The Heat is On: How the rising temperatures affect our mental game

Few years back, I had the opportunity to play a local Connecticut Open qualifier with Ivan Lendl. For those of you who don’t know Lendl, he is considered by many (including myself) to be one of the best men’s tennis players of all time. He was ranked world No. 1 for 270 weeks at the peak of his career, and won 94 singles titles including 8 grand slams. I loved watching tennis growing up and I can tell you from first hand experience, in his prime, Lendl was unbeatable. 
On the day we played, Lendl’s technical skills were obviously not at the level of his tennis abilities, but I can assure you his mindset was. To this day, I have never played with someone who was more prepared. In every facet of the game, his preparation was extraordinary and I could go on for pages about how impressive he was, however, what impressed me the most was how he managed the weather conditions. 
When Lendl and I teed off, it was hot! I can’t remember exactly what the temperature was, but it was definitely triple digits. We started walking down the fairway and Lendl made a beeline to the trees to find shade. This blew me away. From the opening moments of the round, Lendl was fully committed to minimizing the impact that the heat could have on his performance. His pace was slow and deliberate. He did his best to stay out of the direct sunlight as often as possible. He drank water at every opportunity. He wore a sun hat and sunglasses. He had a water-soaked cooling towel wrapped around his neck. He changed his shirt and socks at-the-turn. It was amazing to see how much thought he put into preparing himself for every contingency.
When I asked him about his preparation for the heat, he told me about his experience at the Australian Open, where on center court, the temperature could get up to an unthinkable 156°! (A retractable roof has since been put in place to better protect the players from the heat) Before the roof was put in, Lendl told me when the players were on the side of the court where the sun was shining, you felt like you were literally being roasted alive – not good for playing your best and the better prepared players definitely had an advantage. Lendl was certainly one of those players.
It’s pretty obvious what the physical consequences of playing in the heat are (exhaustion, dehydration, cramping, etc.), but what about the psychological? Research in this area suggests the following potential consequences that playing in the heat can have on performance:

  • Slowed reaction time
  • Difficulty problem solving
  • Disorientation/Confusion
  • Memory problems
  • Increases irritability
  • Increases anxiety
  • Decreased drive and initiative
  • Difficulty with concentration and focus

Here in the Northeast, hazy, hot, and humid become part of the daily vernacular. It’s hard enough to be outside for more than a few minutes on those days, let alone playing a four and a half hour round of golf. Unless you’re prepared, playing in heat can be both physically dangerous and most definitely have an impact on your mental game. Take a lesson from one of the best athletes of all time and prepare for the heat. Your body, mind, and scorecard will thank you!
As an aside, here is a gear list that we recommend to our students and members to prepare for and play in the heat.
Awareness is the key to change!
Dr. Brant
Clinical Psychologist