by Jeff Greenwald, M.A., MFT; sports psychologist
Reprinted with permission from Fearless Tennis
If you’d like to learn more about Jeff’s new online course click here: http://www.norcal.usta.com/competitiveedge/focusunleashed/
With our desire for immediate results and a lack of self-awareness, we often don’t even see the learning opportunities in front of our eyes. Engaging in the learning process is a critical step toward achieving goals on the tennis court.
Recently, I was practicing my serve for an upcoming tournament. On the court next to me was a woman in her forties also hitting buckets of serves. However, what particularly stuck out was how she was responding to each serve. I quickly became intrigued. I noticed that when she missed her serve—even just by an inch or two—she would hang her head and then shake it from side to side, defeated. It truly looked like a nightmare for her. After watching her, I took special note of what I was thinking and doing when I missed my serve. I noticed that after each serve that went into the net, I would immediately assess the tension in my arm to make sure it was loose enough and then refocus my attention on my target or adjust my toss.
Interested in the disparity of our experiences, I walked up to the woman and asked, “What part of your serve are you working on?”
She quickly retorted, “I just wanted to get the ball in once before I leave. Is that too much to ask?” She then walked away in frustration with her head down. What struck me on an even deeper level was the degree to which this woman was literally sabotaging the very thing she wanted so badly. She wanted to serve well, get the ball in the court, and feel good about her serve. Yet she was doing nothing to actually make this happen. While I was on the next court making adjustments and tuning in to how my body was feeling on the serve, she was spiraling around in the world of expectations, disappointment, and frustration, essentially “living in the problem.” But don’t misunderstand me. Her difficulty wasn’t due to a lack of effort; her mind was stuck on the immediate result and seemed to forget the importance of focusing on the key things that would actually help her find a better rhythm.
It’s really easy to hand over the keys to your own development and lose the opportunity to increase your self-awareness and confidence. Becoming aware of yourself and your approach to the game is critical if you are going to translate the skills you learn into competition. When a coach tells you to keep your shoulders turned, check this out in your own body. See if you can feel what you are being told. Be a participant in your own learning process.
Remember, you are the only one in your body. Your experience and perceptions about what you are being told or what you feel play a big role in how quickly you will improve. Learning how you learn is critical in this day and age with so much information and such a demand for instant results and success.
We need to learn how to make adjustments in the moment when things aren’t going our way. We need to become more tuned in to what we feel physically when we do things well. What technical changes feel right? What are we focused on when we are successful? We are responsible for our own learning. Nobody can do this for us. Of course, approaching your game in this way requires a paradigm shift that views learning and improvement as a high priority.
When you spend more time focusing on what you need to learn, you will find the results beginning to happen, perhaps with less effort than before.
To improve the rate at which you improve, you need to become more aware of how your body feels when it hits the ball well. Learn to tune in to your body. Keep your emotions out of it as best you can. Having more kinesthetic awareness (physical feeling—the tension in your body, your body positioning, feel of the ball at contact) will help you become more aware of what you may need to adjust in the middle of a match. The answer to improving lies more in your body than in your head. Try to stay out of your head and try to avoid analyzing. Let your body teach you, and then give this feedback to your coach. You have more knowledge in your body than you realize.