Loving pressure is something that seems a bit “over the top”, like “Have you lost your mind!” Love PRESSURE, what?? I know, it seems extreme to say you should learn to “love” pressure, right? So, take a second and think about what pressure really is to you? How do you feel about pressure?
When you LOVE something, you will EMBRACE IT!
When I think about pressure, I picture or feel like I’m under some type of stress and I get nervous or anxious. Have you ever felt this way on a tennis court playing a match? Of course, we have all “felt” the pressure of playing well and giving it everything we’ve got to win, right?
I’d like to break this down a bit, a sort of re-engineering to give you a fresh perspective about “pressure”. In my previous articles, I noted that every player feels pressure at some point during a match. Could be at the beginning before the match even starts because of some fear of failure, anticipating a “tough” or “unknown” opponent, or a host of other reasons. Ok, instead of allowing the pressure to “grip” you and lay hold of your thoughts – ACCEPT IT as being real, yes, pull this pressure in tightly, embrace it. One of the BEST ways to embrace pressure is to BREATHE!! That’s right, sounds really easy – but many times we forget to just take a DEEP BREATH, and then take another one. Breathing deeply a few times over and over can simply calm your heart down, a bonus part of breathing would be to CLOSE YOUR EYES while you inhale and exhale. A lack of oxygen to our body, our brain will cause us to be extremely tense and even nervous. This is #1 – BREATHE!
#2 ACTIVATE a “ritual”!
Listening to music can be a great way to calm yourself down, focus and relax on something fun for you, music is a great way to keep your mind “in the moment!” I love to pop in my earbuds and listen to my favorite song or band right before playing and/or even “coaching” on court! As a coach, I find getting myself in a place mentally to relax, regroup, and just be in the moment is the key to embracing the pressure, the stress to perform!
Once you’ve grabbed a hold of that pressure, what do you do with it next? Well, you are going to want to “Project that pressure” towards your opponent if you are playing a match! If you are a coach, you want to teach your players the process of “embracing pressure” and then how to “project the pressure”.
“Projecting” pressure as it relates to point or match play is simply the ACTION of “MAKING SHOTS”!! When you “MAKE” shots, you are projecting the pressure. You breathed in and embraced the pressure that was thrust upon you either by your own expectations or others and then you PUSH that pressure towards your opponent by “MAKING SHOTS”.
My friend Bill Patton, http://www.720degreescoaching.org. and I were talking one day about “consistency” and what does that really mean? As coaches we encourage players everyday to “BE CONSISTENT”, but in what way and how? Consistency as we relate it to tennis really just means, “steady, over and over again”. Bill kept saying to me, “Styrling, there’s a better way to say this, or a better way to express what we want players to do!” Yes, exactly Bill – what we want players to do is…….. “MAKE SHOTS!!” Saying to a player to “BE CONSISTENT” really doesn’t mean “make shots”, it may imply it, but doesn’t mean it. Communicating to a player or even yourself if you are a player, it’s important to be specific about what you mean. When you are making shot after shot, in your opponents court, PRESSURE begins to build on that player to “MAKE SHOTS” back to you. A great analogy may be like a boxing match where you are landing punches and then your opponent lands punches back, it’s back and forth, back and forth until……….. someone MISSES! Then, “it” shifts, what shifts… Momentum. But what exactly is Momentum?
According to the ITF (International Tennis Federation) Coaches Education Programme, Momentum is defined as “is what you can feel when things go for you or against you.” I really like that definition, it’s simple – easy to understand. Momentum can be seen when you roll a ball on the ground towards a target, the momentum shifts when something or someone intercepts the ball and rolls it back in the direction from which it came (a 180 shift). This happens in every point of every match played, the ball is hit back and forth, 180 degree shift, over the net from player to player. Momentum is shifting, players make shots back and forth until….. the ball is hit in the net, wide, or long… a MISS! “MISSING SHOTS” can and will bring pressure, if you as a player miss shot after shot after shot, the pressure builds until YOU STOP IT! How do you STOP the pressure, you must embrace it FIRST – #1 Breathe #2 Ritual
Now, you can’t break out that iphone or ipod and listen to your favorite tune in the middle of a game, but what you could do is ACTIVATE other “rituals” that can be very effective to “Embracing the Pressure”.
#1 GO TO YOUR TOWEL – have a towel on the back fence, the Top Pros in the World do this after almost every single point. It’s a comforting ritual, like grabbing a fresh start, wipe the sweat, clear the mind!
#2 MOVE YOUR FEET – shuffle in place, get your feet active again, it’s a fact that activating your body with movement can be a relaxing and motivating ritual!
#3 ADJUST YOUR STRINGS – this gets your fingers working, can calm your nerves, one of the first things that happens when you get nervous is your “hands begin to shake”! Adjusting your strings keeps your eyes focused and not “wandering” around the court, also your strings actually may need some adjustment to create better spin or solid contact!
Now that you have “EMBRACED THE PRESSURE” through breathing and rituals – “PROJECT THE PRESSURE” by making shots. I know this sounds simplistic, but guess what…. it really is! I’ve witnessed thousands of matches where the “best” player technically or tactically did NOT win the match because they simply MISSED shots and the other player MADE SHOTS! Pressure is the one element of match play that is the difference maker! Projecting the pressure by making shots or allowing the pressure to grip a hold on you by missing shots will determine whether you walk off the court winning or loosing the match in the score.
Now, the real question is…… Can you loose the match in the score and still WIN? The answer may or may not surprise you, but it is YES! You can make shots and still lose the point, the main reason – the other player makes “MORE” shots than you! They are able to create shots that results in “winners” or “forced” errors. When I’m referring to missed shots by you, I’m specifically referring to “unforced errors”! Those are the SHOTS you can control by good positioning, making better decisions, and controlling the speed or spin of the ball. If your opponent is “forcing” you to make errors or just hitting clean “winners”, that is most likely because they are a more advanced player than you at the time or more specifically… that day! You can still walk away from a match and say or feel like you got a “WIN” because you did everything you could to make shots. You can control what YOU DO, you can’t always control what your opponent is going to do.
Nike has built a $13 Billion a year company on 3 simple words………..
There’s no such thing as try, there is only do or don’t do! Determine in your mind to put to ACTION some or ALL of these rituals, maybe add a few that you like personally and you’ll be well on your way to learning to