By Coach Justyna Wereszka | 5/16/23
Have you ever found yourself in the situation, after losing an easy point, where you start to worry: “What if I lose next point and this game is over?” or: “What if I do break serve will have to play third set?”
This is Story Thinking and you don’t want to have this kind of mind set. As a player you have to manage all distracting thoughts and be fully immersed in the moment. To avoid muddling your mind and predicting the future of your match, you should think Here and Now, This point and This shot. This is Action Thinking.
To become and Action Thinker, you need to train your mind with on and off the court activities.
One of the great training methods is Visualization. Worrying about proper positioning, thinking about your shoulder turn, etc. is Story Thinking. Story Thinking can strike during a match before you hit a backhand, fears about the technical aspect of your weaker shot start to take over. Instead, you should imagine that your shot will follow at the exact spot where it will hit the ground. Use it when you have time, for instance, before the serve.
There are different ways to practice Visualization. Before starting a Visualization, plan what you want to visualize. Make it life-like, take couple of deep breaths. You have many options on what to visualize: 1. Reviewing tennis techniques in your mind 2. Playing your game (or vision of your game) 3. Imagine situations that are tough and how to respond to them 4. Favorite vacation or other relaxing memory.
Choking can be an issue even on the professional level. Getting so close to the finish line seems to trigger fear and worries rushing through your head. Don’t worry, Action Thinking can help. Calm yourself by using Trigger Words, Rituals and Breathing Techniques. Take examples from the best, like I did from Maria Sharapova.
Trigger Words differ from player to player, but they have one common element: Motivation. Short words are better then long sentences, because they set in motion automatic, unconscious processes. Between the point say it in a quiet and positive manner: “You can do it” or “Take it early” can help. After winning the point motivate yourself with “Come on!” or “Vamos!”
Rituals as long as they are not disruptive to your opponent, are very useful tools in Action Thinking. My ritual before serve is bounce ball three times. Maybe you already have your own but if not. Work on it during practice match, so it will help you to concentrate, rest better during the changeover and take your mind away from Story Thinking.
Movement and Heartbeat will keep your body and mind in the game. Move your feet to prevent become lazy, both mentally and physically. Yoga stresses proper breath control. After the point is over do not rush. Instead, turn away from the court, and take couple deep breaths through your nose, exhale loudly through your month, bounce around and regroup.
Recovery is also a very important aspect of Action Thinking. Don’t allow yourself to waste this time on regretting points or analyzing the previous game. Rest, towel, drink. Snack, relax your muscles and stick to your plan. Between the point you have approximately 20 seconds, use them wisely! Make sure that your heartbeat is allowing you to start next point under calm internal conditions. Put your racquet in the other hand to relax your dominant one and go to your “Safe place” on the court like Sharapova used to.
It is very difficult to control your Action Thinking without Controlling Your Eyes. Focus your eyes on something close, like your strings, keep your gaze on the court, not on the fans or other potential distractions.
Related to yeas control is Sound Control. Concentrate on the sound of your breath and impact of the ball on the strings. Instead of being annoyed by outside noises, focus positively on inside sounds. Maybe you have a favorite song you can listen to before getting on the court? This Inner Music can help you keep you going through the match instead of drifting into Story Thinking.
All the tennis players have to step on the court with self-confidence and clear focus. Implementing Action Thinking will help you become calmer and singularly-focus player. Successful Action Thinker is one who is fighting the opponent on the other side of the net, but also combating and controlling their own fears, self-doubt and weaknesses.
Good luck practicing your Mental Toughness!