Our main goal will be to improve your tennis, regardless of how good you may currently be. But be warned, what you are about to read is not some sort of magical elixir that will instantly guide to you the top of the tennis world! It is simply a guide that will give you the tools to improve yourself as a player and a person. We will show you how your mindset can have a very real impact on the quality of your play. We will give you insight on the mental skills required to master things like nerves and pre-game anxiety, and how you can build real mental toughness.
Above all, we will show you how the psychological component in tennis is just as important as the physical one.
Mental imagery is something we all use in our daily lives. Each time you imagine yourself doing something, like going to the gym, you are engaging in the use of mental imagery. What you may not have known, as that using these images in a constructive way can greatly improve your game!
Mental imagery can be very powerful, but it’s easy to use it in the wrong way. For example, when you hit a very bad shot, it’s common to obsess about that shot, imagining it over and over in your mind. This can be very damaging. Not only does it constantly remind you of your mistakes, which has a negative effect on your morale, but it also informs your future play. If you constantly visualize yourself hitting the ball into the net, you are more likely to do just that! Mental imagery can have a huge impact on your gameplay, so its important to control those images and use them in the right way.
Mental imagery, or visualization, is simply the process of visualizing a sequence of events in your head. To use it effectively, however, there does need to be some structure to your thoughts. The best way to use these images is to take 10 minutes for visualization before you start playing or training. Sit by yourself and visualize yourself being successful on the court. The key is to be as detailed as possible and use all of your senses. Imagine the feel of the racket in your hand and the wind on your face. Think about what you want to do, which shot you want to hit, and then imagine step by step how you successfully perform that action.
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For example, imagine hitting a serve, stepping up to the line and bouncing the ball a few times. Imagine throwing the ball up and taking the racket back to hit the shot. Then see, in your mind, the ball landing exactly where you want it to.
When you successfully employ visualization, you will experience similar emotional responses as if you were actually performing the actions you are imagining. When the moment arrives where you actually have to perform the shot you have been visualizing, you will feel as if you have experienced the sensation recently, and will be able to more confidently perform your shot.
Repeat this process for various shots, especially ones that you may feel nervous about.
It’s important to remember that using visualization will not always yield immediate, tangible results. It is something that you need to build up and practice before it will become as useful as you need it to be. But, as with every shot in tennis, once you practice enough you will feel a real difference in your game thanks to the use of mental imagery.
At various points in a match, every tennis player will make a bad mistake. Sometimes, that mistake can even be embarrassing, such as missing an easy smash right at the net.
When something like that happens, our natural instinct is often to suppress the memory immediately. You don’t want to think about such an egregious error, naturally, so you simply push the memory to the back of your mind.
This kind of behavior is known as “Thought Suppression” and is widely misunderstood. Many people watch professionals on television and see them make an awful error, only for that same player to hit a wonderful shot on the next point. The commentators might even say “he has put the last point out of his mind” or something similar. The assumption is then that thought suppression is something that is useful, but in reality it can be very damaging.
One of the problems is that, in trying to suppress bad thoughts, people try and think of good ones, such as something they enjoy. However, as they keep thinking those positive thoughts as a mechanism to keep the bad ones at bay, they will start associating the good things they enjoy with their bad memories of mistakes they made. This is counterproductive and unhealthy.
This also feeds into the Rebound Effect, which a phenomenon whereby trying to suppress a bad memory, you actually end up thinking about it more than you would have if you hadn’t tried to suppress it.
But what, then, should we do when we make these kinds of mistakes? Well, there are many options to try, but Mindfulness is perhaps the most useful. Mindfulness is a state of mind where you attempt to experience events and thoughts in a neutral, non-judgmental way. Novak Djokovic has, in recent times, been a major proponent of this idea.
So, when you miss that easy smash, don’t try and suppress the memory. Simply try to neutrally view the event. Yes, you made a mistake, but each tennis match is long, and mistakes are made by both players. Don’t beat yourself up, but instead try to learn from it. Why did you miss the smash? Can you identify the reason so that you can avoid such mistakes in the future? By being mindful of our thoughts, these kinds of events can be turned into learning opportunities instead of sources of shame and discomfort.
The important thing is that you are able to identify Thought Suppression as it occurs and prevent it from happening. Once you get used to this way of thinking, it will become second nature and you won’t even have to think about not thinking!
Whether you have won a dozen Grand Slams or just occasionally play on a Saturday afternoon, competitive anxiety is something that every tennis player has to deal with on a regular basis. But while this is a regular occurrence for everyone, for some it can be a crippling problem as their anxiety completely overwhelms them in important moments. This can lead layers who are usually quite good to completely fall apart on the court.
Competitive anxiety usually results in an exaggerated fear of failure. You lose all confidence in your ability to play well, leading you to play timidly and commit more errors than you usually do. This anxiety also finds expression in what is generally referred to as “choking,” when you are at a critical point in the match, often even at an advantage, but you let your nerves get the better of you.
The first step in getting rid of competitive anxiety is to identify what is causing it. What makes you anxious? For many people their anxieties are tied into the opinions others have of them. If you fail to win a match, or make a bad mistake while in the lead, what will your friends or family or coach think? People don’t want to let those close to them down, and this can lead to severe competitive anxiety. Very often, this in an internal fear that has no basis in reality. If you do fail, chances are those close to you will be supportive, so there is no need to be anxious. But apart from that, and more importantly, it is essential that you train your mind to focus not on the possible consequences of your actions, but on the immediate present. Focus on the task at hand, take one shot at a time, and don’t think about what-if scenarios.
Some competitive anxiety can also be linked to past failures. So, for example, if you once lost a game when serving for the match at 40-0, you might get very nervous when a similar situation comes up. The key in such cases is to realize that you can learn from such mistakes. Every failure is an opportunity to become better, and if you can identify why you lost in that game, you can perhaps avoid doing so again in the future.
It’s all a matter of perspective, and if you can focus on the positive side of things, you can quickly put your issues with extreme performance anxiety behind you.
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