What can a tennis player control?
When a player realizes that most of the events in tennis are not under his direct control, he is able to refocus only on things that he can control.
He needs to focus on the right things...
Most of the events in any sport are not under the control of the player. Control is defined here as 100% controllable factor – like switching the light on or off. So a player cannot possibly control events like umpire calls, net cords, line shots, outside conditions like the wind, sun, noise and so on.
Another very important part out of our control is the score. Even hitting the court is not controllable. A player cannot control the score, which round in the tournament he'll reach, his ranking, whether he will win or lose …
And what happens if the player wants to control the things that he cannot?
He becomes very anxious and tense. He wants to win this point or game but at the same time he is aware that it is not 100% certain that he will be able to do it. This desire of something that he is not sure of can cause a lot of tension inside the player's body and fight inside his mind.
This state often progresses to the state called »choking«. This means that the tension and negative thinking about negative consequences are influencing the player so much, the he is unable to breathe normally (choking) and his body is very tense.
Players are usually able only to push the ball over and are unable to hit good shots. Even when they try their body doesn't listen and they almost inevitably miss.
The player must realize that this influences his play so badly that he must do his best not to get into this choking state. But as it is with everything in life, so is here – every player has experienced choking at some point in his career.
It is not something to be ashamed of or feel guilty about it. It is a normal survival response of our brain programmed inside of us for thousands of years.
Players eventually get used to these situations and also learn how to play relatively effectively even when they are under the effect of choking.
So what is the player able to control at all?
He can control his attitude and effort. He can also decide which tactical plan he will use but at the same time he needs to be aware that he cannot control the execution of this plan. Said in a more simple way – the player can decide that he will serve to the backhand of his opponent (He can control that) BUT he cannot be sure whether he will actually hit the serve in every time. (Not under his control)
The other way of explaining this is that the player needs to focus on the process and not on the end result. He can control the process – HOW but not the end result – WHAT.
He can decide to play topspin cross court shots (HOW) but not whether he will hit everyone of them in. (WHAT)
He can control that he will give his best in the third set (HOW will he play) but not whether he will win or not. (WHAT)
How to practice
The first goal for the player is to find out and get clear on what
Then fill this table with the elements of the tennis match starting from the off court the day before preparation and ending after the match. For example – the player can control how much water he will drink the day before. He can also control how much time he will use for warm up before the match.
But he cannot control when he will play. If he focuses that he wants to play in the afternoon and he is not sure if that will happen, then this will cause him to be nervous and waste his physical and mental energy.
So WHY is this bad?
He is getting nervous and wasting energy instead of using it for something that he can control – like visualizing success and tactical patterns, he can take care of proper eating and drinking that will give him enough energy and enough water reserves.
1. The player first needs to become aware what elements and events of the tennis he can control and which ones he cannot. Write them down.
2. He needs to realize how this affects his game – write it down.
3. He needs to change his thinking (his focus) from the element or event that he cannot control (WHAT) to the element that he can control (HOW) and rate from 1-10 how good he is at that.
Next – Visualization