Sports are almost entirely a visual motor game, and when the mind fills with chatter, this is when the trouble starts. Many players begin to over think when under pressure. They secretly believe that words will help them make better shots. They will say things like “don’t hit it long, do not double fault, don’t choke, don’t over swing,” as if their muscles have a brain that can process these words. They cannot. When you try to talk to yourself during a shot, the muscles can only tighten up, get confused and slow down your pace. So, what is the right way to approach shot making?
The important thing to learn is that tennis shots must be performed in a relaxed manner and with visual focus. This brings in the right cortex into play. To do this, you need only do two things:
1. During the heat of battle, emotions rise and the mind races. I teach my players that this is fine to experience between shots. You have a good 15 to 20 sec. to get this stuff out of your system. But, as you approach the baseline for your next serve, you need to see this as a sacred place with only two processes allowed. The first is to take a deep breath so you relax the body. Use some form of waggle to find your relaxed state.
2. Then, you need to visually pick your spot and keep this spot in mind during the entire ball toss. No thinking, just keep the target in mind. It takes approximately 1.6 sec. to toss the ball and hit it. This means you can have up to six thoughts during this time. Your job is to have the time taken up with your visual processing (right frontal cortex) and not with words.
Save words for what you do after the match. During the match, you need to learn to access your visual-motor process in the right cortex. When you learn to do this, you will be more relaxed and make better serves.
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.