Tennis is an emotional game. Many things are going on at the same time so players have to learn how to deal with them. The higher the level the more stressful situations players have to face both on and off the court. Is it possible to improve your control and reactions to irritation? Yes it is. How should you do that? Keep reading.
Roger Federer is the best example of a world-class players who had to sacrifice his comfort zone and work really hard to make transformation from really nervous youngster to calm and controlled champion. As we all know especially young athletes have problems with dealing with irritation. It has a lot to do with personality because one player can stay calm during stressful situation while other will react at the same situation with negative actions. It is crucial to understand that all players can learn how to reduce boosts of negative emotions and control own behaviours. As with any aspect of life consciousness is the most important step to improve own performance.
Irritation can be easily described as „our reaction to not getting what we expected to get”. It simply means that whenever something „breaks” our plans we tend to react with nervousness. Being conscious when we get irritated is crucial. When we recognize situations and factors that make us nervous we can gradually work on our responses to them. Getting stucked in traffic, missing easy forehand down the line or not finding perfect dress for prom are just few examples that these situations happen to us every day. Step 2 is to be aware of our physiological responses to stressful situations. Higher heart’s rate connected with more energy use, muscles tension as well as decisions based on emotions are top 3 physiological responses that happen to us both on and off the court. Step 3 is to be equipped with tools to improve our reactions and make new habits automatic.
Is irritation a bad thing? It can have negative, neutral or positive effects on a given person but most of the time the negative option is the most popular. Additionally we have to remember that the higher the skills to control irritation the easier it is for us to increase neutral and positive occurrence. Many juniors but also quite big group of adult players know that when they get irritated they make bad decisions and lose too many points. That is why it is important to work on this skill with the same approach as we work on forehand or volley skills. What should you consider while trying to get your mental skills more effective? Here are the methods that I recommend to my players:
- Slow down (great to lower your heart’s rate. Take your time and don’t rush between the points on the court and irritation won’t have a negative impact on your body)
- Breathing (perfect to relax and reduce tension. Irritation can make your moves really stiff so breathing is a solution to counter this negative body reaction. Slowly inhale through the nose and slowly exale through the mouth is technique that most players use while being stressed)
- Count to 10 (simple but effective technique to get your control back. Try to calm down and relax by counting from 1 to 10 and you will see that at the end of this action you will feel totally different).
- Use visualization (imagery is really powerful. When you create specific scenarios in your mind your brain can’t distinguish whether it is real or not. It simply means that by performing some mental exercises we can improve our responses in real life)
- Think about consequences (irritation can make your decisions based on negative emotions. It never ends up well. When you are angry try to thing about consequences before you act. Quick analysis can save you many troubles so remember that logical thinking is much more effective than emotional thinking.
You are on the court from 1 to 3 hours per day. It means that the rest time you spend on different activites. That is why it is crucial to work on your skills not only on the court but mostly off the court. There is a big line in your favorite store? Smile and work on your irritation. You made terrible mistake? Don’t worry and count to 10. Someone spilled coffee on you? It happens. Breathing technique will be helpful.
Marcin Bieniek is a professional tennis coach and founder of instructional website http://tennisisland.us. Marcin has been working with USTA, top 100 ITF and WTA/ATP players. He is a frequent contributor to TennisPro and TenisKlub magazines and he was a speaker at International Coaching Tennis Symposium 2016 at Hilton Head Island, USA.