Sports Psychology Column – Dec 1, 2001 – By Dr. John F. Murray – One of the most difficult states to overcome is fatigue. It has been said that fatigue makes cowards of us all. This is not true for everyone. Following a 33-hour solo flight, Charles Lindberg landed safely in France. Give in to fatigue and you are cooked. Fight through it properly and you gain a huge advantage! Let’s take a closer look.
No matter how fit you are you have undoubtedly experienced the ravages of being exhausted during a match. Fatigue should always be considered from both a psychological and physiological perspective.
It’s essential to know your body and physical condition well before undergoing any rigorous activity. Always have a medical exam and ask your physician before attempting to withstand 3 to 5 sets of hard core tennis, especially in heat conditions. Look at the recent number of deaths due to heat stroke. If you experience severe pain, headaches, vomiting, inability to sweat, or other common danger signs, always stop playing immediately.
Assuming that you are able to play tennis and not in significant danger, fatigue usually presents itself in a variety of ways. Physical signs that your body is tiring include greater difficulty breathing, slower movements, aching muscles, reduced vision and slower reaction times to name just a few.
Perhaps the riskiest thing to your tennis game, and eventual ego, is the focus you often lose when you are tired. The mind has a way of wandering all over the place when the body signals exhaustion. This is partly due to the relationship between arousal and attention (Optimizing Arousal in Tennis) whereby narrow attention allows many distractions to intrude. It is also true that when you become tired, your focus has a tendency to turn inward and dwell on your condition. Again, focus is lost because it could be much better spent attending to more relevant performance cues.
What can be done to battle this robber of attention and energy? If you are seeking a crucial edge for your game, let’s take a look at my ten tips to battle fatigue:
1. First and foremost, make sure that you get plenty of sleep prior to the big match. Nothing prepares your mind and body better to fight fatigue than recharging the batteries the conventional way.
2. Eat small balanced meals throughout the day and never consume a large meal before the match. Eat light a few hours before the match, but make sure to get some good complex carbohydrates in your body the day before the match too. For more details, consult with a nutritionist. Everyone’s body and performance demands are different.
3. Drink plenty of water mixed with Gatorade or fruit juice prior to and throughout the match. Start hydrating at least two hours before the match. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
4. Pace yourself throughout the match. Anticipate your opponent’s style in advance and know what will be needed to win in the final set if necessary. If needed, take a little longer before serving and setting for the return. Control the pace of the match and you save valuable energy for later.
5. Wear a hat and light-colored clothing in the sun. These minor measures mean a lot when battling outdoors. Protecting the head is especially important. White reflects sun.
6. Lose weight. Carrying an extra load around makes everything more difficult. Like a hot air balloon, throwing off some of the excessive baggage helps you soar higher for much longer.
7. Visualize yourself as a powerful force. When you become tired, an energy jolt is often helpful. See yourself as a space shuttle taking off rather than as a donkey bogged down in the sand.
8. In an emergency, end points sooner. If you are hopelessly outclassed by a more consistent player and realize that your energy reserves will not last, find another way to win. Thinking of two and three point combinations to end the rally sooner will sometimes do the trick. Don’t get wild, just bring the point to a close sooner and conserve energy.
9. Never let your opponent know how tired you really are. Psychological warfare often involves deception. Show how tired you are and your opponent gains both a tactical and emotional boost. Disguise your fatigue by turning toward the fence to catch your breath and your energy.
10. Breathe continuously and steadily through the match. Players sometimes hold their breath under stress. Just like a world-champion weight lifter, oxygen is essential. Breath in and out with your strokes. Use deep slow breathing during changeovers.
I hope this article has rejuvenated your energy and given you another weapon to unfurl on the court. Like many other distraction, fatigue should be managed wisely to your advantage.
Keep your comments, suggestions and feedback flowing. This is truly an international tennis forum and I love hearing from you, wherever on the globe you type. I’m in Munich for the next couple weeks and can be contacted using this form.
Article written by Sports Psychologist Dr John F. Murray