The most crucial challenge you will face in tennis is to learn to play under pressure. While many players try to avoid mental pressure situations in match play, pressure can be a skilled coach to train your game for advance to the next plateau. Pressure challenges your mind and challenges your body to perform at a higher level. Why do you think weight lifters increase the poundage on their dumbbells as they train? More pressure equals increased strength.
YOUR MENTAL PRESSURE TRAINING COACH
We have all been there! You are called upon to make a pressure shot to win or lose an important point. You remind yourself to stay relaxed and go for your shots. You then step up, play tentatively, lose the point, lose the game, lose the set and lose the match. You think to yourself, "I will never learn to play under pressure." But this is not true!
Think of match play pressure as your mental coach teaching you the ropes on how to handle these situations. If you fail, what would a tennis coach do? Simple. He or she would have you practice the shot that failed over and over again. Well, the same is true when you fail under pressure, you continue to put yourself under the tutelage of that pressure coach until you learn the lesson. There are three stages through which the pressure coach will advance you to master pressure play.
STAGE ONE - You think correctly about staying relaxed and going for your shots in match play, but when the pressure is on, you do the opposite and play tentatively. No matter how many times this happens do not give up, this is just the first stage in the learning process. The pressure coach has more to teach you in the next training session.
STAGE TWO - You correctly stay relaxed and go for your shots, but lose. You are on the right track. You now know how it feels to go for your shots under pressure. When you have reached this second stage you may not like the fact that you lost, but you have almost arrived!
STAGE THREE - You stay relaxed, you go for your shots and win! You have gained mental stability and confidence. The pressure coach has taught you well. Now you understand it was just a matter of time until the pressure coach trained you properly to conquer pressure play.
When players first fail the pressure test, they have a tendency to think it's fatal and they will never be able to play under pressure. Their conclusion is, "I just do not have what it takes."
When I hear players moan how they failed under pressure and think their plight is hopeless, I remember basketball player Michael Jordan's comment about his pressure shooting. He said, "Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." Michael allowed the pressure coach and time to teach him. As we all know, Michael Jordan made more than his share of pressure shots at crucial moments.
You must understand that to be a pressure player does not mean you never fail under pressure. In fact, the second stage of learning to play under pressure is to go for your shots and fail. Why is this crucial? Because you are training and conditioning your mind to be free and to go for your shots under the pressure. Whether you make a shot or not does not matter. Your focus must remain on conditioning your mental attitude.
Your pressure coach is extremely adept at teaching you to play under pressure. The last piece of the puzzle to make everything work according to your coach's plan: Just make sure you show up at the training sessions.