March 3, 2017
Tennis players that have played long enough know the feeling of playing so well that they don't know quite how it happened. They just shrug after yet another winner comes off their racquet as their opponent is scratching their head to figure out how they are doing it.
So why can't we recreate these moments more often?
According to the guru of having a peak state, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, states that there are 3 conditions in have "flow," a feeling of fulling immersing yourself in a task at hand. They are:
One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task.
The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows them to adjust their performance to maintain the flow state.
One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and their own perceived skills. One must have confidence in one's ability to complete the task at hand.
It is easy to see why tennis can allow one to be at a peak state as numbers 1 and 2 are naturally intertwined in the sport. There is a clear set of goals as you make progress towards trying to win a tennis match and the immediate feedback is continual in a tennis match. So again, why is it so hard to get into a peak state of mind while playing matches?
This is where tennis players run into trouble: the perception one has on their abilities and the challenge they are facing. I feel that many players that struggle in matches have a hard time understanding what they are truly capable of compared to what they think they should be able to do. The disconnect creates a lot of pressure on the player to play above their skill level and makes it impossible to "play out of their mind." To truly have a flow moment in tennis, you will need to accept what you are capable of for that specific match. This allows you to stop worrying about what you should or shouldn't be doing as you play and instead to, well, just play. They do call it "playing out of your mind" for a reason! Give it a shot the next time you play a match and you might be surprised by how well you play.