Updated: Dec 22, 2020
The mental side of tennis is without a doubt one of the most crucial elements to master. I will begin this blog post with a question. Do you ever doubt yourself when you play a tennis match? If so, how do you deal with it? Do you have mechanisms in place to deal with doubt? Well if not, then you have come to the right place. This blog will try to tackle the problems that a tennis player with a poor mentality faces every single time they play a match.
Before we learn about the various techniques to deal with negativity and doubt, we must first learn to recognize when we are being negative. To do this, we have to listen very carefully to our brain chatter. Is our mind giving us positive or negative feedback? Telling yourself that it's 'just not my day today' or 'how am I losing to this guy he sucks!' are classic examples of negative brain chatter that just get in the way of your game. It is definitely easier said than done but try to replace this negative brain chatter with more pro-active and positive goals. Focus on your opponents game and try to find a weakness then simply target that weakness. Yes, I know some opponents just seem unbeatable and fair play to them but let us try to focus on more specific goals like hit to the backhand and then follow into the net to try and derail your opponent. These skills will only get better with practice and time.
Now, let us look at the various techniques we can use to get on top of those negative thoughts and play more positively. These focus exercises are presented to you courtesy of my tennis coach and mentor Garreth O'Carrol.
1) Focus on the ball!!!!!!
This may seem simple and obvious but you would be surprised how many people take their eyes off the ball when they get flustered and doubtful in a match. So if you ever find yourself hitting the frame a lot or not hitting the ball where you want it to go then this might be the simple and quick fix for you.
2) Think about your footwork!
The more advanced players among you will recognize the importance of good footwork. When we take our focus away from the match and towards our feet, we tend to miss less as we are putting less pressure on ourselves to hit those flashy winners. We also think less about what our opponent is doing and focus more on our own game. Next time you are in a match and things aren't going to well try thinking about your footwork. Remember to let us know how you got on in the Players Forum as well.
3) Timing the ball.
When we are under pressure in a match, our timing can be one of the first things to fail. A great way of maintaining good timing of the ball is to say in your head, 'Bounce' when the ball bounces on your side of the court, and 'Hit' when the ball makes contact with your racket. This should result in more consistency and subsequently more confidence.
4) Focus on your breathing.
The final focus exercise that Garreth O'Carrol recommends is to do with the breathing. This will definitely benefit those of you who find yourselves running out of breath during points. We will return to this topic in more detail in a future blog but in terms of focus and positivity, exhaling on contact will result in a loser swing which helps with those pre-match nerves and also your timing. Crucially though, it is a very positive thing to focus on in a match.
It is very important to note that these focus exercises are not all to be used at once. Pick one that suits you the most and focus solely on that. Too many focus exercises hurt our game. These exercises may not all suit you as well so it is important to experiment and please do let us know in the Players Forum what works for you.