Fearless Tennis: Establish your presence before serving

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/

Over the past ten years, I have watched adult and junior players take the most important part of the game—the serve—and dismiss it. Whether it’s the impatience to get the next point started, frustration with the serve in general, anxiety about double-faulting, or just plain old habit, the actions in which players engage in the time prior to serving is perhaps the most widely abused time in the game. Establishing your presence at the line before serving will translate into a sense of confidence and an improved serving percentage.

It wasn’t until I finished playing college tennis and was about six months into the pro tour that I finally woke up to the fact that my serve and my approach to it would be a deciding factor in my win/loss record. For the most part, it was impatience that got the best of me. I just was oft en impulsive to start the point. I wasn’t centered at the line before serving. I was oft en caught between the meaning I was making about the last point and my irritation at my low first serve percentage. I simply didn’t understand the importance of a routine before serving.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t totally off track. I did bounce the ball three times before serving—a routine I still use today—but I missed the other key elements, namely picturing where I was serving and making sure my arm was loose enough.

When I began using a pre-serve routine consistently, I noticed that I became looser and more focused, which seemed to add pace and consistency to my first serve. A loose arm is critical while serving, and this pre-serve routine helped me get my mind and body prepared for this opportunity to dictate the point immediately. In time, I also started getting some more “free” points on my serve (a huge bonus I hadn’t fully accounted for until it started happening), and my confidence grew because I was more relaxed on my returns since I was holding easier. The following steps should help you, too.

Before serving, practice the progression of B, P, R (breath, placement, relaxed arm) as your routine. First, take a deep breath as you walk to the line to establish your presence. This is brief but deliberate. Second, create a quick visual image in your mind of the ball traveling toward your target. Make sure you are decisive with your placement of the serve. No second-guessing. This is critical. Third, check the tension in your shoulders and arm. Keep a loose arm!

This routine is followed by you bouncing the ball a set number of times (how many times is up to you) and then serving. Keep this routine consistent and practice it regularly so it’s automatic. Routines help us stay confident, focused, and relaxed. The serve, particularly, requires a clear mind and loose body because it is the only shot we are initiating. If you create this mind-body combination (a loose arm with a sense of intention), you will begin seeing better results on your serve. However, don’t forget to hit buckets of balls, too! These tips are not meant as a replacement for consistent practice.