The racquet spins on its tip and lands, UP or DOWN is called, I choose to “return”. The match is on! I drop back to the baseline and begin warming up my forehands and backhands. Then on to the net for some “network” with volleys and smashes. Back to baseline to take a few serves. I’m ready! Wait…. am I ready?? – oh, I should return some of my opponents practice serves so I can get a read on what “kind” of serves they are practicing – that will give me a good idea of what might be coming in the 1st game of the match because after all, my opponent is serving first.
As I take a break for a quick sip of water, it’s time to get started – I feel something strange happening, something in my gut, I’m nervous. A sort of uneasy feeling inside, but I’ve played many matches before, what is it?
PRESSURE! But wait, my opponent feels the exact SAME pressure!! I must remember this important fact of the moment. The beginning of the match, we both feel pressure and it’s natural. We can try to hide or mask those feelings by going through our routine, moving around, adjusting our strings, breathing – yep, don’t forget to BREATHE!!! Whew, that helps some, but it’s still there?
This is the reality of match play, players feel pressure. It may come in all different forms and at different times before or during the match, but it will come, that is for sure. As I continue to coach high school and tournament players throughout the year, this is the element we continue to practice overcoming. Players will deal with pressure in only 2 ways:
1. They will EMBRACE the fear.
2. They will allow the FEAR to grip them.
Training players to mentally understand that pressure is going to come no matter how much you prepare for your match ahead of time is the first step to have them EMBRACE the fear emotionally. When you embrace something, you pull it towards you tightly – it’s the opposite of “fighting” the pressure. Fighting the pressure only leads to the fear gripping you! Here’s a word picture: In order to put out a fire, you wouldn’t throw gasoline on it, you would throw WATER or DIRT on that fire. So avoid fighting fire with fire, fight it with what works. What works?
Nike has built a multi-billion dollar company on 3 simple words: Just Do It!
Step up, ready position, and return the serve right down the middle 3rd of the court – TRUST in your training. It sounds simple, and it is the way you EMBRACE the fear. The other player feels the same pressure serving to you. Whoever embraces the fear first, has the advantage! The 1st game is always the “weakest” game of the match, make good decisions and execute with CONSISTENCY FIRST!