JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best
If you asked the typical club player what percentage of the time spent when playing a match is actually in between points, they undoubtedly would be surprised, if not shocked, since it's about 70%! For example, a one-hour match would consist of :42 minutes not playing, and a mere :18 minutes playing the points.
That is precisely why, how one manages that in-between time – head-to-toe focusing on the task at hand - is absolutely essential and has a great deal to do with how successfully you'll perform during the contested points: physically, mentally and emotionally.
- Physically keeping your engine running, staying energized - not standing around absolutely motionless, watching an adjoining match on the next court, or worse yet, just daydreaming
- Mentally staying on top of any necessary strategic and tactical tools to enable your strengths and deny the other player(s) theirs
- Emotionally maintaining a positive, "can-do" attitude, especially when in the face of adversity
Anyone who has observed Rafael Nadal is well aware of his elaborate mannerisms. His ticks and quirks are second to none and precede every single point prior to serving or receiving, as well as other habits well before that, such as his penchant for adjusting which way his courtside water and electrolyte bottles are facing after each use during changeovers.
He is the ultimate creature of comfort.
Although these seeming superfluous traits are often viewed, rightly so I suppose, as somewhat extreme compared to his peers on both the ATP and WTA tours, where they are also utilized similarly. In Nadal's instance, they are all too commonly made fun of by the less-enlightened among us; some who, not so coincidentally, often have seriously underdeveloped, if you will, play prep habits (if any, at all). Would you believe that a local ladies league opponent of one of my lesson clients openly complained about her methodical ball bouncing prior to launching her serve, which she angrily perceived as unsportsmanlike and possibly against the rules?
Ignorance is bliss.
Yet, for some time now, since way back in the 80's, Dr. Jim Loehr first articulated the value of these so-called between-point eccentricities, coined the phrase "Mental Toughness," and became the MT innovator of the day. I should know since I was the beneficiary of working in association with Dr. Jim Loehr at the Jimmy Connors Tennis Center at Sanibel Harbour Resort, one of the top 10 tennis centers in the country at the time. Today, they are an integral part of any sports psychologist's playbook. Lately, they are often a valued part of a player's team, now referred to as a player's "performance coach" or "mind coach."
Although used in all sports in various manifestations at the highest level, in tennis they are commonly referred to as rituals. A Merriam-Webster definition is: "a customarily repeated act or series of acts."
Interestingly, you, everyone, unconsciously makes use of them on a daily basis. Life examples are putting your clothes on, brushing your teeth, making your morning coffee; these can all take place in the very same order, without fail, every time. It's about order from routine and the comfort, harmony, sense of well-being, and the ensuing positive attitude, that we then experience as we embark upon the challenges of our day.
Since you all have observed these rituals whenever you've watched a professional match on television – some of you are already, smartly, copycatting them. That's called "modeling," or more colloquially "monkey see, monkey do." Some of you have made the effort to see players in person at the annual Miami or Delray Beach Pro Tour events only a few hours away, so it's really not necessary to describe the rituals here. For all, they are addressed in detail in both of my books, More Than Just the Strokes and Tennis Game Theory, and in a newly posted Jim Loehr inspired video text – "The 16 Seconds Cure" of between-points-strategies, which is on my website homepage as well.
In the meantime, if you truly aspire higher and seek game improvement, I highly recommend that you begin to include cultivating these proven "Mental Toughness" techniques into your game while placing your own signature on them, and with the same reverence that you probably already address to your ball striking skills. Keep in mind, they are especially applicable to doubles players who are particularly challenged by being involved in only half of the in-point action, compared to singles.
These now well-established difference-makers will absolutely enable you to play your better brand of tennis on a more consistent basis.
The resurging Angelique Kerber and her recent trouncing of rival Maria Sharapova at the 2018 Australian Open (after a disappointing 2017 campaign) was aptly described by the always insightful NY Times tennis writer, Christopher Clarey, this way,
"She looked re-energized: calm between points, yet eager for the tussle once play began."
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