Activation - arousal control
Controlling arousal enables the player to be in the ideal state
With arousal control - activation a tennis player can control his emotions and body energy – intensity. This allows him to fine tune his emotional and body state to find his ideal performance state.
Arousal or activation in this example describes the state we are in. This state is at the same time our emotional state and body energy state.
When we are over-activated it means that we are irritated, angry, upset and so on. We feel a lot of energy. That's when players throw racquets and »explode« on the court. They have too much energy for playing top tennis.
And when we are under-activated it means that we are in a bad mood, disappointed or even frustrated. This is when the energy is low and players move slowly on the court, they react too slowly and their body language shows (with low head and shoulders position) that they feel bad.
There is a so called ideal state of activation that enables us to play best tennis. This ideal state gives us a lot of energy, positive emotions (or none – just flow) and we feel enthusiastic and optimistic. We are able to react quickly and move economically and effortlessly.
Players often start the match close to this ideal state. Some of them are still under the effect of pre-match anxiety but after a while of playing tennis matches a player gets used to it.
So he starts the match close to the ideal state and then many events happen in the match which »cause« him to lose this ideal state. He gets upset, disappointed, angry, fearful and so on and he is the over- or under-activated.
Why »cause« in the brackets? Because until the player reaches acceptance about events and himself and sees reality as it is, he will feel that events are against him. He will feel cheated, that injustice has happened to him, that he shouldn't have missed a certain shot and so on. These thoughts and perceptions will make him lose his state.
When the player finds acceptance – when he accepts reality as it is, then these events cannot touch him. They are normal and the player either deals with them or let’s them go.
There is one more problem in these two states beside too much or not enough body energy. We are in an emotional state and in this state we cannot think clearly. Even though we are not aware of that, the decisions that will arise and appear in our consciousness will be based on emotions.
Instead of playing a solid high cross court shot in defense we will choose to go for the corner down the line. Instead of just putting a ball away on a sitter we will hit it with full power at the line to prove something to our opponent.
In the long run this doesn't work. We make too many mistakes. We choose tactically wrong solutions; we perform our strokes under emotional influence which consequently affect our body abilities.
The upper diagram explains activation levels. Higher areas on the diagram mean higher activation and more energy. Lower areas on the diagram mean lower activation and less energy.
The red arrow shows how the player's activation goes up when he gets upset by his perception of an event, like a bad line call. Unless he lowers his activation (green arrow) and goes back to the ideal state, he will remain upset and on high energy.
If two more events happen that the player perceives as upsetting (wrong, shouldn't happen …), then he will get even more activated – more energy + more powerful (and blinding) emotion (anger, rage) and possibly get over the border which I call »I don't care«.
This is actually how the players say it when they've had »enough«. They don't fight anymore and are basically tanking the match. Unless some lucky coincidence helps them get down (lucky shot, opponent dropping his level of play, rain delay …) or they calm down after some time, they will lose most of the points played.
When the player is in the »I don't care« area – state, he CANNOT be helped. His perception of tennis and life is such that he really doesn't care.
So the player must not allow himself to get there, because he will be very sorry later when thinking clearly again.
The two most common and practical ways of controlling one's arousal are on the diagram. Players need to find their own individual ways of lowering and raising their arousal which work the best for them.
How to practice
First you have to feel the awareness of your arousal state. Then you apply the above mentioned ways of lowering or raising your arousal and see how you can do that.
1. After your practice session (or the match) rate how aware you are of your arousal state. Rate from 1 to 10.
2. Then draw the diagram of your practice or your match. Remember your ideal state, your low or your high arousal. Write down WHAT was the CAUSE and how did you play THEN.
3. Rate your ability to control arousal from 1-10. 1 means that you cannot calm down or get more energized and positive no matter what. 10 would mean that you can quickly (5-15 seconds) get back to the ideal state every time you lose your ideal state.
Practice this for one week to become more aware of your arousal and improve the ability to control your emotions and body energy.
The Mental Manual for Tennis Winners explains arousal control in a very short and concise way and shows you more ways of controlling activation.
The Manual also reminds you in specific situations about your probable activation level (bad line calls usually raise one's activation – the player feels injustice) and how to control it. You need to find your ideal state before you can play your best tennis.
Next – What can we control?
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