How to Maintain a High Level of Concentration during a Tennis Match
You've probably noticed that maintaining concentration through a whole tennis match is not easy.
Most tennis players actually start a match highly focused, but then they get distracted or mentally tired and this results in lack of concentration.
Can we stay focused through the whole match?
To completely prevent concentration loss is impossible. We are humans and not robots. Our minds keep producing thoughts, even when we don't want them to.
Our emotions arise when a situation in the external world partially matches a past situation in which we experienced pain.
So instead of feeling discouraged about losing your concentration, work on bringing it back to a high level.
Here are 3 ways of doing that when playing tennis:
1. Set a Goal
Concentration is, by definition, being focused on only one thought or object or action. And you lose concentration when you start focusing on more things.
To prevent distraction, you need to set a goal which is more important than other distractions. In tennis this would generally be:
a) Your main strategy - playing to the backhand, moving your opponent, playing low, sliced balls ...
b) Tracking the ball - I prefer the term tracking to watching. Watching doesn't have to be really focused, while tracking is. Track the ball from your opponent's racket to yours, and back.
This occupies the mind so much that you don't get distracted by other things.
2. Control the Ups and Downs of Concentration
If you try to sprint at full speed, you can do that probably for 10 seconds, and then you'll slow down a lot. If you don't take a break and try to keep running you'll run more and more slowly.
But if you take a brief break, get some air and rest a little bit, you'll be able to sprint at almost full speed again.
It's the same with concentration. You must control the breaks when your mind can rest from the mental effort that concentration requires. These breaks include:
a) Breaks between the points - As soon as the point ends, analyze for a few seconds what happened (if needed) and then let go for 10 seconds. By letting go, I mean let go of thinking about the next point or what you did wrong or anything similar.
Just walk around, breathe, fix your strings and try to keep an empty mind. Then start preparing for the next point (either serve or return), and either remind yourself of your main strategy or decide on a new one.
b) Breaks between games - do the same, except now you have more time for everything. You can spend a little more time analyzing what happened in the last two games, but then take a break from thinking and let your mind rest.
If thoughts keep coming and you cannot empty your mind for half a minute, then keep yourself occupied with various tasks like: fixing the strings, drinking in small sips, drying yourself with a towel, and so on.
Eventually, it's better to learn to just empty your mind for the break. That's how you'll mentally rest and be able to raise your concentration again when the points begin.
3. Monitor Your Concentration and Bring It Up, If Needed.
Try to check your level of concentration from 1 to 10 every now and then. At first, you'll probably forget to do that, since it's not often that we observe ourselves and our thinking.
When I did mental training with players on court, I would ask them once per game where they were regarding the concentration.
Most had no problems identifying their level, saying it was at 6 or 8.
Once you know that your concentration is not high enough, you can refocus by reminding yourself of the goal or just by fixing your eyes on the ball, even if your opponent is just tapping it to the ground.
Eventually, you become more aware of your concentration level and you know how to keep it up for a longer time.
Poor concentration is actually an often overlooked cause of mistakes. Most people only see a missed forehand, but what they don't see is that the player's concentration dropped and he was unable to track the ball well or make a quick and correct decision.
You also hear commentators and players mention that to win against a good player, you need to exploit that little lapse of concentration that they might have once per set.
If you can master the art of concentration and keep it up longer during the point and during the whole match, you'll be the likely winner.
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