| By Dr. Tom Ferraro

It’s a truism that the best way to play well in competition, you need to relax, have fun and play freely. The moment a player starts to worry about outcomes or overthink the serve, is when tightness sets in and you begin to play weakly.

To win on the court, one must have a free risk-taking, gunslinger type attitude. But to play freely and with ease is no easy thing when you are under real tournament pressure. The reason it’s so tough to play with freedom is that most serious tennis players have many of the same expectations as their coaches, parents, opponents and teammates … it takes tremendous focus to be able to screen out expectations and worries.

The best state of mind has varied names including “The Zone,” “Being the Alpha on the Court,” “Playing Your Own Game,” “Playing With Joy,” or “Playing With Aggression.” When you learn to screen out all of those inner and outer distractions, you will do far better and have more fun.

The very best at being “in the zone” was Tiger Woods in golf. I have stood next to him before he was to tee off in a tournament, and he was so focused that it was as if I was invisible. You may not know this about Tiger, but his mother was a Buddhist and his training in the art of focus began at the age of five. He was trained in how to meditate and also trained for many hours in self-hypnosis by a psychologist when he was young.

If you are a tennis player and want to learn how to play with freedom and joy, you’ll need to know how to screen out all of those inner and outer demons.

It is often wise to find insight into solutions by either watching films or reading books. Many coaches prepare their teams for big games by showing a film clip to inspire their players or to teach them something. The following film is a good one to watch if you want to learn more about freedom to play your own game.

The scene is at the very end of the Academy Award-winning film “Braveheart,” both starring and directed by Mel Gibson. The film is the true story of William Wallace who, in the 13th Century, led the first Scottish uprising against King Edward Longshanks of England. Towards the end of the film, William Wallace has been captured by King Edward and is being tortured in the town square with the town folk looking on. The executioner whispers to him that the torture can stop if Wallace merely cries out, “Mercy.” But rather than submitting, Wallace screams out, “Freedom!” This cry for freedom eventually became a rallying cry for the world as the rule of monarchy dissolved and the rule of democracy emerged by the 18th Century.

This scene relates to our concerns about the athlete finding their freedom of play and is a good example of role modeling. Every athlete must fight off the inner and outer demons that wish to rule over them and defeat their efforts. It takes tremendous courage and strength like that shown in the film for the athlete to be able to separate themself from all of those distractions and anxieties and get into the zone.

You can watch that film and remember Braveheart’s scream for freedom as you travel to the next big match. It takes that type of commitment to your own self in order to screen out both inner and outer tyrants. The ability to play with freedom will help you a great deal and one way to learn it is to use a favorite film like “Braveheart” and then incorporate that feeling into your mind as you play.

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.