4Tennis » Tennis Psychology » Tennis Mental toughness



Logic suggests that when we focus on and name difficult internal experiences such as nerves and anger their intensity may increase, but researchers have discoveredthat the opposite occurs. Why is this? When we put feelings into words it activates the front right region of our brain, called the right ventrolateral pre-frontal cortex, and this region also performs another function; it quiets the emotional part of the brain, called the amygdala. So when the ventrolateral pre-frontal cortex gets activated, it acts like a brake for the emotional centre of our brain. ‘Mindfulness’ Mindfulness involves paying attention to an aspect of our present moment experience without trying to change it in anyway. Amazingly, researchers have also discovered that those who are more skilled in being mindful of their own internal experiences such as thoughts, emotions, and sensations, also tend to activate their right front brain region more powerfully, and amygdala less powerfully, during emotional situations. This means that practicing mindfulness strengthens the part of the brain that automatically regulates emotions. So What Should We Do? We can take advantage of this knowledge as coaches, parents, or players. For example, when nerves or anger are evoked during interpersonal interactions or when watching players as coaches or parents, or during practice or competition as players, try the following 3 steps;  Step 1- Try to recognize nerves or frustration in your body as soon as they arise.  Step 2- When you locate the physical sensation of the emotion in your body, observe it for a few seconds like you could with physical experiences such as a stretch. For example, you may notice anxiety as butterflies in your stomach or tightness in your arm. Or many people notice anger as a tightening in their throat or a hot feeling in their head.  Step 3- As you observe the sensation simply describe the experience by giving it a label like 'there's nerves' or ‘there’s anger’ without trying to reduce it in anyway.  This improves our ability to gain choice in how we respond to nerves and anger because: 1.) Observing the feeling in our body mindfully tends to dissolve it without trying. 2.) Observing the emotion also gives us a perspective of distance from it, rather than being so swept up in it. 3.) Describing nerves and frustrations with words further reduces the intensity without effort. 4.) Practicing paying attention to nerves and anger mindfully improves our tolerance of these experiences over time in the same way that physical fitness training develops our ability to handle physical discomfort


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