It’ s frustrating to put in precious time and money towards improving your tennis game and still losing. Horribly. You’ve been taking lessons, attending clinics, even practicing with a partner, or maybe playing some practice matches. You’re grinding, making strides in the way you play your game, and even feeling confident about your abilities.
Then you get into competitive matchplay…
…and completely implode.
It’s as if you never took those lessons, applied those techniques, and put in the work. Hell, it may sometimes feel like you just picked up a racket. Not seeing tangible results (like wins) can be frustrating, and ultimately destroy confidence.
You try to change coaches, practice partners, doubles partners, racquets, shoes…you might think you need to work HARDER , OR you might even stop playing tennis for a while. Or forever.
Perhaps it’s time to invest in your mental preparation. Common belief dictates that just because we’ve prepared 2-3 times before a match we should be ready to replicate exactly what we’ve done in those practice sessions, clinics, lessons, etc. But it doesn’t work that way.
Pressure, nerves, anxiety are all real, normal responses to competition and performance. We give a care, so with that comes expectations, worries, questions, possibly doubts, fears, and surrenders, if left unchecked. How do we manage those feelings?
Your mental preparation and training can help you to deal with these feelings, and bring you closer to the state where pressure, nerves, and anxiety don’t interfere with your ability to focus on your current match. It’s learning to accept those feelings, and quietly set them aside while you play tennis.
It’s entering your personal zone. That’s where the real fun of tennis begins.
And it’s worth the effort. Just like all skills, mental toughness and competitive focus can be trained. It’s tough work because it involves dealing with your personality traits. All those insecurities and feelings of shame? You’re going to have to deal with them. Your ego? You’re going to have to tell it to take a rest. But you get to discover tons of strength, resiliency, and self-acceptance in the process. Who doesn’t want that?
This is where many newbies (3.5ers, I’m talking to you) say ‘that’s too hippy-dippy, I’ll just hit more balls’. But there are ways you can actively work to improve your mental toughness without sitting on a psychologist’s couch, and talking about your unresolved childhood issues. Sports psychology is legitimate, widely used and accepted, and its pedagogy researched tested. It’s not sorcery, hypnotism, or magic, and that’s what many small-minded players envision.
If you address the forthcoming four issues, you’ll begin playing within yourself, enjoying the game more, and truly feeling present on the court. Remember, tennis is a game of relaxation. In the next 4 days, I’ll post more about each one, but here they are:
- Tempering Expectations: Deeply understanding and accepting how little control you have over the outcome of the match, the elements, your opponents, even your own game–and feeling liberated by that. Then identify what you actually can control. Hint: It’s very little.
- Changing Your Beliefs: By merely changing your beliefs about your level of play, and what needs to be done in a match to win points, you can increase your match toughness, and send a message to your opponents of resilience.
- Focus: It’s the same as mindfulness. Learn how to deliberately move into the here and now of your match, your game, your point will keep you from being distracted, and increase your engagement with the points, your opponent, and partner (if applicable). This is how you lose self-consciousness.
- Relaxation: Learn to let go the urge to ‘make things happen’, to exercise control over your game. Instead, learn to enter the state of focused intensity, let go of judgement (you are not your game), and truly play your game without fear.
There’s nothing but upside to you nvesing in your mental training. Forget what your friends say. They don’t have growth mindsets. Top athletes do it, and so should you. The work is extremely difficult, but the benefits to your game (and self) are profound. Stay tuned.