Mind games: Playing the mental side of tennis

After watching the epic Wimbledon women's and men's finals, I found the post-game interviews to be very interesting. For instance, Novak Djokovic talked about how he "played out the match in my head" before ever physically playing any points.

Physical abilities aside, tennis is a mental intensive experience. And, the more positive, forward thinking a player can be on court, the better chance he or she will have to win.

I feel it's very important to not to dwell on the point that was just played; rather, learn quickly from it and get ready for the most important shot - the next one.

Learning to remain confident, focused and in control of your emotions between points will help in getting the most out of your physical performance.

If you watch what the pros do between points, games or on change overs, you'll see a variety of what might be viewed as routines, rituals or even quirks they perform consistently to stay focused.

From bouncing the ball before serving (some overdo it, others only once or twice) to sitting court side with a towel over their head, they find ways to keep their focus on the task at hand.

Here are a few suggestions to help maintain a better mental grasp of your game:

• Focus on the "one point at a time" theory. Stay in the current moment, trying to play every point as though it's match point in your favor. This can also be helpful when playing tie-breaks where every point is a factor.

• Learn to relax between points. Take a couple of deep breaths, clear your mind (reset), stay loose, concentrate on the ball and moving to it.

• Look for your opponent's strengths and weaknesses to learn and create winning strategies rather than analyzing what you did wrong on the previous point. We can't change the past, so learn from it, quickly, to your advantage.

• Have confidence in yourself and your shots. This is especially important when serving. Avoid having a "hope it goes in" type attitude on your serve. Be mentally prepared by telling yourself "this one's in!" You'll be surprised how many more of your serves and shots will be good from practicing this type of self confidence.

• Be prepared. Remember to split step, get your racquet back the moment the ball leaves your opponent's racquet, and crossover step toward the ball. Tennis is also a game of timing, and creating time for yourself adds to your mental edge.

With all this said, it's no wonder tennis, if not the best, is truly one of the best sports to be a part of. Its all-round physical, mental and social aspects make it the "sport for a lifetime."

Lou Marino is a USPTA Cardio and youth tennis coach who lives, teaches and provides custom-hybrid racquet service in the Bluffton-Hilton Head Island area. lwmarino@hotmail.com


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