One player described it to me this way. “I don’t know it was like I wasn’t even there. It was so effortless. It was as if I was watching myself play. Everything seemed to slow down so much. Come on. You’re not content with having this peak experience in tennis once every year or two are you? What if there were a far deeper level of focus, relaxation and intensity just waiting to be tapped? It exists and I want to open this window of opportunity with you. Here are some guidelines that should bring you closer to your peak day more often.
Pre-Match Routines (in the am)
Avoid racing thoughts prior to competition. Research shows that staying mentally calm with less brain activity is one main ingredient to this peak day. To slow your mind down–I do this from the moment my feet hit the floor in the morning on match day–begin by taking deep breaths from your abdomen. Focusing on your breath and staying present without thinking ahead will begin to calm your mind. Practice this off the court as well throughout each day to get more comfortable with the feeling of being more connected to your body through your breath.
Pre-Match Routines (approx. 20 minutes before the match)
Establish a pre-match routine that works for you. Options include inspirational or soothing music, putting your car seat back in the parking lot of the tournament and picturing yourself playing and feeling the way you like, repeating meaningful reminders of your performance goals (i.e. attacking the net, staying loose between points, trusting yourself more, loving the competition). Use the relaxed breathing for a couple of minutes prior to this visualization. A routine that includes any of these activities will make you feel even more prepared, which adds to your feeling of confidence and intensity. The key here, more than anything, is that your mind begins to focus on the “process”–on feeling right, which will take care of the match outcome naturally without even thinking about it.
During the Match
Avoid trying and focusing too hard. Over the years, I finally discovered the difference between what I call a “forced” focus versus a “relaxed” focus, which can have a dramatic impact on your strokes and give you the final ingredient to the on-court balance you may be looking for.
Right now, take your eyes and look at the entire page you are now reading. Okay, now back to this WORD. How did you do this? Like a lens on a camera you simply shifted your attention in the moment where you wanted. You mean we have a choice? Yes, we do. By focusing on specific, relevant stimuli on the court (breath, ball, target, for example) you will begin to get totally absorbed into the task at hand. This relaxed focus is best used before serving and returning by taking a deep breath, very briefly picturing in your mind where you want to hit the ball–like a snapshot– and then focusing your eyes softly on the ball only. This should help bring you into a deeper state of focus and relaxation and away from external distractions.
Due to momentum changes in a match and natural tension that can creep in from time to time, the balance between being physically loose, focused and intense can get thrown off. The following response will help you shift this balance immediately back in your favor:
- Accept and embrace the physical tension as positive and normal, and decide to channel this energy into the ball. 2. Scan the area of the body that is holding most of the tension (usually shoulders) and release it with a deep breath. 3. Smile to yourself to release more positive chemicals in your brain (serotonin) and swing through the ball.
Deep breaths from the abdomen to calm the mind and body in the morning on match day, a pre-match routine to raise your confidence and intensity, a mid-match check up when feeling tense, and relaxed focus on the court should bring you considerably closer to that experience we all love so much.
This article is courtesy of Jeff Greenwald, sports psychology consultant and licensed psychotherapist is the author of FearlessTennis