It happens to everyone. A favourable referee decision for our opponent gives him breakpoints at a crucial moment in the second set. The heart starts beating madly, the hands start to sweat, the blood pressure rises and the only desire we have is to yell at the referee, “You can't be serious!” and smash the racquet with all our strength.
Unfortunately, most players do not have John McEnroe's incredible ability to be able to concentrate perfectly on the next point right after getting fired up.
“When you lose control and emotions take over, you can't focus on what you are doing, or what your opponent is doing, or even on the game tactics.”
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Here are some practical tips on how to manage the pre-game phase, the game itself and the post-game phase.
Before the game
Probably many tennis players believe that it is appropriate to learn to manage emotions only during the match, but an adequate pre-match management of emotions is also essential to be able to remain calm and maintain concentration in the crucial moments of the match.
1. Train like there is no tomorrow
It may seem obvious, but training a lot will lead to good results during the match. As we have already said in the article “The success of Spanish tennis”, by training intensely you will be able to hit on automatic pilot. This will be of great help in important matches. When you manage to automate the movements, you will have more time to focus on other fundamental things, such as strategy and pace of play. With the right concentration, you will make fewer mistakes and be less frustrated.
Also, the more trained you are, the less tired you will feel during matches. This will give you a chance to concentrate better, especially if the games get long.
Put all your passion into the things that matter, like going for a run at 6 AM before school or when your friends go out to have fun while you train in the sun.
2. Stay focused
Just before taking the field, take 10 minutes to concentrate properly. Find a quiet place, away from all distractions (including family, teammates, opponents, and even your coach) and try to visualize the game that is about to begin.
Think about your tennis and the good results obtained with training. Imagine your opponent. What do you know about him? What are his strengths and weaknesses? How do you plan to beat him?
With these answers clear in your head, you will enter the field confidently and frighten everyone.
During the game
Even if the game is perfectly prepared, sometimes things don't turn out the right way.
For this reason, it is essential to know ways to stay calm when on the pitch.
3. Breathe deeply
Did you know that you can control your mind and body just by breathing? If you've gotten nervous and frustrated at missing a point, the simplest thing to do is take two very deep breaths. Your heart rate will drop immediately and you will feel more relaxed.
A perfect time to use this technique is when you are about to serve or await your opponent's serve. To achieve the desired result, I recommend that you inhale slowly, take a short break and then exhale slowly.
4. Respect your routine
Another way to stay calm is to have some rituals to perform between points when it is easier to feel the pressure.
Deep breathing is always a good place to start, but you can add more. When you are about to serve, try to slow down your movements and bounce the ball a number of times that must always be the same. After a particularly challenging point, go and get the towel, even if you don't really need it. Use this moment to clear your mind and start visualizing the next point. Think about how you want to serve or respond. Decide how you want the rally to take place, whether you prefer to go to the net or stay on the baseline to push on your opponent's weakest blow.
Concentrating on these thoughts will help you to divert attention from the previous point and at the same time prepare the next point.
Another important opportunity to remain calm during a match are the changes of ends. Make good use of all breaks. Drink some water and take a bite of a banana. Avoid mulling over the previous game. It's time to just think about the next game.
5. Accept bad luck
Unfortunately, your games will not always have the help of the Hawk's Eye. Usually, in the event of a dubious ball, you will have to rely solely on the judgment of the chair umpire, the linespersons or even your opponent. These situations can lead to discussions and can greatly distract you from the game.
I think it is absolutely right to have your say, in case you do not agree, and also to show the mark of the ball, if you deem it appropriate.
But if the chair umpire still decides to award the point to your opponent, you must accept the decision and try not to think about it anymore. By carrying on a discussion, you will not only be risking receiving a "warning", but also losing the concentration necessary to play the next point.
The worst risk is being eliminated from a tournament for a silly one-point argument.
Another tip: if you are playing without match officials and there is a dubious ball call, always give your opponent the benefit of the doubt. By doing so, you will be able to enjoy the victory better and think that sometimes, as the saying goes, “He who sows the wind, reaps the storm.”
After the game
If usually the advice is to focus only on the next point and not on the previous one, when the game is over it is instead time to think about how we played.
6. Reflect on what went well, but also on what went wrong or very bad
Whether you have won or lost, I recommend that you analyse the game anyway. You can do this by talking to your coach, watching a video of the match or simply by going back to everything that happened.
Start with the positive aspects, with situations in which you have played well and which can perhaps be further improved. Then think about what went wrong: in which occasions did you make unforced errors? How many first serves have you put in? Were you able to follow the strategy you had chosen? Do you think you had chosen it well?
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Finally, evaluate your emotions. Ask yourself how you felt before, during and after the game. Think about the times you felt frustrated and how you handled them. Did you remain calm and focused? If you didn’t, how do you plan to improve things in the next match?
After all these considerations, take a break to relax and disconnect from tennis.
After that (I guess you already understand), it will be time to get back on the court!