- The Simpler the Better
Learning tennis isn’t about having a bunch of rules to follow. Of course, there are rules, but when teaching the game, the less there is to think about, the easier it is to concentrate. You’ve got to clear your mind of any clutter, or what I like to refer to as the Committee. The Committee is that series of conversations no one invited you to, but that take place in the back of your mind. Who’s going to pick up the kids after school, what’s for dinner, what groceries do you need? Those are all conversations led by the Committee and those conversations can mess with your game! So, you’ve got to clear your mind of the Committee. The key to clearing your mind is to be present and in the moment – to practice mindfulness. I spoke about mindfulness in my previous post – being aware of all of your senses is how you practice mindfulness. How does the racquet feel in your hand? What does the ball sound like when it bounces or hits your racquet? Be in the game – be present!
- Practice, Practice, Practice
Your form is just as important as knowing the rules of the game and being mindful. The actual match is not the place to try to perfect your forehand. When you’re in the actual match, you need to be present to play. In practice, though, that’s where you perfect your form. Make sure your feet and body are in the right positions, make sure the racquet is proper in your hand. You have no room in your mind to worry about these issues in a match. Worry will not produce results! You must trust your practice and trust your shots. When you’re completing drills, you must not think or worry about the ball going in or out. That worry is a waste of energy and will do nothing to help in changing the stroke.
- Warming up
Watch any doubles teams, for instance, and you will see that they spend some time warming up by chatting before the match. They talk about any and everything – what movies or shows they’ve recently seen, their plans for the rest of the afternoon or evening, what their kids are up to, and the latest great sale they scored at. Chit chat helps clear the Committee and frees your mind to focus on the game. Further, when tennis pros are warming up, they don’t automatically start at the baseline. They start close to the net to gain small victories – the ball is much easier to hit over the net from up close than it is from way back. You can see the spin of the ball better, and your feet start moving better while up close. Small victories give you the edge and confidence you need to win a match. So, if warming up close to the net gives you that confidence, then why wouldn’t you start there?!
- Competing in a match
Competition is all about focus. You must put all of your mental energy into playing the game and let your body follow. Know where you’re hitting the ball, feel the bounce, and visualize your hit going where you want it to go. If you can see it happen, you can make it happen, but you must focus. You will never have the same game twice and you most likely will be unable to replicate any of your past amazing games, but if you pay attention to perfecting your grip, stance, and footing in drills, clear your mind of your distracting Committee, and focus on your match, you’re well on your way to playing some fun and successful games.
Finally, enjoy the game. You’ve put a lot of concentration into not concentrating. You’re practicing mindfulness – being in the moment, feeling the ball bouncing off your racquet, and watching the ball spin. You’ve done it. Now, enjoy it!