I’m sure most coaches out there have witnessed your players at some point in their tennis journey make crazy decisions when finding themselves close to the winning line.
After many years of watching players compete at all levels I’ve realised that players generally do one of two things from a tactical perspective, when facing difficult thoughts and feelings when trying to see out a match.
I use the analogy, ‘BRAKING AND ACCELERATING’ to explain this tactical perspective to players.
The BREAKER is a player who is desperate to get over the winning line. They often become extremely passive, praying that their opponent will give them a cheap error.
Unfortunately the player stops committing to playing their smart aggressive game style, which has got them into the winning position in the first place. This negative mindset promotes tactical awareness that isn’t productive, often resulting in the player failing to ‘get the job done’.
The ACCELERATOR is the player who when confronted with the thought of winning, panics and shies away from their smart aggressive game style. They suddenly go for glory at the wrong times and make poor decisions hoping to hit winners from virtually every ball they hit all over the court.
Why does this happen to players?
Often these difficult emotions are present when trying to close out a match as a result of the player getting caught up in the excitement of winning, or the fear of losing from a winning position they find themselves in.
Both scenarios take us away from where tennis is best played which is in the present moment!
Points are therefore often started without helpful intentions and we play points not using committed helpful actions (Here’s the blog post to read more on this). This gives us less chance of performing well under pressure and therefore less chance of winning.
How can players train for these situations?
Preparing the players you coach for these types of situations is essential. Working both on their acceptance and tolerance levels to these difficult match situations will allow them to feel more comfortable when these situations arise in a match.
I believe that practicing 2/3 patterns for 20 minutes every day built around the players strengths helps the player build clarity in what they want to execute from a tactical perspective when under pressure.
If done well enough, it will cement tactics that the player can commit to as their helpful intention at the start of all pressure points. Making the player feel comfortable when life gets uncomfortable!
At the end of every session I simply basket feed the player ‘their patterns’. This gives the player a feeling that their patterns belong to them and reinforces that these are their go to pressure patterns.
As a coach, this is where you can really build a player’s confidence!
I have found this dramatically helps players stay in the present moment which is ultimately where the player needs to be when the pressure is on!
STA Performance Coach
Dr Anthony Ross is one of the worlds leading sports psychologists. His work has really helped me gain a better insight into the mental aspects associated with this common problem faced by many players.