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It's Not a Break Until You Hold: Diving Into Human Psychology

A break of serve, at any level, can be a huge turning point in a match. Winning one game on someone’s serve is all you need to win…if you hold. There lies the problem. We are more prone to losing the next game after a break of serve than any other times during a match. While watching a professional tennis match, you will often hear the commentator mention that the player who just broke now has to concentrate extra hard to ensure he wins the next game.

So the question is, what can you do to help with this? Understanding human psychology is definitely a start. Lets dig in.

Imagine that you were to flip a coin and if it lands on heads, you are given 20 dollars while if it lands on tails, you have to give 20 dollars. If you are the average person, you would have to have close to twice the reward for you to take this bet. In other words; the feeling of losing is much more troubling to someone than the feeling of winning. We tend to hold on to what we have and fear losing it. Human psychologists call this loss aversion.

This mentality can be our downfall in a tennis match. After breaking someone’s serve, the natural reaction is to protect that break. Meaning to be conservative and play not to lose. This type of game style doesn’t go well when the opponent has nothing to lose and plays more freely. This is one of many reasons why professional tennis players hire performance psychologists to help them in situations such as this.

So what do you do?

Educating yourself about how we react to different situations can help us prepare for irrational behavior that we may exhibit. By knowing some triggers in a match that would induce such behavior, you can train yourself to think appropriately to the situation. Remembering that every point is worth the same and the court dimensions never change can allow you to unattached yourself emotionally to the situations. This can help you have a steady and rational mind. The best way to ensure you can do this when it really counts is to play practice matches with scenarios that you struggle with. For example, start your match at 1-0, serving. If you hold serve the entire set, you win. A shorter version of this that adds more pressure would be to serve at 5-4 or 6-5, meaning that your service game will gain you the win if you can hold serve. Whatever you do, be mindful of the emotions that you feel so you can better analyze if they are helpful or hurtful. This can help pinpoint situations that you need to work on before your next match.

As a side note, here are some books on human psychology:

Happy reading and happy holidays!

Here's a tip on your serve that you probably won't hear from your teaching pro:

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