May 16, 2011
My biggest focus for the month of May in my own game is making improvements in my mental game. I’ve been getting too emotional on the court, which has been affecting my decision-making and my ability to stay focused during matches. Any time you let yourself get too frustrated or allow yourself to get “tight”, 99% of the time your game takes a turn for the worse (unless your name is John McEnroe). But fear not, THE FOUR R’S can help you stay calm, cool, and collected even in the toughest situations in those big matches.
The four R’s represent a process that takes place between points that can help you stay focused and keep your negative emotions at bay. By practicing this between-point discipline, you’ll get better and better at it, and just like working on your shots it will become routine, even when the pressure is on in a match. Each “R” represents a stage in your between-point thought process, eventually leading to the beginning of the following point…
1. RELEASE- The first thing you have to do after a point is release it…let it go! Whether you won or lost the point, your reaction to it should be relatively consistent point-to-point. The release process should only take a second or two, and it should be a cue to yourself to forget the previous point and move on to the next one. For example, you can put the racquet in your opposite hand and start playing with the strings, or turn your back to the net and walk back to the baseline or the fence (picture Agassi). The stronger and more positive your body language is during this process, the better!
2. REVIEW- Take a quick review of the previous point and learn from it. Remember, this process is rational thought, not emotional. Questions like “what worked or didn’t work in the previous point?”, “how can I use my strengths to exploit my opponent’s weaknesses?”, “am I sticking to my game plan?”. Avoid making judgments about your game, like “wow, that was a bad point” or “my forehand sucks right now”. Organize a game plan for the next point. Figure out where you want to serve or return, and how you want to play the point. Do I want to be aggressive this point, or be consistent and see if my opponent can make a winning shot to beat me? The review process will take up a bulk of your between-point time.
3. REFOCUS- This should only take a couple seconds, and should reinforce in your mind how you want to play the next point. Tell yourself a simple sentence or two that presents a picture in your mind of how you want the next point to go. Things like, “serve out wide, volley to the open court”, or “keep the ball deep and hit to big targets” are perfect. Always be positive and direct. This should be the thought most present in your mind as you step up to the line to serve or return serve.
4. RITUAL- If you watch every professional on the tour, they all have a pre-point ritual that clears their mind and gets them focused for the point at hand. A well-established ritual also reminds your body that you’ve done this thousands and thousands of times, and there’s nothing new. Whether it’s practice or 5-5 in the third set in the finals of a tournament, it’s the same ritual, every time. If your serving, maybe it’s bouncing the ball a certain number of times before you start your motion. For me, I always bounce the ball 7 times before my first serve and 3 times before my second serve. Always! That never changes. If your returning, maybe it’s blinking a certain number of times before the ball is tossed, or shuffling your feet (like Nadal). Establish and practice a consistent ritual, and it will help put your mind at ease in the toughest situations!
I always remind myself of the FOUR R’S if I find myself getting too emotional during a match. It’s something I learned at a young age and continue to practice to this day. But remember, it’s like anything else in tennis…establishing it as habit is a process, and won’t happen over night! The more conscious you are of it, and the more you practice it, the better and better you’ll get at it. Use this tool to stay calm, cool, and collected during your matches.
Thanks for reading,