Monday, March 7, 2011

The “cons” of tennis: confidence and concentration

I have found that self confidence plays a large role in my ability to play my best on the tennis court.  In fact, it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If I’m confident in my approach and ability to execute in a given situation, then I’ll likely make the shot.  This, in turn, gives me the confidence to execute the next shot … and so on and so forth.  Conversely, a lack of confidence in my ability (e.g.) to put my second serve deep in the service box to my opponent’s backhand can result in a failure to do just that, and might even result in a double-fault.  Henceforth, I might lose faith in my ability to hit this shot the next time and therefore might avoid trying it or, worse, have the same poor result.

While it’s certainly a challenge to will oneself into having a positive mental attitude all the time on the court, especially during the course of a three hour match, it’s worth the effort.  Although I haven’t mastered this ability, what I have learned to do is to distract myself enough to avoid negative thinking – what Zig Ziglar deems “stinkin’ thinkin’” – which can spiral out of control.  Negative thinking comes from fear and it can be debilitating on the tennis court.  It can keep you from moving your feet, from watching the ball, and/or from executing any of the other fundamentals necessary to successfully play the game.

If you look for it, it’s easy to see (and adopt) the techniques that professional tennis players use during their matches to distract themselves from the game/set/match score, their opponent’s gamesmanship, or the elements etc. in order to retain their focus and concentration for the next point.  Some pick at their racquet strings or walk to the back of the court for a brief meditation, while others bounce the ball until their head is (back) in the game and they’re ready to start the next point.

One of the things that I’ve struggled with the most is continuing to concentrate when I’m ahead in a match.  When my partner and I have won the first set easily and find ourselves up a break in the second, sometimes I'll see the finish line a bit too early.  My attention will then wane and I’ll miss an easy put away or allow an opponent to hit a winner past me that I would normally track down.  Of course, the result is that our opponents gain confidence while ‘we’ lose it.  This can become a self-perpetuating cycle:  the momentum changes sides, shifting in their favor.  Of late, I’ve been much better at recognizing these waning moments and have, quite literally, shaken my head (to clear it) in order to refocus on the immediate task at hand.

If you find yourself struggling with self-confidence on the court, try to “con” yourself into believing that you can do it.  Try to distract yourself from everything else that’s going on to focus on a single element that you can control:  breath, move your feet, “see the ball, hit the ball”.  Concentrate and just do it!

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