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The Mental Game Of Racquetball

Focus Your Mind, No Matter What

Bill Cole, MS, MA

I've been the mental game coach to dozens of racquetball players over the years. The mental game of racquetball is one of my specialties. At two major universities I taught racquetball to general college students and also taught physical education majors how to play and teach racquetball. I've specialized in the mental game of racquetball since the early 1970's when I competed.

Note how this world-class archer describes her degree of focus during an event. She describes the well-known dictum of "play one point at a time" perfectly:

"Archery is a mind game. The one who can handle the pressure the best is the one who is going to win. What stood me to good stead during the World Cup in Antalya was that there was never a moment that I was thinking about the final outcome. Before each shot, my whole focus was making sure that I get to execute ‘the process’ to perfection. That led to me winning. From next week the challenge again will be to go at it one arrow at a time."
Danelle Wentzel, Gold Medalist, Archery World Cup

How about you? How often are you able to play racquetball one point at a time? Here are five mental strategies that will help you do just that and to build and maintain a laser-focused mind.

  1. Embrace The Unknown: Do you have a sense of adventure? Do you like doing things that will give you a good story to tell later? Do you like to have experiences that few other people have? If so, that's good. That means you're a good competitor who has a good healthy competitive spirit. Listen to what world #1 tennis player Novak Djokovic said about this spirit before he went into the 2019 Wimbledon finals:

    "So to be in another final is a dream come true. Regardless of the history and many finals I've played, playing finals at Wimbledon is something different so I'll definitely enjoy that experience."

    You notice he said he WILL enjoy the experience, not that he HOPES he will enjoy the experience. This is a key inner quality that champions use to their advantage. They are INTENTIONAL about what they PLAN to do. He won, by the way! That was Wimbledon Championship number five. He's won 16 Grand Slam singles championships. Novak is on track to be in the top four all–time greats in tennis history. I don't know about you, but when a champion of that magnitude tells me how his mind works, I listen.

  2. Don't Try To Escape Pressure: Don't seek to get away from pressure. Don't try to reduce pressure. Don't wish the situation were less tense. Embrace pressure! If you're feeling pressure, that means you're doing something right. You're doing something worthwhile. You're in the hunt, in the mix. You don't want all your matches to be easy, do you? If you hope for a weak opponent, and they turn out to be good, you've essentially mentally defeated yourself before the match even started. You'll be in shock and disappointed that you didn't get your wish for an easy contest. It will be far harder to toughen up at that point and pull your mind and emotions together. So instead, hope for a good, tough opponent who is on their game who will push you. That will give you a fun, challenging match. You won't be bored, that's for sure. And that is one huge way top competitors handle pressure. They SEEK it! They love a good fight.

  3. Close Down The Clutter: This is a United States Air Force term that jet pilots use to help "clear their mind". They need to be focused, before take-off, when flying, and when landing. They create this laser focus by first getting their mind quiet. They pause, breathe deeply, think of nothing and just exist for a few minutes. They do this mental cleansing before every flight. This is part of their pre-flight checklist. You can do the same in racquetball. Before you leave your house or hotel, sit, close your eyes, and draw 5-10 deep breaths. Relax and feel your body let go. Allow your mind to go anywhere it likes. You don't need a mantra and you don't need to visualize. Those are good skills, but those keep your mind active. The process of clearing the mind is the opposite, a passive skill. And for this purpose, passive is good. Let your mind be inactive, calm and peaceful. You'll see a big difference when you get on court.

  4. Use The Three R's: You want to have a well-defined mental and physical process you go to between each point. This gives you mental consistency and locks in your focus before the next point. The three R's are: Review, Release, Reset / Ritual. First, Review: In the span of no more than five seconds, think back to the prior point's tactics. If you are happy with them, tell yourself to keep doing that. If they did not work, give yourself a simple, new tactic to try. Alternatively, you can also just skip the Review portion. Then go to the Release: Let that prior point go mentally, 100%. It's done, so you can't change it. If you liked it, or if you hated it, let it go. Even happy memories of that old point can stick with you, staying in your mind and getting in the way of good focus for the next point. Finally, go to the Reset / Ritual phase: Here you simply follow your normal procedure for starting the point, whether you are receiving or serving.

  5. Don't Give The Opponent Too Much Respect: Give the opponent full respect as a fellow competitor, but no more than that. You never want to psych yourself out. And in reality, ALL psych-outs are self psych-outs. The former First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Never let anyone "rent space in your head". You respect the opponent because you both love the sport. You both train hard. You both are fierce competitors. Beyond that, the respect stops. You're there to get a job done, not to get them to like you or for you to be nice to them.

Now you can see how these mental strategies can help you keep your mind clear, deeply focused, and free from other people's mind games. You have this power within you at all times. Claim that power and realize that only YOU control what is in your mind. Take charge of your mind and keep it clear, simple and focused, and you'll spend more time shaking hands as the winner at the end of your matches.

Copyright © Bill Cole, MS, MA 2001-2020 All rights reserved.

This article covers only one small part of the mental game. A complete mental training program includes motivation and goal-setting, pre-event mental preparation, post-event review and analysis, mental strengthening, self-regulation training, breath control training, motor skill training, mental rehearsal, concentration training, pressure-proofing, communication training, confidence-building, breaking through mental barriers, slump prevention, mental toughness training, flow training, relaxation training, momentum training, psych-out proofing and media training.

For a comprehensive overview of your mental abilities you need an assessment instrument that identifies your complete mental strengths and weaknesses. For a free, easy-to-take 65-item sport psychology assessment tool you can score right on the spot, visit This assessment gives you a quick snapshot of your strengths and weaknesses in your mental game. You can use this as a guide in creating your own mental training program, or as the basis for a program you undertake with Bill Cole, MS, MA to improve your mental game. This assessment would be an excellent first step to help you get the big picture about your mental game.

Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching Association, Bill is also founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps organizations and professionals achieve more success in business, life and sports. He is a multiple Hall of Fame honoree, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published book author and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For a free, extensive article archive, or for questions and comments visit him at

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