It has happened to all tennis players. You call a serve out but hit the return anyways. The ball goes perfectly where you want it to go and then you ask yourself "why can't I do that in a real point?" The fact of the matter is that your opponent is not the blame of this but rather yourself. More specifically, your "self 1." Let me explain....
Dating back awhile ago, Tim Gallwey wrote a book called, "The Inner Game Of Tennis." It give some wonderful insight on how to play better tennis without worrying about your strokes. The main focus of this blog is what Gallwey describes in his book as "Self 1" and "Self 2." During a tennis match (and other aspects of life!) that is leading to frustration, there is often a voice in your head (Self 1) instructing you on what to do better. "Get low!" "Follow through!" "Relax your grip!" All of these instructions leave you (self 2) trying to do all of this, leading to a complete disaster. Instead of focusing on enjoying the competitive play, you are fixating on your strokes, making them rigid and awkward rather than free flowing. Does this sound familiar? Good news, you're not alone!
The Perplexing Case of Jana Novotna in the 1993 Wimbledon Final
Down 4-1, 40-30 in the decisive set, Steffi Graf didn't think she had a chance at winning. "I felt I lost already the match," Graf later said in the post-match interview. "I thought, Okay, I'm not going to get out of this one. She was playing unbelievable tennis."
And then a double fault from Novotna happened. And a missed volley. And a shaky overhead. Soon, it was Graf holding the trophy, winning the last 5 games to steal the second set 6-4.
How could this be? A professional tennis player choking in the biggest stage of tennis. Although we cannot get into the head of a players while they are choking, there are some interesting studies on athletes choking where the main problem is "self 1."
How Self 1 Can Sabotage Your Game
Although you are only one person, there is a conversation going on in your head during matches. The theme of that conversation is critical to your success. What usually happens with players that struggle to perform in matches is a judgmental conversation. Self 1 is continually critiquing your play and giving criticism and input for every shot missed. You (self 2) listen to those criticisms and try to work on those mistakes by changing your strokes in the middle of the match. This leads to players struggling to keep the ball in the harder they try. Although you cannot stop the self 1 from talking to you, you can change the theme of the conversation.
How To Make Self 1 Your Ally
There is a reason why we call playing really well "playing out of your mind." You literally are! This is because you are not listening to criticques you are trying to give yourself. Instead you are just focusing on telling yourself positive, non judgmental comments. "Good hustle." "You got the next point." "Keep trying, you never know what will happen." These types of comments are not trying to explain the reason to the outcome you had (good or bad shot) but rather making nonjudgmental comments that are merely positive and facts. This includes analyzing patterns that are happening in the match. "My opponent likes cross court backhands." "He/she serves always out wide." These are great conversations to have with yourself due to the fact that they are giving you important information to improve your chances in winning.
This is a pretty simple concept to understand but a very hard concept to put into play during a match. I highly recommend that you try these conversations during practices before working it into a match. Once you see the benefits of this, you will never want to go back to the self destructing conversations that lead you to a frustrating loss!
Here are some tips on your serve...give it a try!