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Tennis Warrior
February 2019 Article

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Learning to Play Under Pressure

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Tom Veneziano

Has this ever happened to you? You are in a pressure situation in an important match, you tighten up, and one more time you choke. What can help you learn to play under pressure?
I have been asked this question a thousand times by players from different levels of play. The answer is a kind of oxymoron. You must learn to fail in order to learn to play under pressure. That's right -- FAIL! Think of it this way. You have two separate skills you are trying to master when playing under pressure: the mental skills and the physical skills -- the mental skill of not freezing up, and the physical skill of getting the ball in the tennis court (which under pressure looks the size of a place mat). If your physical skills operate fine when you are not under pressure, obviously the mental skills need some training. Therefore, first and foremost, you must experience what it feels like to go for your shots under pressure.
Unfortunately, most players who try this stumble into a major pitfall. They say, "I did go for my shot, but I missed!" But you missed? Who said anything about making the shot? The phrase was, EXPERIENCE WHAT IT FEELS LIKE. You must treat this situation the same way you would treat learning anything else in tennis... with practice! Every time you are faced with this type of pressure situation, practice going for the shot. How do you think the pros have learned to think correctly under pressure? They have been practicing to go for their shots under pressure. By the time you see them on television, they have already practiced a similar situation over and over and over again. As a result, they make it look easy. They have developed spontaneity through preparation.
You can do the same, but it will require a mental toughness on your part. You must accept the failures that come with going for your shots under pressure. When I am teaching a play-action doubles drill, in which my students are playing points, I constantly try to put them under pressure. I may say something like, "This is a key point, your partner is counting on you." Sounds cruel, doesn't it? They think so too! But many of them have learned from these little tests to play relaxed under pressure. I let them know that I do not care if they win or lose the point, I am only interested in their ability to go for the shot and accept the outcome.
Mental toughness does not mean you never fail. Mental toughness is the ability to accept failure and keep moving toward your goal. This is failing forward! It is this mindset practiced over and over again under pressure that will prepare you to play automatic and spontaneous tennis. You must experience what it feels like to go for your shots under pressure whether you win or lose the point.
Will you be able to learn to play under pressure? Well, you have probably already done so in different fields. Many things in life, your profession for instance, require you to perform under pressure. Beginning a new job can be a source of pressure, but eventually you become comfortable because you practice day after day. The same is true for tennis. If you would like to learn how to play under pressure, you must put yourself in pressure situations over and over again and consistently choose to go for your shots. Eventually you will shock yourself. And your opponent too!

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This column is copyrighted by Tom Veneziano, all rights reserved.

Tom is a tennis pro teaching at the Piney Point Racquet Club in Houston, Texas. Tom has taught thousands of players to think like a pro with his Tennis Warrior System.


In Tom Veneziano's book "The Truth about Winning!", tennis players learn in a step-by-step fashion the thinking the pros have mastered to win! Tom takes you Step-by-step from basic mental toughness to advanced mental toughness. All skill levels can learn from this unique book from beginner to professional. No need to change your strokes just your thinking.

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