It is not because of the people staring from outside, neither it is that I don’t know how to hit, but my heart races, the hands get sweaty, the grip feels slippery, and my mind diverts. Even sometimes, I try to make the stroke with a clear path on my mind… Again, it’s a storm within which doesn’t seek to settle,” said Christine an ITF player.
Imagine, how dominant is Anxiety that it drains the energy out of your stroke, it even compels an experienced professional tennis player standing in the service box to hit a volley on a lob rather than a smash. It’s the brain, not just a crooked feeling of imbalance within (anxiety).
Mental Acuity & Physical Potency
It’s a no-way disagreement that Tennis has a twofold approach: Mental acuity and physical potency. To put it clearly, Physical potency can determine for how long your feet can move on the court, whereas, mental acuity assures how WELL your feet are going to function on every command of the brain and at every ball coming your way. Physical potency is like nitro-boost in a sports car limited till an intermediate level, once you enter the professional circuit where the other racket-holder is as agile, flexible, and strengthened as you are then Mental Acuity determines your growth. Ironically, the latter is usually left undermined.
If we rationally speak to regular players and ask them to look around and notice the coaching environment, I won’t be surprised to hear that the topics on mental acuity seldom rise as they are largely shadowed by the focus of most of the coaches on physical potency, while the coaching. Even the tactical and technical sessions are found organized in an unmannered way, and the highest authorization is lent to hours of bulls’ practice. Is it fruitful?. No, a mindful stroke is better than hundreds of blind strokes. It’s funny how all the chords relate to each other. Tennis players feel “choked” or “bottled” due to ample reasons. A few, being parental pressure, expectations complex, over-thinking, lower-self esteem, etc. As we’ve had a look at WHAT causes anxiety. Now, Let’s see the after-effects: sudden halt of foot movements, increase in muscle tension, abdomen tightens, blackouts, increased fatigue, breathlessness, mental withdrawal from the game, etc. Meanwhile, all the minute after-effects are on play, a stunning stroke turns to a screwed stroke giving rise to an unavoidable unforced error.
Are unforced errors, really unforced?
To put the pieces in the puzzle, usually, the chain begins from the dereliction of mental acuity exercises steered by the causes leading to untimed bodily reactions like feeling fatigued, muscle tension, etc, which results in an unforced error while an ongoing match, and the cycle prevails. It doesn’t matter how elite the tournament remains. It is a psychological aspect of the brain, where it finds itself in a room of competition (“game on” mode), once stepped on the court whether it’s Rod Laver Arena while grand slam or a Championship series commenced near your house.
However, are the unforced errors unforced as we’ve come to face the root of the error, namely, negligence?. According to ITF’s coaching ethics, coaching requires an individualistic approach at all stages. The procedure might vary from a player to another, but the significance of mental acuity is homogeneous. Also, If the professionals with tons of experience could box the anxiety and throw it in an open ocean then this aspect wouldn’t have been troubling many. The infamous Serb, Novak Djokovic, will have all the eyes focused, as he embarks to create a historical dent in Tennis Chronicles by triumphing episodic grand slams in a calendar year, after Rod Laver in 1969. He has often spoken of tidbits about game-improvement techniques. “I won’t tell you what I gain with [meditation], but I’ll tell you what I lose with it,” he said of his new approach in 2017. “I lose fear, I lose anxiety, I lose stress. I guess at the end of the day, that’s what you’re looking for.” The new approach, here, is meditation. While that approach might not work for everyone, it’s something that has certainly been beneficial for the Serb.
The “Game On” mode
We know the brain switches to “game-on” mode as the player steps on the court in a tournament. The complete equipment of the brain decides the outcome of the match. Mind you, the outcome is susceptible to the preparation and body language before arriving on the court. That is, a tennis player’s success can be determined even before the stats are released. If the brain gets versed enough to operate efficiently in the “game on” mode, then over-coming anxiety is definite rather than resolving anxiety not coming at all. Most competitive players have faced stress or anxiety at some point of time in their career reported by ITF (International Tennis Federation), itself.
A player on the court requires to be physically and mentally well-groomed to utilize his/her potential to the utmost. Well, when the fun in the sport slightly shifts towards a result-oriented mindset then anxiety genuinely stems in undesirable situations. Soon, over time the athlete tends to feel demotivated. Perhaps, to not let stress creep up a golden opportunity, a dual approach is the need of the hour. Firstly, A player’s planner from the beginning must include psychological exercises because the sooner the inclusion better the results. Secondly, tennis society should embrace and encourage the active participation of psychologists in the field, who delivers diverse mind strengthening exercises fruitful yet engaging.
The views and opinions expressed in this opinion article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Eastern Herald.