxers as both methodical and tough. The psychological and physical similarities between tennis and boxing are significant.
Ten Ways Boxing Can Make You a Better Tennis Player
- Great players have great feet.
Boxing, like tennis, is all about balance and good footwork. Jumping rope is a favorite exercise among fighters. Tennis players who jump rope can improve their footwork and their balance. Being light on your feet is particularly useful when returning serve and when running down balls. Any boxer will tell you that you cannot do anything if you give up your balance. The same holds true for tennis.
- Tennis requires great stamina.
Once you can spar three or four three-minute rounds, you will discover that you have excellent stamina for long points and long matches.
- Mastering the speed bag can be quite helpful in improving your volley and your reactions at the net.
The speed bag is a good way to improve your timing, focus and your hand-eye coordination. In boxing, you need to know where your hands are all the time. In tennis, the ball travels in the direction of your hands. The speed bag can help you to improve focus, timing and awareness of your hands.
- Great boxers have great timing and rhythm.
Just watch their hands and their feet. Boxing gyms always have music with a beat playing in the background for a reason. Similarly, tennis players require a great sense of timing and rhythm so they can strike the ball at the optimal time.
- Anticipation and reading body language is key in tennis.
Some years ago, I played a tennis player who was a black belt in Karate, a sport similar to boxing. I noticed that he was particularly good at reading where I was going to hit the ball. When I asked him if his martial arts training was helpful, he remarked, “Absolutely. When we spar, we have to read our opponent’s body language to determine what they will do next.” This kind of anticipation is vital in tennis.
- “Make him miss and make him pay” is the boxers’ mantra.
This same simple, mantra is useful for tennis players. Boxers, like tennis players, need to exploit openings and weakness when they see them.
- Offense, defense.
In tennis and in boxing, you need to know when and how to shift from offense to defense and from defense to offense.
- Split step and be ready to move.
With the constant intent to move and change direction, boxers and tennis players rely on small quick steps to defend themselves and to attack their opponents during a match.
- Decide what kind of player you would like to be.
A slugger in boxing is analogous to a big hitter or a big server in tennis. A player who retrieves and returns every ball is much like a counter puncher is the sport of boxing. Tennis players can benefit from deciding what kind of player they would like to be. Some players, who have all court games, can be both sluggers and counter-punchers.
- Boxing can help you to develop more mental toughness and physical toughness on the tennis court.
If you can manage the close contact and short reaction time of boxing, you most certainly can handle the stress of a tight tennis match.
Jay P. Granat, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist and founder of www.StayInTheZone.com, and author of Zone Tennis, a complete mental toughness program for tennis players. He can be reached at 888-580-ZONE or at firstname.lastname@example.org.