Now is the time of year when many players are playing team
tennis and tournaments. You have worked all winter on that
new shot or the mechanical aspects of your game but are you
using the biggest weapon in the sport - the brain? One of
the most difficult obstacles we find as players is taking
that practice game to the actual match. You play flawless
tennis when there is no pressure but when it is tournament
time you gargle peanut butter! You know what I'm talking
about, the shots change, you push, and you are basically
afraid you might miss. Some call it choking but it is
really just a mental block.
We all realize what a big part of the sport the mental game
is and how difficult it is to comprehend. Mental toughness
can take an average player a long way. You might think
mental toughness is just that look that some people have
when they play but one aspect of being mentally tough is
playing smarter when the pressure is on. While you worked
on the mechanics over the winter, did you also try to work
on playing smarter? Let's use Pete Sampras as an example.
With the score 5-4 in the 3rd set most of us would tense up
and play not to lose. Sampras is capable of playing
unbelievable tennis under this kind of pressure. Being
able to play at a high level in tough situations is really
more of a mental accomplishment rather than physical. He
hits great shots on the run but he KNOWS he has practiced
them and he KNOWS he can make them.
How many times in a match have you hit a shot and then
immediately realized you shouldn't have tried it? Many
players get upset for missing the shot but that is not the
problem. The problem is that they didn't play smart tennis
and try the correct shot. Good players rarely attempt shots
that they have not successfully executed in practice and
feel that they have control of. Look at some of your
misses in practice matches and learn your capabilities.
Know what shots you have control over and know what shots
you might only want to try when you have a big lead.
Learning and using the best shot at the best time is playing
smarter rather than harder. And playing smart tennis might
just mean more wins for you this season!