In tennis many of you have heard the phrase, "Play in the here and now." This means to play for the moment and not dwell on what has happened in the past or what will happen in the future. Play without psychological baggage from the past or future; play only for that moment of time. After the point is over, you play again and focus on the next moment of time. In other words, focus on action not results.
One of the main reasons players have difficulty with playing in the "here and now" is they do not condition themselves to play with that mindset during practice. When practicing most players are focused exclusively on results and not on the action of the doing at the moment. When they miss a shot they always think, "What did I do wrong? Why did my ball go long? Why did my ball go in the net? What can I change to make it work?" The ONLY thing they should change is their mental attitude of being preoccupied with the results.
When you are preoccupied with results you never see the solution! The solution of course is to become focused on the action of the moment and just doing the shot. When you become preoccupied with the present action of doing, you learn to stay in the "here and now" and to not over think the past (what did happen) or the future (what may happen). Accomplishing this mindset is an art in itself that requires extensive practice.
The first thing I attempt to accomplish with my students is to have them become preoccupied with the action of doing the stroke over and over again. Of course they fight this procedure all the way. Everyone wants a reason "right now" why they failed. I usually oblige them and give them a reason. "The reason you failed is you do not practice enough. Now get back to the doing!" Not exactly what they wanted to hear. This of course does not mean you never do a little analysis of the failure; just keep the analyzing to a bare minimum.
The principle: How are you ever going to play in the "here and now" in match play if you will not stay in the "here and now" during practice?
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As a bonus, when you have learned to stay in the "here and now" in practice as well as match play you have created an environment that will teach you how to play successfully. Many of the principles of match play as well as mastering a stroke will be learned through self-discovery. Your job is to constantly create that environment to learn. As a result (see, now we have a result) you do not over think, you stay more relaxed, you let it happen in your match play and you begin to learn. Learn what? Well, all kinds of things. You could begin to be alert in seeing the opening on the court to win the point. You could begin to learn how to construct a point. You could begin to learn when to go for a winner and when not to try to hit a winner. You could begin to learn how to slow down and relax. You could begin to learn that you do not have to do that much to win points. You will begin to learn that tennis is fun and exciting again. Every time you head to the courts you may learn another piece of the tennis puzzle. That's exhilarating!
There is no greater illustration of this self-discovery principle than precocious children that practice so much that the doing teaches them... even without instruction.
"The Road To Excellence (The Acquisition of Expert Performance)" edited by K. Anders Ericsson contains a description of the development of expert performance in a variety of fields. Ellen Winner, a professor at Boston College, explains how precocious children and savants in the visual arts practice incessantly at the ages of 3 to 6 years old. I quote:
"They [savants] draw early and a lot, and they also stand out as different from ordinary children in the same ways as do precocious drawers. They discover perspective and foreshortening and other depth techniques on their own, they can begin a drawing from any part of the object, they draw with astounding confidence and fluidity of line, and they can draw from memory objects and pictures they have seen months or years ago."
Now granted these are exceptionally gifted children, but the principle of repeated action ("they draw early and a lot") still holds true. Without staying in the "here and now" and just doing it, there would have been NO self-discovery, even for these exceptional children.
You must do the same when you are learning tennis and let it overflow into your match play. If you can master playing in the "here and now," your thinking, as well as your results, will change completely. And who knows, maybe there is a precocious child inside of you just waiting to unveil itself to the tennis world!