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If you’ve played tennis for some time, you’re already aware that the game is as much mental as physical. What separates strong players from struggling ones is how they handle the pressure of competitive match play. The majority of us find that we become clenched, tight, or strained in the big moments of a match. How we handle this will determine the outcome of a match as much as our actual skill level or talent. Many good players find that they crack under pressure, which prevents them from taking their game to a higher level. Tennis pressure is a critical aspect of the game; if you know how to work with it skillfully, you’ll enjoy an enormous competitive advantage.
Let’s discuss 3 ways to handle increased pressure in a tennis match.
1. Breathe: It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But it’s also true that we tend to forgot the most simple techniques when we are in the heat of the moment. When the adrenaline is pumping through your system, it’s easy to ride that energy and allow your breath to get really tight or constricted. One thing I find very helpful between points is to take a very large inhale, hold it for 4-5 seconds, then exhale slowly through my mouth. If you can control your breath by slowing it down, you’ll notice that your body and mind experience an immediate sense of calmness. If you’re breathing too fast, consciously slow it down. Breathe deeper and feel the sensations of the breath moving in and out of your diaphragm.
2. Do a body scan to observe where you’re holding tension: When the pressure is high in a match, you’ll inevitably find that one or many aspects of your body become very tense. These are the areas where stress normally lodges. The most common ones are the stomach, shoulder, or forearms (tennis specific on this one). Between points, feel the sensations in your body and notice if specific areas have tightened up. Then, breathe deeply into those areas and ask them to relax. If your stomach is tight, breathe into the tension and visualize it clearing out on the exhale. The more relaxed your body is, the more composed you’ll be during big points, which will lead to more control and precision.
3. Do a perspective check: We often get tight during big points because we forget that it’s just a tennis match.. and the whole point is to simply have fun. Unless you’re playing tennis for your livelihood, it’s a hobby that you enjoy, right? Well, we tend to forget that simple truth in the heat of the moment. You may even want to tell yourself to just have fun during the big points. Enjoy the process more than being attached to the outcome. Heck, even try smiling as you’re about to serve or return serve. (Notice Djokovic’s expression as he returns serve these days; he looks like a kid in a candy store). It may sound cheesy, but you want to exude a quality of joy on the court. This will greatly help to diminish your judging mind that scolds you for missing shots you ‘should’ have made. The less judgmental you are towards yourself, the more freedom and ease you’ll find on the court which will greatly help your strokes.
I always tell myself that losing isn’t the problem, playing tentatively below my potential is. If I lose but play balls out, I’m fine with that. If I lose but I played tentatively, that’s when I get upset. Go out there, relax, breathe, have fun, and swing through the ball. As they say, ‘fortune favors the bold.’
I hope these tips help you find more grace and success in the big moments of your next match!
I have been playing tennis since I was 6 years old and have always had a passion for the game. Tennis continues to be a big part of my life, as I play 4-5 times a week. My goal is to spread the word about this amazing sport and help you take your game to the next level starting now.Read More >>