Learn how you can increase your level of focus on the court by concentrating on the items that enhance your performance. Discover the differences between practice and matches. Embrace routines to take your tennis to the next level.
Coach: Aleks Szymanski, Founder of Tennisletics, and Certified Mental Coach.
Bio: Founder of Tennisletics and tennis fanatic. Started work life as a military and search and rescue helicopter pilot. Spent the past two decades founding and nurturing fast-growing technology businesses across the globe. Competed at high-level squash, judo, and rugby. Certified Mental Coach.
Residency: Austin, TX, USA
Length: 3 min 50 sec
Other tracks by Aleks Szymanski: Baggage, Distractions, Self-Confidence, Threat Or Challenge, Stress, Two Outcomes.
You might like: Changeovers.
Four-time Grand Slam winner, Hana Mandlikova, famously said that she improved a game by staring at a tennis ball for 10 minutes every day. Is that true? Can you increase your level of focus on a tennis court by concentrating on one thing for a long time?
Sports psychologists would say your primary focus on the tennis court should be on 'performance relevant cues' in your 'attentional field'. By attentional, they mean everything inside you. Your thoughts, emotions, and physical responses, and everything outside of you, including sights and sounds on which you could focus on.
Stated differently, on a tennis court, you only need to focus on those items that help your performance. And as anyone who has played in gale force winds will tell you - yes, Hannah makeover was correct, remembering to focus on the ball 'helps'.
But figuring out what other items need your attention will depend on the situation. Do you focus on technique, your tactics, your movement, your opponent, the score? Well, it varies. In practice, your focus should be more orientated towards the goal of the session. Whether that is keeping your head still on your forehand, earlier take back on your backhand, or better overall conditioning and movement. However, for matches, your focus needs to be almost exclusively on the execution of your tactics, your opponent, and your game plan. Technique needs to be set aside for the next training session, other than the occasional reminder during the game.
Routines are the cornerstones of focus. Let's examine a few that can help you stay 'dialed in' during a match.
Putting your strings back in place for the start of each point. Activating those happy feet before receiving each serve. Between points, turning away from the court to quickly analyze what's happened and gathering what you can learn (if anything), then immediately getting on with the next point.
Before you serve, visualize the point playing out. What you expect as a return and the next shot. Some call this serve plus one. It is crucial to express positive body language throughout the match. And for the most part, be neutral with your reactions after each point. Work to avoid negativity as much as you can.
Routines are essential before a match and during changeovers too. Make sure you have everything you need and organize your equipment. The discipline of routines gives you both control and comfort, which together have the added benefit of boosting your confidence.
If you're struggling, then within the rules, take a little bit more time between points to refocus and re-establish how you want to play. An easy way to do this is to use a towel or go to some other place on the court that slows you down like touching the fence behind you and only turning back to the court when you are ready.
And when the match is over, win or lose, come to the net, shake hands with your opponent, look them in the eyes and thank them for playing - knowing you left it all out there today.
Remember to establish those routines and practice so you can take them into matches to focus on the items that directly affect your performance. Anything else can wait until the debrief or the next training session.