Self-Talk Matters

It is truly amazing to me how the subconscious brain can control what we do or don’t do (on and off the court).  That is why, when you have time to think before you serve, hit a ground stroke, or drive that overhead … what you say to yourself really matters.

Don’t Say Negatives

I am as guilty as the next player in saying the WRONG things to myself before a shot.  My worst is when that high lob is starting to come down in a critical situation and I say to myself, “Don’t miss this one!”  Of course, you know what happens.

My understanding is that the brain disregards the negative and visualizes the part that says, (don’t) “…miss this one” or (don’t) “…double fault” or (don’t) “… hit it into the net.”  And, what you visualize is what you do.

The Answer?

The answer is to work at replacing that negative talk with a positive image.  On almost every shot (where you have time to think), it is best to say – and visualize – “LOCATION”.  In other words, say and visualize where you want to hit the ball to … and you are more likely to hit it there!

What do you say to yourself?

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6 thoughts on “Self-Talk Matters

  1. Interesting point, George, and I think you are right. For example, on returns of serves, long ago I instinctively seized upon the phrase “the ball is a grapefruit” as something to whisper to myself just before the serve is hit. Obviously, the goal is to see the ball so well and clearly that it is enlarged to the size of a grapefruit, thereby making me hit better returns. It turns out my return of serve is one of the better parts of my game (much more reliable than my serve, unfortunately), so I have to think this little trick has some merit.

    Marty, good point. Now, do the same on your serve. thanks, george

  2. It’s the same concept in teaching. I try to tell my students what they should be doing, not what they did wrong. “Keep the racket head up ” instead of “don’t finish at your knees”. It’s very difficult to remember and has taken me years to continually focus on it and remember it. It’s the same for me when I’m playing. On my serve (as you and I have discussed) I have to remember to “go up after the toss” and not “don’t let the ball drop low”. Sometimes a mind is a terrible thing to have!! Thanks, for a great topic.

    Steve, and the corollary to that are the people who mimic the BAD stroke after missing a shot — instead of showing themselves what they should have done. thanks, george

  3. George:

    Absolutely correct! But, following your own advice, the first heading should be “Stress the Positives” (instead of “Don’t Say Negatives”).

    I have found this to be most important on 2nd serves. Especially on a big point, so many players say to themselves “Don’t Doublefault!” and then they do just that. Very important to teach players to develop a positive phrase when facing an important 2nd serve . For me, when I could still hit a topspin serve, it was “Toss Back, Hit UP!!” But every player needs to develop a positive word or phrase that works for them in that crucial moment, something positive that they can focus on.

    Sean, yes… accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative! thanks, george

  4. George, The “mental” part of the game….my favorite topic! What kind of thoughts are running through our minds while we hit tennis balls back and forth over a net in competition? In my life-long continual quest to eliminate unforced errors, Tim Gallwey’s “Inner Game of Tennis” always comes to mind for me because that book had such a strong influence on my thinking on the court to this day. I read it in 1976. On ‘seeing the ball” Gallwey describes a high deep ball headed to your backhand and the player’s thought is “uh oh, here comes an ugly high deep ball with topspin to my backhand which I hate!!” He called it the “uh oh’s” the negative thinking that is not useful on a tennis court. He believed that the mind needs to be occupied and fascinated in something during a rally in order to be able to really see the ball. When you are absorbed in watching a great movie you don’t have to say to yourself “Watch the screen”! There were two exercises that I still to this day use when I play. “Follow the Trajectory” and “Art Appreciation.” (Pg 48) By focusing all of my attention on the trajectory of the ball rather than the ball itself both coming and going brought much more clarity and extended my rallies as I got better at the exercise. Art Appreciation is an exercise where you imagine the court as your canvas and the ball as your paint. The shots off your racket then become an exercise in extreme creativity. Crazy but it works for me!

    Jim, fascinating stuff! thanks, george

  5. I love Steve D’s line above, “a mind is a terrible thing to have”!!….but totally agree that you’ve got to BE positive…and STAY positive….sort of like walking on the court and saying to yourself, ” I AM going to win this match”…and then actually see yourself shaking hands w/your opponent after the match.

    Scoot, “See it. Do it.” thanks, george

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