by Jeff Greenwald, M.A., MFT; sports psychologist
Reprinted with permission from Fearless Tennis
Human beings like to be in control. In tennis, the desire to control the outcome of the match or specific shots can cause anxiety and get in the way of executing your strokes on a certain level. You may worry about what will happen if you relax your body and trust your instinct. Trying to control your shots in this way makes you less willing to take the necessary risks or swing as freely as you would like through your shots. Letting go of control, trusting your shots, and accepting the outcome is imperative if you are going to ever play with true freedom on the court.
But, by now, you probably already know this, too. So what we really need to do is get at the heart of why you are controlling your shots so much and help you discover an alternative approach—one that helps you let go of control and trust your body. Here are some questions for you to consider first:
- When do you find yourself trying to control too much or trying too hard? Which strokes are you more inclined to do this with?
- What do you think would happen if you let go more and trusted your body without interference from your mind?
- Are there any benefits you receive from trying to control your strokes or the match in any way?
- What perspective would help you to let go and trust more?
- What old perspective would you be letting go of?
I really do understand how strange and difficult it is not to command yourself to hit certain shots when you have the opportunities. You want to play the right shot at the right time. I think what you really want is a guarantee that your choice will be met with success, don’t you? So, in anticipation of hitting this shot, as your body prepares to perform what it’s done in practice, it tightens up ever so slightly. You pull back just a hair, your head pops up as you peek at where you are hitting, and you don’t fully finish the stroke. You look up to see the result as your opponent yells, “Out!” Your heart sinks.
Did you make the wrong decision? How could you miss that? That’s it, you say to yourself, I’m not doing that again. I’m going to keep it in and wait for him to miss. But wait. This mind-set is really only a guarantee that you will be relegated to playing safely and forcefully for the rest of your playing days.
Let’s explore another approach. You’ve worked the point and have a backhand opening. You run to the ball with total clarity about where you will hit it next. Creating openings is your job as a player. You know this is only one shot and one point. You don’t allow this one shot to determine whether you will win or lose. You trust your body to do what it has been trained to do in practice. You allow your upper body to stay loose as you maintain your intensity and conviction by not second-guessing yourself. Your brain and body know exactly what they are supposed to do, and you let them perform without interference.
To do this, begin to see a match from a larger perspective. Remember that a few isolated shots in all likelihood will not determine the outcome of the match. The only way you can actually play your best is by giving yourself the freedom to hit through your shots. You need to take the pressure off each individual shot and stop worrying about the outcome from point to point. Before you even go onto the court, set the goal that you will stay composed and trust your shots. Tell yourself you are willing to make errors if necessary but that you will trust your body to respond instinctively.
Developing trust in your strokes and in your body, particularly when the score is close, is a gradual process, but it is worth it. Let this be a goal and get familiar with the feeling when you successfully do it. Eventually, trusting your shots and keeping your mind out of the way will feel good, and you will begin doing it automatically more often. Remember, trust has to be unrelated to the outcome of your shot. The key is that you trust that this process will bring out your best tennis in the long run.