Week 8: Yoga for Improving Mental Strength in Tennis
I recently read an article on Mental Toughness. In it, the author asked questions about the audience’s confidence level on court, about being able to play great in practice but not in a match, or losing to a lesser player. The author made the statement that all of these things could ‘easily’ be corrected by mental training. Forgive me, but I don’t find anything ‘easy’ about mental training. It takes dedication, practice and perseverance to overcome many of the challenges a tennis match can create. With focused work and the right game plan, you can be sure to see improvements in your court performance.
This week we will look at some techniques you can incorporate into your training program that will help to keep you calm and balanced and in the right frame of mind on the court.
Breath - You are probably beginning to see the pattern here as I keep returning to the breath. In week 5 we talked about how slowing the breath down activates the parasympathetic nervous system which can induce calmness and clarity on the court. Inhaling and exhaling through your nose, slowing your heart rate down aids in recovery between points and can also be helpful in focusing your mind prior to serving and in between points. Initially, after an intense point you might not be able to both inhale and exhale through your nose, so let yourself exhale through your mouth until you can gain control of your breath enough to let the exhale out through the nose. This will bring your heart rate down faster. Practice your mindfulness in feeling how your body begins to recover quickly.
Being able to calm your mind down helps to keep you focused, centered and grounded on the court so you will be able to handle the stressors of the match. I will also let you shut out external influences that may distract you.
Posture - How you stand not only affects your ability to move better on the court and reduce your risk of injury but it also has an impact on your mental state. So often I see a player’s posture display exactly what is happening in the match. If they are winning, they may be bouncing around the court but as soon as the tides turn, and they are on the losing side, the shoulders start slumping and the head starts dropping forward so the eyes can focus on the ground. Next time you feel yourself getting down on the court, try running onto the court like Raphael Nadal or standing tall with your torso lifted high and chin raised so that you can look squarely in your opponents eyes before you begin your comeback to take the match like you deserve. Notice if you feel more energized and confident.
Mindset - The mind is a powerful thing. We have all heard this phrase at some point in our lives. How often do you give yourself negative feedback on the court? For every one negative phrase we tell ourselves, it takes ten positive ones to reverse the damage. It is important to be aware of how you talk to yourself, let alone your partner on the court. If one small negative comment can get you down, what do you think it might do to your partner? Instead of saying, “I missed that backhand down the line” try telling yourself, “I see myself hitting a backhand down the line”. I have a wonderful partner who, every time I miss a ball, tells me “do it again, you will get the next one”. I find myself letting go of the fear that, “I can’t” do it and find myself believing that, “I can” do it.
Yoga teaches us to find calmness in an uncomfortable situation by calming the mind and body through the controlled use of our breath. Some of the postures may be physically, mentally and/or emotionally challenging in nature. It provides a safe environment to practice so when real life challenges are thrown our way, we can have better coping mechanisms to handle them in an even-tempered way. The next time you are in class and feel challenged by a posture, bring your awareness back to your breath. Focus on your inhale and exhale and practice being okay with being uncomfortable for a short period of time.
The next time you feel challenged on the court, slow your breathing down, check your posture and remind yourself of all the things you are capable of doing on the court and see where it leads you — to the TO