Sports Psychology Column – Jan 1, 2002 – By Dr. John F. Murray – I hope you had a healthy holiday season with friends, family and celebration! Are you excited about the challenges the New Year presents? If you read this column, you’re probably interested in improving your tennis, or perhaps sharpening mental skills in another important area of life. This month, I share some of your inquiries followed by brief performance solutions. Names are changed to preserve privacy, but these issues represent typical questions that are often asked. Keep your questions and comments flowing this year as it benefits everyone and helps determine future columns.
Dear Dr. John:
I have a young world ranked player who wants to find out all he can about putting it all together from the very beginning of the game. He has acquired a bit of a habit of falling behind in his matches and having to fight very hard to overcome a tardy start. I can’t fault his physical warm up, but mentally something is lacking in this area. Overall he is as mentally tough as they come and not prone to being over anxious. What should I do? Taylor
If he is “not prone to being over-anxious” I wonder if his mental intensity is lacking from the outset. Perhaps helping him get into the match sooner with imagery of the final few games of a match will help. I would test the limits too – in other words, really get him pumped before his matches and then have him practice as if whomever wins the first two games will win the match. Good Luck. Get him a copy of Smart Tennis and have him review the Mental Equipment article on Arousal (Link there please)! Good Luck! Dr. John
Dear Dr. John:
This question is about paralysis by analysis. When I play against someone I know is better than me, many times I fall into paralysis by analysis. I start to tell to myself to move well, move the legs, the arms, and so on. It is a terrible sensation. I sometimes think I will not play anymore. Do you have a prescription for me? On the other side, when I play against someone is weaker than me, I’ll go completely on what you call “automatic pilot.” Could you believe that I am so foolish on the court? Thank you in advance. Pete
Thanks for writing. You are not foolish, but your description of “paralysis by analysis” is a good way to think of losing focus, or over-thinking. This appears to happen to you when you think the opponent is better than you. I would seriously ask yourself why the skill level of the opponent is changing the way you think about competition. What does it mean to you to possibly lose a match? Why do you play? To improve skills, win, have more fun etc…? Whatever is happening is making you over-conscious. In this instance, you lose the natural flow or the zone. I would encourage you to re-think what playing tennis means to you. If you embrace the challenge and forget about winning and losing, you will be less apt to go into ultra-think mode. You might also like to tell yourself, when you begin to go into this thinking mode, phases like: “just play” “just have fun,” take a deep breath, jog in place, and get your physical self back! You need to think in tennis – but not too much during the point! Better to just play. Go for it! Dr. John
Dear Dr John:
I love tennis but whenever I play a match and I start to miss easy balls I get angry. It feels out of control because I know I shouldn’t be doing it but I still do it. It’s dragged on for years and I don’t know how to control my anger when I get on the court. It’s like I am a different person when I am on the court. Could you please give an exercise to work with which will allow me to think of the match and not how bad that last shot or game was. Lisa
The key is to re-focus quickly following anger, not to eliminate anger. We all get angry and it has its purpose to motivate, but not to destroy, the present and future. You really need a consistent pre-shot routine, disciplined, key words, eye control etc… to give yourself other things to think about. The “zone” is really nothing more than being totally in the moment. You might also do imagery in which you practice getting angry and then releasing anger for the next point, and re-direct the energy into proper focus and awareness on the present. I wish this were easy, but it is not – and there could be deeper issues still … but it is usually just a problem for your game. I’ll talk with you later! Dr. John
Now that you’ve glimpsed some of Taylor, Pete and Lisa’s concerns, what about your own situation? If there is any way I can help, please drop me a line using this form, call me at: 561-596-9898.
From Sports Psychologist Dr John F. Murray