On-Court Focus Strategies to Get Out of Your Own Head

Last fall I introduced the high school girls’ tennis team to a structured approach to training with various focus strategies for improved mental performance.   My contention is using one of these focus strategies could be especially helpful on the big points or in closing out a match.  The focus strategies below should be part of your toolbox of options to use during the point.  Part of the between point time is used for recovery from the prior point and for strategic planning.  But during the point, rely more on your subconscious to help you.  It’s time to “get out of your own head,” trust yourself, and play.  

External Strategies

Focus in on one of these senses:

  1. Sight – focus intently on watching the seams of the ball rotate.
    Does the ball spin more or less after the bounce?
    Become fascinated by this development.
  2. Feel (touch) – focus on your muscle tension level, particularly in your hand, forearm, and shoulders.  Let your muscles stay loose and relaxed.  Use soft hands so you can “feel” the ball.
  3. Hear – listen to the sound of the ball hitting the racquet strings and hitting the ground.  Look forward to hearing the sound on contact by your opponent and by you.  Let the sound be music to your ears.  

Hybrid (External-Internal) Strategy

Combination of sight & present focus

  1. Silence –  The Sound of Silence (song) by Simon & Garfunkel
    “The vision that was planted in my brain still remains within the sound of silence.”  Your mind becomes quiet and clear.  Let your mind go silent as you trust the vision planted in your brain from your practice repetition.  It’s just you and the ball, nothing else matters.  It becomes a flow experience with you being at one with the ball.

Internal Strategy

  1. Auto-Pilot “BTP” = Breathe, Trust, & Play
    Let yourself focus on exhaling with the hit, trust your natural rhythm
    and timing, and follow-through with confidence.  Remind yourself before the point you love a challenge and then get out of your head and play.
    The focus becomes on the breath.

Experiment with the focus strategies during practice before you incorporate them into live competition.  You will determine which strategy works best for you.  Some players might be able to use one external strategy and one internal strategy at the same time.  Otherwise, keep it simple and choose one strategy to use and go with it during the point.  Let yourself “think” intuitively with physical, emotional, and mental freedom.

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