How to control your emotions during a big tennis match
It’s happened to all of us. A decision hasn’t gone our way and now we are breakpoint down in a crucial moment during the second set. Our heart is thumping, our palms are sweaty, our blood pressure is shooting through the roof and all we want to do is scream “You can’t be serious” at the umpire and smash our rackets on the ground.
Unfortunately, most players don’t have John McEnroe’s seemingly superhuman power of losing control and then somehow still being able to focus on the next point.
Today, we spoke to Alberto Lopez to find out what young players can do in order to stay focused during a big game.
Alberto is one of Bruguera Academy’s most experienced tennis coaches. He helped former world number one Garbiñe Muguruza develop her game and has worked with other top players such as Marsel Ilhan (77 ATP), Jurgen Zopp (150 ATP), Aslan Karatsev (190 ATP), Arantxa Parra (55 WTA), Romina Oprandi (65 WTA) and Marta Fraga (200 WTA).
Alberto, who oversees the development of all the upcoming ATP and junior players at the academy, says that being able to control your emotions can be the difference between winning and losing a game:
“When you lose control and your emotions take over, you are not concentrating on what you have to do; what the other player is doing, or on your own tactics.”
He shares with us some practical advice for before, during and after a match.
Before the match:
You may think that you only need to worry about your emotions during the match, but if you prepare properly beforehand, you’ll be in the best possible position to remain calm and focused during crucial moments in the game.
- 1. Train like there is no tomorrow
It may sound obvious, but the more you train the better. As we explained in our previous article – the success of Spanish tennis – by training hard, you’ll start to hit your shots on autopilot, which is a huge advantage when it comes to playing an important match.
Automating your game allows you to focus on the things that matter, like strategy and pacing. With the right focus you’ll make fewer mistakes – one of the things which can frustrate us most.
What’s more, the fitter you are, the less tired you’ll get when playing. This will make it easier to concentrate, especially during long matches.
So save all that passion for when it really counts: during those 6am runs before school or when all your friends are hanging out and enjoying themselves and you are doing endless drills in the midday sun.
- 2. Get in the zone
Take ten minutes, just before you go on court, to really focus. Find somewhere quiet, away from all distractions (including family, teammates, opponents and even your coach) and visualise the match ahead.
Think about your game and what you’ve been doing well in training. Imagine your opponent. What do you know about them? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How are you going to beat them?
By having this clear in your mind, you’ll walk out full of confidence and terrify anyone standing in your way.
During the match
No matter how well you prepare, sometimes things don’t go to plan, so it is essential you have some strategies to help you stay calm when you are on the court.
- 3. Take a deep breath
Did you know you can control your body and mind just by breathing? If you feel yourself getting nervous or frustrated about a point – one of the easiest things you can do is take a couple of long deep breaths. This will lower your heart rate and help you relax.
A good time to do this is just before serving or while you’re waiting for your opponent to serve. We recommend you inhale slowly, pause and then exhale slowly to really get the desired effect.
- 4. Have a routine
A good way to remain composed is to have a number of rituals you do between points when you start to feel the pressure.
Breathing is a good start but you can take this further. When serving, slow everything down and try bouncing the ball a set number of times. After a particularly tough point has finished, go and take your towel – even if you don’t need it.
Use this moment to clear your mind and start visualising the next point. Think about how you will serve or return the ball. Consider how you want the point to unfold. Decide if you will go to the net or stay on the baseline and play to your opponents weaker side.
Asking yourself these questions will help you disconnect emotionally from the previous point and at the same time get you ready for the next one.
Another key moment to regain composure is during a change of ends. Use your rest time wisely. Take a sip of water or a bite of a banana. Don’t dwell on the previous game. It’s time to focus on what’s next.
- 5. Accept your fate
Unfortunately not everyone is lucky enough to have access to Hawk-Eye technology. Usually when there is a tough decision we have to rely on the umpire, the line judge or even our opponents to make the call. This inevitably can lead to confrontation and throw you off your game for the rest of the match.
By all means question a call if you disagree – even show them the mark where the ball landed. However, if the point still goes against you – accept the decision and move on. Not only will arguing risk you getting an official warning, but it will be very difficult to concentrate on the next point if you are still worrying about the last. Don’t be that player who blames being knocked out of a tournament on one silly point.
Bonus tip – if you are playing without officials, and there is a tight call, always give your opponent the benefit of the doubt. You’ll feel better about winning and as the saying goes – what goes around comes around.
After the match
Although we keep talking about focusing on the next point and forgetting about everything which happened before – there is a time for reflection and that’s when the match is over.
- 6.Reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly
It doesn’t matter if you’ve won or lost, you should analyse every match you play. You can do this by talking to your coach, watching a replay or just by thinking about what happened. Start with the positives – consider what you did well and how you could do it even better.
Then focus on things to improve. Where did you make unforced errors? How many of your first serves were you getting in? Did you stick to your strategy? Was your strategy right?
Finally assess your emotions. Ask yourself how you felt before, during and after the game and think about the times you got frustrated and you dealt with it. Did you remain calm and focused? If not – what will you do next time to put it right?
Once you’ve considered everything, give yourself some time to relax and disconnect from tennis. Then, you’ve guessed it, it’s back to the court for more training.
How does Bruguera Academy prepare players emotionally?
Although all players have different characteristics and respond in various ways to difficult situations on (and off) the court, our tough training regime leaves them ready to face high pressure situations. They are given a lot of match experience and are encouraged to play in both local and international tournaments.
Our dedicated coaching staff, like Alberto, work closely with our players to make sure they are both physically and mentally prepared before a match. They will talk to them about their strategy, their opponents and show them how to control their emotions.
We also offer yoga classes to all players. These classes allow them to focus more on their breathing, introduce techniques to help clear their minds and, of course, they increase flexibility and core strength at the same time.
If you’d like to know more about training at the academy, complete your details and we’ll be in touch.
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