Every tennis player has a unique mental approach to the game. The most successful players, professional or amateur, are those who best understand the way their brains work. Take our psychological test, designed by top sports scientist Jon Niednagel (founder and director of the Brain Type Institute in America) and discover how to use your grey matter to win matches.It’s the million dollar question: What gives some people the ability to make their living playing tennis while others struggle to win a round of their club tournament? Or, to put it bluntly, what separates a great tennis player from a good one, and a good one from a rubbish one? Coaches and tennis experts will tell you the key to on-court success is learning the skills at a young age, training exhaustively or having an athletic physique. But American sports scientist, Jon Niednagel, thinks it’s all down to the brain wiring.

Niednagel says that within your brain different mental, cognitive, spatial, visual and physical abilities can combine in any number of ways to form individual ‘brain types’ which he believes shape the aptitudes of all human beings. According to Niednagel, there are 16 basic brain types which govern the way an individual approaches everything from doing the housework to managing their emotions to their prowess in a particular sport. ‘When you or I wake up in the morning we have more activity in one specific area of the brain where we’re wired strongest, and as we move through the day the decisions we make are heavily influenced by the part of the brain which dominates as a result of this wiring,” he says. Niednagel believes that brain types are inborn and genetically predisposed. “The aptitudes you have are not built up over your lifetime but are built in on the assembly line at birth,” he says. “For example, the environment you grow up in is not going to make you a smarter mathematician or the world No. 1 tennis player, because you have to have that innate wiring to be those things.”

ace3Brain types are determined by four basic pairs of psychological attributes.

These are:

1) (E)xtraverted vs (I)ntroverted: The tendency to draw energy from others against the tendency to draw energy from within.

2) (S)ensing vs i(N)tuitive: Belief only in what the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing report against the belief in a sixth, guiding sense.

3) (T)hinking vs (F)eeling. The basing of decisions on logic versus emotion.

4) (J)udging vs (P)erceiving: A work-oriented vs fun-oriented attitude to life.In each pair, an individual will subconsciously identify more with the attribute at one end of the scale than the other. So, for example, they will either be extroverted (e) or introverted (i). In each of the four cases, this attribute is the one that contributes to the way their brain functions.

There are 16 possible combinations of the eight different attributes. For example, a person can be ESFJ (extroverted sensing feeling and judging) or ENTP (extroverted intuitive feeling and perceiving). These different combinations constitute Niednagel’s Brain Types.

So far, this may just seem like a load of old psychobabble with little to do with tennis. On the contrary, Niednagel says that understanding the way our brains are wired allows us to maximize our strengths, neutralize our weaknesses, and can be used to guide any aspect of our life, including nailing matchpoint in the final set.

‘When you start to fall apart, your body breaks down and your mind starts to go – and this happens to even the greatest athletes … then if you understand how your brain is wired, you can invoke very specific strategies to pull you out,” he says.

And all this talk of brain wiring isn’t just wild conjecture. “We’re doing genetic testing now and finding very specific DNA markers for each of the brain types,” says Niednagel. “We hope soon to patent the various DNA characteristics for each type.” According to Niednagel, brain typing isn’t just useful, an understanding of your wiring can be crucial to your mental welfare whether you’re an aspiring pro or a club hacker. “About 70 per cent of what good coaches teach is relevant for everybody, but it’s the other 30 per cent dimension that is critical because it needs to be specifically oriented towards the individual,” says Niednagel. “We’re not all cut out to be great athletes. It’s important to realize that people are normally happiest when they’re doing things that sit well with their psyches, not putting themselves under pressure to achieve things their brains aren’t wired to achieve.”

Niednagel believes that tennis success is 90 per cent due to mental skills and that this figure is rising. “Of course you have to build a game and develop the technique and mechanics of tennis, but I know people with poor mechanics and technique who beat better players all the time because they know exactly how their minds work in different situations. If athletes spent just five minutes a day on the right mental techniques, within a month they would be much stronger mentally and within a year they’d have gained significant control over their minds.”

Authored by: Charlotte James

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