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Psychology in Padel

Psychology in sport is an essential aspect in an athlete’s preparation, no matter the type and discipline. When referring to the type of sport, we can distinguish between individual sports and team sports. The mental aspect is very important in both cases for providing tools to the individual or the team in order to improve their performance and solve any problems that may arise, in training and in competition alike.

Padel is a unique sport because it has many of the components of an individual sport but, in reality, it is a team sport, played by a team of two. If we compare padel with its big brother, tennis, it shares very similar psychological components, but multiplied by two.

In other words, I believe there are more psychological variables to work on in padel than in tennis because a player’s performance depends absolutely on their partner and, therefore, there are two minds that must be motivated, concentrated and activated at the same time (with all that this entails). The reason for this conclusion is that if one or both players underperforms, it is very noticeable, which means the team of two must work in sync for optimal performance.

When talking about the psychology of padel, we must consider that it is a sport with an intermittent rhythm of competition, meaning that the game is not continuous, unlike other sports (football, basketball, horse riding, etc.). In padel you play a point, stop for 20 seconds and continue playing, and every two games there is a 90-second break. This means that during ‘non-playing’ time the mind can help or hinder our performance.

If a padel player has an adequate cognitive and behavioural repertoire, the ‘non-playing’ time can help them to concentrate and restructure if needed. If this is not the case, the time when the ball is not in play can be very detrimental to the player and can negatively affect them when the point gets underway. For this reason, it is useful to offer tools to padel players to properly manage the interruptions in the game, so they can make the best decisions during the match.

One aspect of the game that is essential is communication. We can fundamentally distinguish two types of communication in padel:

- Tactical communication

- Emotional communication

Tactical communication can take place during points (to warn the partner of the position of the opposing players) and also between points to suggest a game plan. Emotional communication conveys emotions and is fundamental to ‘infect’ the partner in a positive way when we perceive that they need it.

In mental training, a lot of work is done on emotional communication, not only verbally but also in terms of gestures. We know how important gestures are in this sport and how much it can positively or negatively influence the sporting partner, as well as the opponents’ interpretation of that language.

We can tell whether or not a pairing is connected with the game just by observing the verbal and body language between them. The opposing partner will then take note of this repertoire in order to take advantage in case they perceive any negativity or passivity in this respect.

Another aspect given a lot of attention from a mental point of view is the tolerance to error. In a padel match there are hits and misses; it’s part of the game. At the professional level, court and ball conditions are making it increasingly difficult to score winning points, so being solid is essential in the game. Mistakes weigh heavily and managing them is vital to maintain optimal performance most of the time.

Lastly, I would highlight another essential aspect in padel from a psychological point of view, and that is activation control. Since, as we have said, it is a sport with an intermittent pace, players must know how to switch themselves on when the ball is in play and to lower that activation when the point is over. Properly managing this activation control can be the key to obtaining the best performance.

Therefore, and by way of summary, we could suggest a number of tips to improve the psychological aspect of the game:

1. Try to maintain positive verbal and gestural communication with ourselves and with our partner; this is relatively easy when we are winning, but it is an important plus when the score is tied or when we are trailing.

2. Follow an established routine after unforced errors, which are the ones that penalise a padel player’s attitude. This routine should be personal, focused on analysing the mistake positively and trying to reset to be ready for the next point.

3. Focus on staying highly engaged when the ball is in play and know how to relax and switch off this tension when the point is over. This will help us to consume only the energy we need while the point is underway and to reset when the point is over.

In professional padel, a great deal of care and attention is given to the mental aspect. It is a modern sport and psychological work is part of athletes’ weekly training, so the figure of the sports psychologist is given a natural visibility as a member of the coaching staff.

I have been working with Ariana Sánchez for several seasons and with Paula Josemaría since they paired up. In 2023, they have managed to finish the season as world number one.

It hasn’t been easy, in fact last year was difficult mentally because the number one spot wasn’t decided until the last tournament, and that’s when we ended up losing. But far from weakening us, that situation made us stronger and helped us to further fine-tune certain mental aspects that have made us more regular and constant.

In very simple terms, the psychological work carried out with both players is fundamentally based on several areas:

-      Concentration area: where we work on routines before, during and after matches. 

-      Emotional control area: based on properly managing the players’ cognitive repertoire (their thoughts).

-      Team area: given that Ari and Paula train separately (they live in different cities) and have different work teams, we work with their coaches and their team to make the most of all situations, both in training and competition, and to look after every detail of their preparation.

Psychologically, Ari Sánchez’s strong points could be said to be her ability to maintain a high level of play in the decisive moments of each match, as well as her decision making, an aspect directly related to her concentration.

As for her partner, Paula Josemaría, we can highlight, on a psychological level, her high intensity of engagement at all times and her brave attitude. She is a player who is always ready to ‘do damage’ with her shots, and that is a virtue that, from the right side of the court, few players on the circuit possess.

If we were to ask ourselves about the extent to which psychological work has an influence on topping world ranking, I would say that it is very important, given that the main consequence of mental training is regularity, getting each player to always bring out the best in themselves. To this end, it is vital to work on tools to use when certain problems arise in each training session or match.

The world’s top pairings are technically and physically strong, and perhaps what distinguishes the number one pair from the others is a mental toughness that is sustained longer than their rivals.

Also, of utmost importance is what we call ‘invisible training’, i.e., everything that professional players do when they are not training or competing. Much attention is paid to diet, recovery from exertion through physiotherapy, lifestyle, sleep, rest, etc. It all matters and adds up to improved performance.

Getting to the top of the world ranking is not an easy task, and only with a strict and proper technical, physical and mental preparation is it possible to achieve sporting glory.

Óscar Lorenzo García

Graduate in psychology / Master’s in sport psychology


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