Ljubica Jovanović

Mental & Motivational Coach

Tennis mental coach

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Stay in the zone

 

Some of you might have just heard for this state and most of you have already felt it once or few times during the match. For some players one of the main goals is to enter the zone easily, and for the others is to stay as much as possible in it.

 

Being in the zone can be differently described, or in the same way depending on tennis players experience. That state includes full concentration, feelings like you are playing completely your game and you are very successful in everything what you want to achieve.

 

 

As an introduction Ill give you some factors which can make easier entering the zone. The most important is good preparation and when I say preparation I mean both - physical and mental. Good physical preparation means that you feel completely ready, like you are in good or maybe the best form ever. On previous trainings your technical elements of every shots were automatic and you have thoughts like I am ready for this tournament!. Before the match you need to do physical warm up of your body and shots, but also you need to be mentally prepared. Mental preparation before the match starts the night before, or if you play two matches in the same day, right after the analysis of the first match. Positive mood is the part of mental preparation and it is very important to do it if you want to play good and high-quality match. Experience also can help you with emotional control and anxiety which is precondition for easier entrance in the zone. Good concentration and focus on the things which are under your control can only make easier and influence positively on entrance and longer stay in the present. Concentration is not something that you are born with. That is the long-term process which includes series of skills developed through systematical exercises on and off the court. During the match things like environment, positive feedback from the coach and parents are also factors which make easier entrance in the zone.

 

Some of the factors which prevent calmness, motivation and concentration are huge pressure and focus on the victory. If the winning is the only option and player puts too much pressure on himself that will disable entrance in the zone. In the same way if the player is too relaxed and has thoughts like This opponent is so weak. I can beat him easily! that will lead to poor physical and mental preparation, because the player thinks there is no need for that. The things like bad physical and mental condition and the lack of motivation can cause disappointing opening of the match. After that it happens very often that you cant control your shots, you are too worried about the result, because the result is not in your favor. Then comes nervousness, fear of failure, panic, you are not able to control your emotions any more, and that leads to muscles tightness, you completely lose your focus and concentration and at the end you are defeated.

The environment and weather conditions can be very destructive if you havent learnt techniques how to control your emotions. That can be audience, wind, rain etc.

 

Serious of mistakes and putting too much focus on technical elements of shots, too much thinking about the errors get the player out of the rhythm, creates nervousness, fear and everything what I mentioned before.

 

Coaching changes, couple of badly played matches, bad communication with trainers, parents, jet lag, many stressful situations from the past

 

The list of the things that can disturb player and get him out of the zone is very long, but now I would like to talk about one of the most important things that can make easier entering the zone and getting the player back to the game. This is the self-talk before and during the match. Im going to challenge all tennis players. On your first training listen and pay attention on your own thoughts. What kind of conversation do you have with yourself when you make a mistake or when you lose the opportunity to score? The trainings are led and controlled by the coach and you can only imagine whats going on inside the players head during the match.

 

Self-talk has the main role in making decisions, solving problems, influencing confidence, make easier staying in the moment or can get you out of the zone. The self-talk can be positive or negative. Negative conversation with yourself, criticizing yourself, your shots and your game disables focusing on the game and getting back to the zone. Positive self-talk makes easier entering the zone and too staying in it. It is very important what kind of positive self-talk you have between the points. If you talk too much with yourself about your next move, or if you repeat too long sentences to yourself during the point, game, set, that can cause problems in your game. Lets not talk too much, Ill give you practical advice how to control your thoughts. I have already given you first task. This is also the first step how to control your thoughts. Be aware of them. First step is while you having self-talk start listening to yourself. Catch yourself while you are criticizing and judging. The second step is stopping your negative thoughts. Here can help you just one word, because as we said the self-talk between the points shouldnt be too long. For example, you can say to yourself just the word STOP! After that, change your thoughts from negative to positive. Here is one example which can help you. Imagine that you are driving your car 100km/h, you realize that you missed destination and you must go backward. What would you do first? You would probably stop the car, go backwards and accelerate the speed. This might sound easy and simple but the process of learning how to control your own thoughts is very long and requires effort and practice.

 

But, very easily self-talk in combination with techniques of controlling emotion and short visualizations can make even the biggest nervous players become motivated and back in the game. This is real that self-talk influences flow of the match and your emotions. The damaging effects of negative thoughts are discouragement, depression, anger, hopelessness and muscle tension, but if your thoughts are directed towards reaching your goal and if you use right techniques that can create optimism, motivation, keep you calm and better concentrated.

 

At the end I will give you a couple of negative examples and how they should sound in positive context.

 

You idiot-how could you miss that?! Ok, everybody makes mistakes, lets focus on the next point!

 

What will they think about me if I lose? Just play your game!

 

I cant lose next point! Ok, lets calm down and just watch the ball.

 

I will never win! Lets go slowly point after point!

 

What a horrible service! Lets go, you can do this! Just keep calm and catch the rhythm.

 

It can happen very often that self-talk get us out of the zone, but also it can easily get as back in it. It can help keeping your emotions under control, focusing better, directing our attention towards desired goal and let us enjoy playing our own game. As I said before, this is very long process and hard work on yourself, also the including part of mental training. All tennis players should work on it, because that can raise their self-confidence and concentration. Unexpected situations on the court can happen in almost every match, there are different factors that can get the player out of the zone or completely disables them to enter the zone, but the golden rule is that you have to be present in the moment, not in the previous, not in the next point. Having good team and being technically, tactically, physically and mentally well prepared makes difference between champions and ones that are not!

 

More about tennis mental preparation you can read here >>>>

 

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