| By Dr. Tom Ferraro

Professional athletes will sometimes use humor to relax themselves and to relieve stress. In this year’s President’s Cup in golf, the international team lightened up the proceedings on the first tee when Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen showed up in wigs. Not to be outdone in the humor department, Tiger Woods decided to use the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air handshake with Matt Kuchar every time they won a hole … pretty funny stuff.

Competitive sports are filled with tension, anxiety and frustration in nearly every match. Sigmund Freud once said that the use of humor is one of the human’s highest defense mechanisms, and I can see why. Laughter shows that when a person is laughing. They are, in fact surmounting the pain in the situation they are experiencing. And tennis offers up much that is painful. John McEnroe seemed to be in constant pain and turmoil when the played. Now I do not consider myself to be terribly funny, but I did do my dissertation on humor so I am an expert of sorts.

Using humor in a tough situation shows your opponent that you are rising above it all. Here are a few ways you can use humor to cut the tension and to create a winning attitude.

►Carry a joke with you on the way to the next match you are in and read it to yourself. It may help cut the tension.

►I recommend you ask yourself between every game: “Am I having fun?” This forces you to be aware of your mood, and if the answer is no, then try to make an immediate attitude adjustment. A happy and relaxed player is a good player.

►If you are a coach, try to think of something funny to tell your player before the match. The art of the pep talk ought to include some levity in it to cut the tension. When your player enters the court with a smile, this says lots about their mental state.

►Try to laugh a few times either at yourself, with your partner, or even with your opponent. And I do not mean a laugh of contempt, but one of happiness. This also says to your opponent that you are relaxed and feel good about yourself and your chances today. You can always tell a winning jockey in the paddock before a race because he is usually the one who has a smile on his face.

So, bring a joke to the match, remind yourself to have fun, and enter the court with a smile. Laughter lowers blood pressure, gives you some endorphins to play with and can even relieve pain. Yes there are lots of reasons to use humor before and during matches. After all, tennis is a game that was made to be enjoyed, not suffered through.

And oh yea, I almost forgot. Did you ever hear the one about the tennis player and the duck? It will do you some good to think of a good punchline for that one and then use in in the next match.

Dr. Tom Ferraro

For consultations, treatment or on-site visits, contact Dr. Tom Ferraro Ph.D., Sport Psychologist, by phone at (516) 248-7189, e-mail DrTFerraro@aol.com or visit DrTomFerraro.com.