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MENTAL ASPECTS OF COMPETING IN TENNIS
WHY WE “CHOKE” & HOW TO AVOID IT, By TennisTom 2011
USTA 2.5 to 3.5 Level, Doubles
“All complex things are simple things put together.” [TT] Below I have briefly explored ten elements concerning the mental game. You can look at one thing at a time and decide which concepts might be useful to you. Most all players who compete get nervous, so the better you can cope with “nerves,” the more you will win and the more fun you will have.
1) Fear of losing. Sometimes we play with fear of losing in the back of our minds. The fear of losing is a fear of future happenings. A basic rule of the mental game is to play in the present, that is, to play the present swing within the ongoing point. Another way of saying this is “Play in the moment.”
2) Fear of letting your partner down. A fear of letting your partner down is a fear of embarrassment. Again this is a fear of future happenings. If you concentrate and play one stroke at a time – the present stroke – that is all you should expect of yourself. Everyone plays below their capabilities at times. Realizing that whatever error you might have made, that you didn’t do it on purpose, might expand your perspective. This little kernel of insight is a healthy and positive way to look at your partner’s errors too. Guilt / blame is wasted energy in the long term. Period.
3) Do not attach your self worth to the outcome. If you relate your self worth to winning or losing you are setting yourself up for anxiety that is unnecessary and unrealistic. You are NOT worth less as a person if you lose a point, or a game, or a match. If you are unhappy with an outcome, a good response is to work at becoming a better player over time.
4) If you lose, take time to learn from your experience. After a losing match, review what happened while it is fresh on your mind. Think about what went wrong and what you could change in your game. Take it to the practice court. If you don’t do this, you may continue playing pretty much the same as when you lost. Change is the key word here, and mindful practice is the key to change. Improving is part of the fun.
5) Mistakes happen if you are human. If you are human, don’t beat yourself up. Perfectionism on the court is a sure way to get nervous and become frustrated. The mind-body connection teaches us that too much tension causes our muscles to tighten up and we then under-perform. Let go of a previous error. In tennis a lost previous point is over forever because you cannot fix it. Expect to be imperfect and play one swing at a time.
6) Trying too hard creates an anxious state of mind and invites tension. Ask yourself if you are trying too hard, and if so, try to play more relaxed. One way to play more relaxed is to “go back to the basics.” In other words it’s a mental shift from an emotional to an intellectual state of mind. Also, physical flexing between points may help you modify your energy level downward.
7) Mental distractions, both external and internal, abound and are waiting to ambush us. Either type can cause us to play poorly. Be mindful of when you are distracted and try to direct your mind to focus. In this context to focus does not mean on the match, on the game, or the point; but rather it means to focus on each stroke as it is happening.
8) Good practice and confidence. Overall confidence relates to your playing history. Winning against a certain team or player builds confidence. However, if you are playing against unfamiliar opponents, one of the most reassuring things that you can have is a knowledge that your strokes are pretty sound. If you do not have this assurance concerning your strokes, one of the best ways to improving your confidence is to repeat good playing habits through practice. If you pursue good form you can build trust in yourself. Trust equals confidence.
9) Be calm. This is especially useful advice for learners. A trick is to say to yourself, “Self, be caaalm.” I know that it sounds a little funny, but active self suggestion works for a number of players but few players try it. Also. if you consciously choose a target to shoot at before you hit the ball, this will help you maintain your calmness. If you are not over-challenged because your opponents are better players, you can decide on where and how you want to hit the ball beforehand. Examples: If your opponent serves at a pace that you can usually control, decide whether you want to hit a lob over their net person and make the server run for it, or hit an angle shot and make the server run for it, or hit the ball deep to the server, or hit directly at their net person. Pre-knowledge is a great calmer.
10) Pressure and being patient. Most players feel internal pressure building up during the process of playing a protracted point. Being in a hurry to finish a point is illusory. Many 2.5-3.5 doubles players unconsciously think that they should hit a forcing shot right away, particularly from the baseline. This is, at the very least, not smart. Give your opponent time to make the error. When rallying you can discover how few shots are typically hit before someone makes an unforced error. You can find out what your personal “number of strokes quotient” is by simply being introspective. Try this. In a practice game count the number of strokes hit before you begin to get nervous. Do this for several games and you will find out what your average “nervous number” is. You can increase this number substantially. A good suggestion for increasing your consistency is to practice hitting ten or more balls in a row without missing in practice games. If you can do that fairly regularly, your win rate will increase more than you previously anticipated.
[24-Mental Aspects of Competing in Tennis by TennisTom] [Rev 2-12-11]