How to change your attitude during a tennis match

Our daily lives are filled with instances where our performance is influenced by the moods and emotions we experience at those moments. The mood with which we approach challenging tasks does not always help to facilitate satisfactory performances. Sometimes, we may feel too angry to listen to someone whose ideas could be beneficial, or we may be pessimistic about our ability to perform well, or we may believe we are incapable, which leads us to approach a task with little conviction. How often do we think, “If I hadn’t felt that way, I would have done much better”? These are common thoughts that highlight the central role of emotions.

The same happens on the tennis court during a match… rackets slammed to the ground, self-criticism, thinking you’ll never play another match, getting angry at an opponent who wastes time, or blaming fate for your missed shots are reactions we have all experienced.

A useful way to improve your awareness regarding the influence of emotions in tennis is to reflect on:

  • The best matches you’ve played, focusing on the actions taken to make them possible and the emotions you felt. This way, you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings and how they influence your way of playing.
  • The first games of the match, identifying the predominant moods and thoughts. Am I happy or do I wish I were different? What emotions and thoughts could improve the effectiveness of my game at the start of the match?

On the other hand, it is important to avoid pessimistic explanations that lead to not changing and accepting your game fatalistically, assuming thoughts like: “I’ve always made these mistakes and have never been able to change,” or “I’ve always been a nervous person, getting easily angry as soon as I start making mistakes, and I can’t change now after a lifetime of playing this way.”

It might also be true that you have tried to change without achieving a satisfactory result, convincing yourself that improvement is not possible. In almost all cases, however, these attempts at change were conducted incorrectly, without following an improvement system. Often, people try to change a behavior (e.g., getting angry after a mistake) by telling themselves not to do it (“Don’t get angry”). Usually, the effect of this action is to continue feeling angry. Everyone has heard from their tennis coach that to calm down and recover, you should take a deep breath; you follow this advice, but often it doesn’t work, leading you to believe that deep breathing is useless.

Where did these tennis players, who tried to respond to difficulties, go wrong?

The first case highlights that you don’t change simply by telling yourself “not to do something,” otherwise our changes would be implemented through phrases: you’re angry, just say “don’t be angry,” you’re agitated, say you don’t want to be agitated, you’re distracted, say you don’t want to be, and so on. Telling yourself phrases is useless if you don’t also address the emotions.

The second case is very typical in sports, because many athletes don’t know how to perform a deep breath correctly, and when they try, they inhale little air, perhaps in jerks, and exhale it too quickly, making their breath more like a sigh or a huff. For this reason, it is ineffective. On the contrary, everyone can learn to take a deep breath, but first, they must practice doing it correctly; its effectiveness must be tested in training and only then performed in a match. At that point, there is no doubt it will help reduce emotional tension. For training in these skills, you should consult a sports psychologist.

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