If you’ve watched a tennis match on television, you probably heard the commentators talk about mental toughness and mindfulness. Not only are the pro players utilizing mindfulness strategies in their matches, but they’re also teaming up with sports psychologists to give them an extra edge when they’re competing.
While we may not have the budget to hire our own psychologist, there are a lot of strategies and lessons we can take from the pros and various mindfulness practices to use during our next tennis match.
According to Mindful.org, mindfulness is “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Raise your hand if you’ve ever exploded after a bad line call or thought about match point before you even got to the tennis courts. I know I have. Learning what mindfulness is and how it can help our tennis game will make us less reactionary and allow us to enjoy our matches so much more.
Use Mindfulness to Enhance Your Tennis Game
It doesn’t truly matter how we come to mindfulness or how we do it, it just matters that we do it. If you like guided mediations, then a mediation app or a meditation video on YouTube would be best for you. If even thinking about sitting still for ten or fifteen minutes makes your skin crawl, head out for a walk. We can also merge mindfulness with any sport, especially tennis.
Here are two ways to keep your head in the match:
- Fail Forward
When you succeed, it just means you’ve failed enough times and finally figured out a way to win. Failing allows you to develop resilience—the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. You will fail, it’s inevitable, and when you do you must give yourself grace. Learning how to be compassionate to yourself will enable you forget about the things you cannot control.
Control the controllables is something I always say to my athletes. What can you control? Your behaviors, your actions, YOU. What can’t you control? A bad line call, a windy day, everyone else.
This technique is good for the tennis player who always hangs on to the past or thinks way into the future; basically, for the tennis player who can’t stay in the current moment. If you’re thinking about the end result, you have already lost focus of what’s in front of you. It’s totally normal for us to do this, our brain wanders about 50% throughout the day.
One of my instructors—a real Ted Lasso-type—as a kid told me the best attribute to adopt as a tennis player is the memory of a goldfish. If you overcook your forehand and send it into the back fence, forget about it. If you double faulted an entire game away, forget about it. If you finally hit a winning passing shot, forget about it.
You get the idea.
W.I.N. stands for What’s Important Now – the actions in the moment are all that you can control. It’s okay to get distracted or think back to what’s happened or what should happen in the future, just take a breathe and try your best to come back to the moment you’re currently in.
Meditate to Be a Better Tennis Player
Novak Djokovic is probably best known—other than his twenty-one major titles—for his use of meditation and other mindfulness methods throughout his career. He typically meditates fifteen minutes a day, every day. For him, meditation is just as important as physical training. It’s helped him let go of negative emotions like anger, self-doubt, and worry and enabled him to overcome adversity time and time again on court.
Here are three reasons why mediation is so useful for tennis players:
- Meditation will increase your focus on the tennis court
Research shows that a regular meditation practice—even as little as ten minutes a day—will promote better attention and focus on a chosen task or object. With meditation, you will be better able to focus on the match, the tennis ball, your opponent with greater attention without getting distracted by the weather, other people, and the little annoying things your opponent might do.
- Meditation will help you perform under pressure
Studies show that mindfulness has a positive effect on our emotions and reduces anxiety, depression, and stress. When you’re in a tight match, or playing an important league match, you’re going to experience stress and anxiety—it’s only natural. Practicing meditation regularly can reduce stress and anxiety, helping you swing easier under pressure.
- Meditation will teach you to be resilient
Ever had a John McEnroe moment on court? Research shows that after just twenty minutes of meditation, people feel calmer and more relaxed. Even after being exposed to an adverse stimulus, participants in this study weren’t reactive to it—their heartrate, blood pressure, and breathing rate remained within normal, relaxed ranges. This suggests that meditation can improve our ability to be less reactive to negative experiences and emotions.
Mental toughness and mindfulness is key when it comes to being successful at tennis, some of the greatest players in the sport—Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic—all appear superhuman when faced with adversity on court.
If you’re looking for an advantage on the tennis court, start small when it comes to mindfulness. Look into the different apps, like the free Insight Timer, and give meditation a try. Your mind will wander, and that’s okay, it’s a skill that you’ll build up overtime.
We would love to hear about the ways you stay focused on court. Comment below and share your stories.