Josh's Fresh Take: June 2018 Edition

Mental Practice is Just as Important

Coach and Communications Lead, Josh Martin, weighs in on topics in the world of tennis and shares his two cents.
It is unbelievable what can happen when one has an audience. An athlete playing in a tennis match with one person watching, three people, 50 people, 100 people – it can either make you crack under pressure or, on the contrary, you can rise like a phoenix and embrace it. Usually it is the former for beginners. It takes practice in order to stay calm when others are watching, block the unnecessary out and only focus on what is important.
I remember playing in one of my first tournaments as a kid at the New West Tennis Club in the summer. I was around 12 years old and I was playing someone at least twice my age. My family was watching in the balcony along with a couple of friends, which in turn ended up being a colossal mistake. I was no longer worried about what my opponent was as was not doing, but I was worried about looking good in front of my audience. Rather than playing a smart and methodical game, I was taking risky shots, trying to ace all my serves, and as a result got incredibly frustrated and ultimately lost. It was a downward spiral that I could not dig myself out of. The worst part was that my opponent was not particularly strong and on a good day it is likely I would have been able to defeat him. On this occasion, I was blown out of the water. Mistake after mistake, I was embarrassed.
The next tournament I played I made sure not to invite family or friends. I did not win by any means, but I made it past the first round and played a lot better. Without the pressure of trying to impress an audience, I found that I could focus on my game.
The morale of my story is that it is tough to play in front of others, especially people you know. But if you want to play in tournaments, you have to get used to it. It is part of the game. The best way to get used to it is to practice having an audience.
This past week in our Green and Orange Competitive programs, we held our own in-class tournaments. Athletes competed against one another in several rounds until there was a final match. This match had all participants and parents on the side watching the two finalists battle it out on court. The nervous looks on their faces said it all. For some of them this was their first time playing in front of such a large group of people. Mistakes were made, great points were played and ultimately there was a tournament winner and a runner-up.
One of the biggest things that we want to encourage in our programs is for players and athletes to feel comfortable when they enter a tournament. By simulating what it is like, they can avoid the growing pains like the ones I went through as a young child. Giving them the full experience in a safe environment will only make them more prepared for when they play in an actual tournament. A tennis match is not only a battle against your opponent, it is also a mental battle. Playing in front of an audience, whether it is 50 or 1 person, will only help you train your focus so you can block out the unnecessary and concentrate on what is important – the match itself.
Josh’s Fresh Take, signing off.
Stay tuned next month for Part 2 of my sit-down with the legend himself, Bob Exell. It will be a continuation of the previous month’s blog post.