Anyone who has had to speak publically to a large assembly of people has experienced the uncertainty of performance. The average person stumbles through the “ums” and “ahs” between thoughts, until they find their comfort zone and begin to breathe a bit more regularly.
This is the same thing juniors go through during USTA matches at all levels. They may rush when they should slow down, or go too slow when the have an opponent who is unfit. They may be upset by an opponent’s slow tempo or bad line calls. They may even fail to see opportunities or explore preplanned strategies.
Finding one’s breath is key to relaxation. When your heartbeat is in excess of 150 beats per minute at the start of a point, you will lose 95 percent of those points. You also will lack the ability to see the trees from the forest. Little details will seem obscure and leave you little chance for adjustment. You will also miss the big picture and fail to see the forest from the trees.
Recently, while listening to an interview of a top golfer during the rain delay of a PGA event, he was asked: “What will you be working on when you get back on the course in the final round?” His response was, “I will be working on my breathing, that’s what everyone on the pro tour is working on these days.”
Paul Annacone, former player, coach and current commentator for the Tennis Channel, spoke recently of his use of breathing meditation as a method of staying calm, regulating his heartbeat and being clear on his tasks during matches. As an introduction, you can find many tutorials on YouTube on proper breathing techniques. You must look for focus methods because there are many other techniques, including those for sleep which may only be appropriate for the night before a match. As you will hear me say again these techniques must be practiced just like your serve to be effective.
After finding one’s breath, the second most important technique is the use of the 20- second rule. Coupled with breathing techniques, the slowing of one’s tempo of play could have a positive effect on the game of most juniors.
Patrick Allen of SPMI wrote a wonderful article at Tennis Recruiting.com regarding the exercise of the 20-second rule. Players experience a multitude of emotions including negative ones.
“A critical skill that a tennis player must learn in emotionally challenging situations is acceptance,” said Allen. “Acceptance is defined as the ability to see things as they are and not as they should be. When players learn how to accept they are able to stay more emotionally in control and win points they may otherwise lose. The challenge with acceptance is that it is a skill that must be practiced.”
As I have said here before, Allen goes on to say, “These skills must be practiced often, and in many cases, does not work like a simple light switch that can be turned on and off.”
The best way to slow a player down is have two matches on the same court playing concurrently. When the players have to wait to alternate their match with one another, they experience that tempo without having it enforced. During the winter when court costs can be high, it’s a great way to save at the same time.