Physical skills aren’t always the determining factor in winning tennis or any other sports contest. Often it’s the psychologically stronger player who prevails. If you’re getting ready to slam a forehand or deliver a serve, for example, you’re much more likely to hit a winner if you’re feeling confident, instead of thinking about what might go wrong. Maintaining a calm, positive outlook may be easier said than done -- but you have several weapons available to combat any panic attacks that occur on the court.
Prepare yourself for the match with skill practice, fitness work or developing a game plan to use against a specific opponent. One of the best ways to avoid being nervous during a match is to enter the contest knowing that you’ve followed a detailed program to get ready.
Perform deep breathing exercises. Even one deep breath -- taken before a serve, for example -- can relax your muscles and ease your nerves a bit. Take a few deep breaths between games or sets to further reduce any tension.
Tighten and relax your muscles between points, games or sets. Progressive muscle relaxation techniques can loosen your muscles and ease your tension. If you have time between games, purposely tense one area of your body for three or four seconds, then relax those muscles. Work your way up from your feet to your head.
Perform calming rituals during the match. Go through the exact same routines during specific situations so the familiarity can help keep you calm. Bounce the ball the same number of times before each serve, for example, or spin the racket in your hand once before your service returns.
Visualize yourself in successful situations. Create positive images in your mind and continue to reinforce those images throughout the match. You can visualize specific shots -- perhaps a powerful topspin forehand shot or a crisp volley -- or create positive emotions by imagining yourself being handed a trophy at the end of a tournament.
Block out negative thoughts; redirect your focus on the positive instead. If you’re nervous when you’re about to hit a backhand, for example, you can focus on a technical point, such as shifting your weight to your back foot or following through completely.
- You can combine several techniques at once. For example, take a few deep breaths between points while visualizing a positive result.
- And remember ... tennis is just a game. Have fun.
M.L. Rose has worked as a print and online journalist for more than 20 years. He has contributed to a variety of national and local publications, specializing in sports writing. Rose holds a B.A. in communications.