- Mental Tennis - Overcoming Tennis Anger and Frustration
Mental Tennis - Overcoming Tennis Anger and Frustration
Mental Tennis - Tennis Anger and Frustration
Anyone who's played tennis knows how much fun it can be. Anyone who's ever played tennis also knows how frustrating it can be. At times it can bring out the worst in us. It's amazing just how easily even the calmest, coolest person can start to unravel after a series of bad shots. It looks so easy on TV but it's not so easy in real life.
We've even seen the top pros melt down at times and get angry at umpires, themselves and their equipment and even they are not immune to spouting profanity, negative self-talk and an occasional epic racket smash like Novak Djokovic at the US Open.
Why do we get so upset and so angry playing tennis?
It makes sense for Novak Djokovic to smash his racket when a major title and millions of dollars is on the line. It doesn't make as much sense when Bob, a beginning player, loses his shit at his local tennis club, storms around spewing profanities and then goes on a racket smashing rampage.
The result is much the same for pros and recreational players, except that Novak Djokovic isn't out $200 for a replacement...
Tennis is a frustrating sport. Trying to whip a heavy frame with stings on it through the air at the just the right speed and angle is difficult. Doing that with proper form and timing while also managing to run, stop or split-step at precisely the right moment while playing an opponent is even more difficult. Add in nerves, fatigue, weather, off days, a sloppy doubles partner or a formidable opponent and it's a recipe for mental meltdown.
When we miss one too many times or the ball comes back to us one too many times when we expected to win, it's frustrating. When we can't hit our serve the way we want to or can't hit it consistently or hit that easy volley into the net when it should have been a winner, we get angry.
We are angry at ourselves, sometimes within reason and other times we simply hold ourselves to unfair and unrealistic expectations.
The anatomy of a mental tennis meltdown:
It may start with an easy shot you miss, a double fault, a missed overhead, a lost point. You grimace. Your facial expression and body language is that of disgust. You're upset that you lost the point or messed up.
Some players are able to shrug it off. Others begin to unravel, some slowly and some quickly.
For many players, a nuclear-strength toddler velocity mental tennis meltdown is brewing just beneath the surface. Depending on how things go, they either keep the beast at bay or they go berserker and it all spills out of them on the court.
What began as a frown evolves into muttering insults to yourself. This evolves to you spouting profanities at yourself, your racket, the ball and anything else you can blame. Sips of water or Gatorade can't help you. At this point not even sips of Whiskey or Vodka can help you, you're a ticking timebomb just waiting for that one last mistake or missed opportunity and then....kaboom!
Anyone who's smashed a racket can tell you how good it feels. It's very therapeutic...just not for your wallet or your doubles partner, especially if it's your spouse or child. Not to worry, they will recover from the trauma and you will likely play better from the moment you feel the frame crush as it hits the ground.
There are 3 problems with this approach to tennis:
1) Rackets are expensive to replace
2) Your doubles partners will be terrified of you
3) People will label you as the crazy/angry one
4) People won't want to play with you anymore
5) It hurts your game
Believe it or not, the only real reason to get your mental tennis game under control is that it hurts your game. All along to your epic racket smash moment, your mental state of mind is making you play worse, feeding into the vicious self-abuse cycle that makes you angry to begin with.
How can you improve your mental tennis game?
If you search online you'll find lots of good articles on how to stay calm and avoid frustration. Brad Gilbert's Winning Ugly is a great book.
If you have access and can afford it, working with a coach and taking lessons that focus on your mental game can help tremendously.
The best way to help yourself is to practice and play games and sets with your mental state of mind being priority. Teach yourself to remain calm and develop techniques that let you maintain a somewhat consistent mental state no matter what's happening on the court.
3 suggestions for helping your mental tennis issues:
1) Develop routines.
As every tennis coach advises, develop routines between sets and points or to reset when you get rattled. This might be always bouncing the ball the same number of times between serves or stopping to tighten your shoelaces on every changeover regardless of whether they're loose. It might also mean stopping to adjust your dampener, tighten your strings or sing a little tune to yourself each time you lose a point just to keep yourself calm and slightly distracted from your negative inner dialogue.
2) Use gimmicks.
One of the most effective ways for me to combat nerves and negative self-talk was to use gimmicks and I realized if I had something funny on my racket, just the little inner chuckle I got from looking at it was enough (sometimes) to keep me focused on the game and help me keep my cool.
After a while I got tired of buying cutesy kids tennis dampeners and realized the need for tennis products for people like me.
I created a middle finger tennis dampener so that I could give myself the finger after every bad shot.
This also created a joke between doubles partners if I was playing doubles and with my opponents who would get a kick out of seeing me looking at my racket and giving myself the finger.
If you can find a resource that helps keep you calm, use it. The bottom line is that you'll play better, win more and have a lot more fun playing tennis once you learn to control your mental tennis game by any means necessary.
3) Replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk.
Mental tennis meltdowns happen gradually. You rarely (if ever) see a player go ballistic or smash their racket at the first missed shot or first double fault.
Replace those insulting inner comments and self-berating negative dialogue with positive messages and try to be gentle to yourself.
Remind yourself that the game, set and match isn't over until it's over and that each point matters. Focus on one point at a time and don't think ahead. If you make a mistake, miss, blow your serve or lose a point you should have won, shake it off and leave it behind you and focus on the next shot.
Gently remind yourself that most players do not play better mad and most players play the best when they're loose and relaxed and able to move as freely and naturally as possible.
Remind yourself to reset each point. Think of that beach, gold course, back yard hammock or wherever you're more relaxed than you are right now. Be aware of your posture and your breathing. R-E-L-A-X.
Hum a little tune, think funny things, imagine your opponent naked, anything to keep your mind from fixating or whatever just went wrong. Remain positive and remind yourself you are playing tennis because it's fun, it's social and it's good exercise.
Unless you're playing a tournament and money is on the line, try to remind yourself where you are and don't take it too seriously.
Remind yourself you are playing the best you can - at that moment. You may have been better 20 years ago, yesterday or an hour ago, but at the present moment you are doing the best you can and shouldn't be any harder on yourself than you really deserve.