Why Do We Sometimes Suddenly Lose A Stroke?Q: When I was about 15 I was playing the best tennis ever with full confidence and feel in my shots. My main weapon was my forehand and everyone knew it.
Then one morning I woke up and it's like my technique vanished. Since then I've been so concerned with my forehand technique that I actually changed it and started playing hopeless tennis.
I stopped at 16 for about a year and now I'm playing on and off because of this mental blockage. I'd like to know whether you can give me any tips on how to overcome this problem as I LOVE tennis when I'm playing well.
Do you think it's just in my head and I should let things happen automatically? Thanks I look forward to your reply.
A: I have a pretty good idea what happened since, I've seen it a couple of times. A player with a very good shot suddenly "loses" it, and it becomes his nightmare.
But as you felt it, it's one of the tricks of the mind.
Here's what happened:
First, you had a great shot; it worked well. Sometimes it missed though, but you didn't notice that. I mean, for sure you didn't hit every ball in, right?
You must have even missed some easy balls. Think about it. You did, didn't you?
But you were so focused on how GOOD your forehand is, that all those mistakes just slipped by. You ignored them. Unaware of them, all you knew was that your forehand was good.
You were "slightly" unrealistic. It worked.
Then one day, for an unknown reason, you became aware of these mistakes. Perhaps because someone said something like “HOW COULD YOU MISS THAT?” or “Today your forehand is not as good as it was last week.” Or maybe you just started noticing mistakes to which you were blind before. Or, the most probable reason is simply that you are no longer 15.
That takes some explaining. ;)
What I mean is this: When you were 15 and you were very good, your opponents didn't play fast or make you move to the corners or even know how to tactically outsmart you or how to make you lose your composure.
At 15 most people have no idea what tennis is about. They just hit balls hard left and right and try some drop shots at wrong times.
The older you get, the harder the game gets. Your opponents can now counter attack, they can make the game very hard for you. They outplay you; they "out-mental" you; and the balls fly much FASTER.
In those much harder conditions, you WILL make more mistakes even with your fantastic forehand!
It's even hard to make a clean contact let alone hit winners!
But what happens is that you don't notice that the game has become much harder.
It's the same as watching a child grow. If you see the child every day, you don't notice the changes. They are so slow and smooth. But the grandmother who sees the child only once a month can see the difference immediately.
I hope you get my meaning. The game slowly and gradually became much harder and you didn't notice that.
What you noticed is that you started making more mistakes. And you had only one explanation: something is wrong with your strokes!
Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. Your strokes were still fine, except they cannot perform so well in more difficult conditions.
You will make more mistakes, especially if you STILL want to hit as hard to the corners as you used to.
Before you had a little more time to set up, you were not off balance, and so you were able to hit close to the lines.
Now the ball is coming faster, you have to move, and your former level of precision is not possible anymore.
And yet, our ego usually forces us to keep trying and keep trying and not accepting that we can no longer play the perfect tennis we used to.
We just cannot say goodbye to those feelings of hitting winners most of the time and putting opponents under pressure and enjoying our superiority over them.
What happens now is some average tennis with lots of fighting, lots of running, lots of tactical outsmarting and still lots of mistakes. And you don't win 6:1 but you win 7:5 after grueling baseline exchanges. It's not that pretty anymore.
There are no feelings of superiority — you barely won the set. You hit maybe 3 winners, and you made your opponent run only as much as they made you run (or they were even better in that area).
Welcome to REAL tennis!
What you played at 15 was a dream. It was too easy. Tennis at a high level is very hard.
You realize that it's a miracle that you can even hit the ball if you think about all the involved processes in the brain and body and how they coordinate in split seconds so that you connect the ball with the racquet.
So, what's the solution?
First, realize that you have to say goodbye to that superior tennis you played. Even your great forehand will now have to hit 80–90% of "average" shots (similar to your opponent's forehand) before you can hit 10% of really good shots.
Maybe the percentage is even lower.
Second, understand and accept that your forehand will make many more mistakes than when you were 15. Conditions are now much more difficult, and your brain and your body are doing their best, but they cannot keep up with the increased speed of tennis. You will make more mistakes. It's not your forehand.
It's the game.
Once you accept the mistakes as part of the game, you will not doubt your stroke again. You will just let it happen. Play your forehand. Let your talent do the job the best it can.
Your body will do its best if you don't send negative, fearful and doubtful signals to it. But it will still NOT be perfect.
Can you accept that?
If yes, you are free. You are not bound by the outcome of your shots and consequently of your matches.
The outcome of the match is not your responsibility. It's not under your control.
Your responsibility is allowing your body and mind (mostly the subconscious part) to do its job in EXTREMELY difficult situations on a tennis court. You do that by being positive, by keeping your mind quiet, by not changing your mind, and by being non-judgmental of the outcomes of your efforts.
That is the state of peak performance called the zone.
I have an expression for the person who can reach this state. I call him/her the MENTAL WINNER.
That person has won the battle with the negative, doubtful part of their mind and is not allowing it to send those thoughts anymore. In the first stage they fought the battle inside by countering the negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
In the second stage they fought the battle by ignoring the negative thoughts that still sometimes arose.
In the third stage, they have won the battle, and the negative mind is defeated. It is not fighting anymore. It is not sending any more negative thoughts.
Now there is silence in your mind. No negative, no need for positive, and no need for extra effort to ignore the negative.
Just silence and peace. Seeing the ball, hitting it, and noticing the outcome. Adjusting to the outcome and playing again. Noticing the opponent's tactic and adjusting again. No emotions, just logic and learning from experience.
Your body and subconscious mind can work at 100% without any disturbance from your conscious part.
They get crystal clear instructions and they do their best.
You finish the match, feeling great because you just gave your best. The rest is out of your control.