Calming the Mind

It’s a BIG moment in a BIG match … you tense up and bury the ball into the net.  Why does this happen and what can you do about it?

Brain Power

The overwhelming power of the human brain can cut both ways in athletics … it can help you visualize the desired outcome; but it can also inhibit smooth muscle flow.  When you are on the court hitting a shot, you don’t want to THINK … you just want to DO.

But, how can you train your brain (and you can) to let you relax rather than tense up?  There are actually many things you can do.

Playing vs. World #1

Several years ago, I lost to Fred Drilling in a tournament singles match 6-2, 6-1.  In the intervening 12 months, I practiced, played, and improved my game; while Fred was off winning the World’s singles championship (I think in Australia).

I ended up playing him again – and losing by the exact same score!  After the match, I said to Fred, “I thought my game had really improved over the last 12 months; but you got better too.”

He replied, “I don’t think I got better … I got calmer.”

How To Get Calmer

For the last 10-12 years, I have been practicing my own amateurish form of meditation.  For 5-10 minutes a day, I sit quietly and try to clear my mind of all extraneous thoughts.  It starts with deep breathing, focusing on the air coming in and going out, and then just relaxing your whole body.

Then on the court when a “tense situation” comes up, I can usually trigger that same sense of calmness by focusing on my deep breathing.

Smiling Helps

Another physical technique to relax the mind is to just SMILE.  Try it.  You will be amazed at the reaction you get – to both your own state of mind and how your opponents think you are nuts!

But the real bottom-line to relaxing is the simple realization that … THIS IS ONLY A TENNIS MATCH.  Nobody lives or dies based on whether you make or miss the next shot.  If you can put your ego aside, playing this game gets a lot easier (and a lot more enjoyable).

What do YOU do to relax on the court?

This week’s USTA tournament is at the Lakewood National Club (Bradenton, FL), where Hank Irvine is seeded #1 in 75 singles and dubs (I get to be his partner this week and next). For the full draw and results so far, click HERE.

Next week’s tournament is at the beautiful Meadows Country Club in Sarasota. Details for that one are HERE.

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8 thoughts on “Calming the Mind

  1. George, your post here is very timely. I was just thinking about this issue last night and this morning. Here is what happened.

    We have a regular doubles league every Tuesday night. Matches are played on indoor Har Tru. Guys are supposed to pay attention to the schedule, and get subs if they are not going to make it. I showed up along with two of my friends, but our fourth never made it. We called his cell only to discover he was out of the country on vacation. So, we decided to play best 2 of 3 games singles against each other to make up the time.

    Strangely enough, I found myself very nervous while playing. Much more so than in a normal match, and in some respects even more so than in a tournament match. Maybe it was the fact that, in all of the years I have known my two friends, we have only ever played doubles and have never played singles against each other. Maybe it was the fact that, as each head to head mini singles set progressed, one of us was sitting on a bench and watching. I felt as if all eyes were on me for every point, and my inner mantra became “Don’t f*ck up. [Insert name] is watching.”

    And so, of course, what happened was that I DID f*ck up. I managed to make a colossal amount of unforced forehand errors. (By contrast, my backhand was relatively steady, but I make most of my ground stroke points on the forehand, and when that goes so I go.) I also could not hit my drop shot to save my life; I counted an average of 2+ drop shots that hit the net right at the tape every 2 of 3 sequence. OTOH, my serve was ok.

    What happened? I think that the worry of not doing well in front of my friends really affected my play. I felt tight on every point. I was gripping the racquet at times with a death grip. I was not smooth. I was not loose. My arm was stiff. And so I missed my shots.

    It was a valuable lesson in how the mind can affect our play. Then I read your blog this morning. I am thinking meditation may not be a bad idea.

    Marty, funny, when i am an underdog, i like to play in front of a crowd; but when i am “supposed to win,” i would rather play in the shadows. george

  2. George,

    These are great tips that everyone can use. I have a number of blog and video’s that everyone is welcome to view on . Here is a video sample of relieving pressure during a match. Hope this helps. Be healthy and keep playing! Coach Fred.

    Fred, good, short segment on “focusing on the process.” thanks, george

  3. Normally, I too play better in front of a crowd when I am perceived as the underdog. I can remember one singles final I played a few years back in a tournament where I beat the #1 seed in 3 sets with about 100 people watching the match intently. I definitely played way above my head that match because I had lost to the same guy 1 and 0 in an early round the prior year and nobody thought I had a chance to even get past the early rounds the next year, let alone make the final and then beat the top seed.

    But none of us had played singles against each other before last night, and we are all pretty even in doubles play, so I don’t think the “underdog” mentality was at play. It MAY be because I am still sensitive to the fact that my level of play plummeted both after and even a while before my “mini stroke” last March (the prior drop probably came from an earlier, undiagnosed “silent stroke” that they also found last year), and I wanted to prove to my friends, if not myself, that my game has indeed come “back.”

    Anyway, the why’s and wherefore’s don’t matter. What does matter is we need to be mindful of the psychological aspects of the game, in addition to everything else. If we play with negative thoughts and self-doubt, chances are we will not play our best and will likely lose. But confidence can be elusive.

    Marty, yup, self doubt can be a match killer! thanks, george

  4. Hi George from the Philippines,
    I was ecstatic to hear about the calming article. My best friend Steven Yellin, wrote the book that you read, “The 7 Secrets of World Class Athletes”. He and I both have 50 years experience of Transcendental Meditation. We both do the Advanced form which lasts at least an hour twice a day. But he worked closely with a Dr., a Neuroscientist at Maharishi University and in the book he outlines the exact science behind it all. The bottom line is that when the mind is too occupied with thoughts, the Pre Frontal Cortex shuts down and does not allow the signal (i.e. to hit a forehand return) to go to the “fast twitch” fluid muscles and goes instead to the weight lifting type muscles creating tightness and the ball goes into the net. Interestingly even though he is a Tennis Pro, he has had huge success teaching this in golf writing the book “TheFluid Motion Program” and took one of the lesser known Div 1 Women’s College Team. The University of Washington, a few years ago to win the NCAA Championship and they attributed it totally to his program. But it is all the same science. There are certain techniques he and I have taught to enable the mind to stay in that “Silence”. The difficult part is that what I encounter often and the ego jumps in and gets that mind overactive in that desire to win. But if anyone wants to learn some simple techniques for free they can contact me through George. I miss all my friends in Naples but I’m not ready to leave paradise yet.

    Dave, great stuff! Enjoy your time overseas and let us know when you are ready to come back to FL. george

  5. Two things: First, Hi Dave….or “Namaste”…we really miss you back here in Naples. Secondly, I watched Fred’s video (all his videos are helpful) and I liked his concept of “practice match”…and focusing on the process, not the result. scoot

    Scoot. Agree on both counts! Thanks. George

  6. brings to mind Pete freeman’s interview of Rick Macci on the forehand when Rick said “There are five basic components to the forehand. 1) Relax 2) Relax 3) Relax 4) Relax and 5) Relax”. That’s a little too general for me so whatever mind focusing techniques I use to this day on the court come from exercises in Tim Gallway’s “Inner Game of tennis”. His mind focusing exercises are so engaging that I rarely get nervous. Great stuff George!

    Jim, Galloway’s stuff is spot on! Thanks. George

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