by Jeff Greenwald, M.A., MFT; sports psychologist
Reprinted with permission from Fearless Tennis
First, it’s important to understand intensity, which is defined as having an extreme degree of force or energy. Regulating intensity so that it works for you is critical. Too much of it causes you to overhit and “muscle the ball”; not enough of it results in poor footwork and “flat performances.”
Therefore, the key is to know how much intensity is best for you and then to train it. The first step is to develop awareness of your current intensity level, which you will notice by observing the force with which you hit the ball and how you walk between points when you are playing your best. Do you walk with a sense of purpose and intention?
When you are playing with the right amount of intensity, you should feel it. You approach the line with authority. You take your time. You are decisive. You look as though you are in control. You feel like you belong. You are committed to the next shot and next point.
Playing with intensity has a sense of intentionality to it. You are playing with resolve and determination. You are committed to playing the shots you know you can hit, and you choose to accept the consequences. You recognize the importance of “showing up” with a purpose.
To train this state of mind, you can also practice using a numbering system from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most intense for you and 1 being the most passive. Once you find your ideal level (most players choose between 7 and 10), you can then practice hitting the ball at this ideal level and checking in with your body after points, drills, or rallies to compare the result of your shot with the level of intensity you feel. You should begin getting more aware of your footwork and the energy needed to hit an aggressive ball and how this level of intensity corresponds to the depth and pace of your shots.
In matches, you can raise your intensity level between points by hopping on your toes, quickening your pace with a sense of renewed purpose, or exhaling as you hit the ball with more force. If you have too much intensity, and you are rushing or tightening up, you need to become aware, slow things down, remind yourself to stay calm, and take a deep “reset” breath. The improved body awareness you develop in practice will help you access your ideal state quickly, which is key when you are in competition.
When you step up to return serve or serve for the match, decide to play with intensity. Choose your shot and hit it with authority. Your willingness to play in this way, regardless of the outcome, will build up your confidence because you are committed to playing the way you know you can. This decision will improve your shot making and produce more wins, which ultimately will fuel your feeling of confidence. It starts with the decision to act with intensity and intention, even when you don’t feel like it.