As with any sport, especially as you move into more competitive play like leagues and tournaments, dealing with nerves is part of a tennis player’s journey.
In my experience a lot of material and coaching advice tells you to ‘just relax.’ And, if you’ve been at the game of tennis for any length of time you know relaxation is paramount to success on the court. You’re aiming for a loose, relaxed grip, smooth strokes, good balance, a quiet mind, and so on.
But a question that continues to plague me is exactly how does someone just make him or herself relax? And, even if it’s possible to initially make yourself relax, how do you stay that way as the match continues with all its ups and downs, pressure moments and ultimately physical and mental fatigue?
Thus far in my consideration of this ultimate challenge of settling nerves I’ve developed some specific tactics you might find helpful in seeking greater levels of relaxation during play:
1.Before you play start doing whatever makes you calm or relaxed. For example, some people like to listen to music, some people like to meditate, and others might like to think about their favorite vacations to induce a calm and happy feeling. Do whatever works for you.
2.As you prepare to play, including any stretching and dynamic warm-up routine, start observing yourself more intently. In other words, become more aware of each part of your body and your surroundings. In my experience this observation or heightened awareness tends to focus the mind on something other than all those typical nervous thoughts. It quiets the mind.
3.During warm-up on the court continue observing your body movements – your toes, your feet, your arms, your hips, your neck, and so on. Dial in to how each part is moving and feeling. Observe each body part in your mind’s eye even if you can’t directly see it.
4.As play begins, continue this pattern of observation. Add to it observation of your opponent and the lines of the court. Continue doing this through the entire match. The idea is you are focusing the mind on something other than your opponent’s strengths, your weaknesses, the score, and other things you have little to no control over when you are playing. Thinking about those things only tends to facilitate more nervousness, which ultimately leads to sub-optimal performance.
5.Important note – do NOT evaluate or judge what you are observing. You are just observing as if you are a student taking notes. Let the rest happen on its own. It may not happen on its own immediately. Be patient. Keep observing.