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Coaches Corner - tip of the month

JANUARY, 2012:


Just about every time I walk through the courts during a league match I see players playing scared, afraid to make a mistake. This is not what “playing within yourself” means.

This happens to even the stars in professional football every Sunday - mostly to kickers, quarterbacks, and coaches as well on game day. These are individuals making millions of dollars for their expertise and talent but who, like you, are also under pressure, in their arena to win or  lose their job. The Dallas Cowboys head coach, Jason Garrett, has taken it on the chin this past season from the well respected football pundits for poor game management.

“Jason is coaching scared with a defeatist attitude,” said one. Another noted, “The pressure has gotten to Jason, and he’s really over-coaching.” Tennis player translation: too cautious, over thinking, and hoping things go your way.

When Garrett eventually responded to this criticism he declared, in so many words, that the best players are indeed the mentally toughest players, and the best teams are the mentally toughest teams.” How about that comment from the physically tough, violent, and rough and tumble football culture.

Jak Beardsworth TennisFirst of all relax, everyone feels pressure, whether it’s internally or externally produced. It’s not going away, ever! What did the all-time great jazz musician, Miles Davis, say about performance anxiety: “If you’re not nervous, you ain’t listenin’.” It’s normal.

So, on the court, you’d better get used to it and learn counter measures to deal with it comfortably head-on in order to neutralize it as much as possible within the performance equation.

How? By becoming a shot-in and shot-out, point-in and point-out, and day-in and day-out:

  • audible breather
  • crystal clear visualizer
  • keen ball tracker
  • energized footworker
  • relaxed gripper
  • early racker prepper
  • free stroker
  • possessor of both positive body language
    and game face at ball-on-racket moment

That’s it. It’s that simple, but, as we all know, and I regularly and readily admit, not that easy, particularly if you do not make these core components part of your game every single day – beginning in the warm-up - whether it’s a team practice, a friendly doubles, a ball machine session, solo serving practice, or a league or tournament match.

Another match play paralyzer is over-respecting opponents, what I refer to as the “non-swagger.” These opposing player(s) are across the net from you because they are, give or take a little, the same NTRP level as you. So why the defeatist perception going-in that they’re probably better than you?

Back to “playing within yourself,” exactly what does that mean? Swinging the racket through the ball only as fast as you can control on a consistent basis. No more, no less! It also refers to allowing yourself safe margins for error with regard to both the lines and the net while always remaining aggressive. And, never to be underestimated, if your primary focus is, “I have to win this,” or, “I can’t lose that,” you will forever be relegated to not playing your best tennis, and match play improvement will not be elusive at best.

Instead, arrive early with a positive mind-set, something like:  This is the game I’ve arrived with, let’s see how it matches up with the skills they’ve arrived without worries. Fearlessly engaging them – versus the all too common avoidance mode - and letting the chips fall where they may, is the very most you can do.

You may recall the philosopher Kierkegaard’s universal take on all this stuff: “Be with what is, so that what is to be, may become.”

And yes, success usually belongs to those who believe it the most the longest. And that’s what being mentally tough is always about.

Questions and comments are welcome at anytime for all tips present and past via email.

This Tip of the Month is copyright© by Jak Beardsworth Tennis. All rights reserved. Copies may be made only with the permission of and by Jak Beardsworth. Contact him here.

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