The concept of mindfulness has grown in popularity over the years. It is the practice of immersing yourself in the present moment without judging yourself, using a variety of tactics, including breathing exercises or yoga.
It’s not easy to stay focused – Harvard University study says the average mind is distracted 47 percent of every hour we are awake. When you plan to stay focused during a game of tennis – when things can change many times in a single game, you might be wondering if it is possible to practice mindfulness during the game. After all, any tennis player will tell you that your mental game is just as important. But it is not only possible to practice mindfulness during tennis – some professional players have used this practice to propel themselves to the top. Bianca Andreescu of Canada won the 2019 US Open to wrap up an incredible season that took her from a triple-digit ranking to 4th in the world. Among his pre-game routine is meditation. In various interviews, she credits visualization as a way to declutter the mind so that she can focus during a game.
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t guarantee that you will become calmer – it is recognizing that you are nervous and working on it. So, how do you integrate mindfulness into a tennis match? Here are three things you can try to bring to your game.
Visualization is exactly what it sounds like – creating a mental picture of accomplishing your goals. However, it is not necessarily enough to visualize holding a champion’s trophy. Your mental images should be centered on How? ‘Or’ What you plan to win your match. For example, if you notice that your opponent’s backhand return is weak, imagine hitting a serve at that spot as you line up to serve. You can also visualize the execution of a strategy – like using drop shots or slices to lure your opponent into the net. Of course, this may not turn out exactly as you planned each time, but the goal is to focus on what you want to accomplish. It doesn’t leave much room for the nerves.
In a close match, nervousness manifests itself in several ways: double faults, increasingly poor footwork, or decelerating your swing. Another symptom of nervousness is holding your breath. Have you ever completed a point and found yourself exhaling for the first time since you hit your serve or comeback? Focusing on your breathing is a great way to clear your mind between points. Breathe in and out deeply, focusing only on your breathing. Pay attention to the air flowing through your nostrils or mouth. Focusing on your breathing puts you in the moment, keeps you from being distracted, and puts you in a better mental position to execute shots and strategy during play.
Adding meditation to your pre-game routine is a great idea. All you need is a quiet place to be alone and a few minutes to focus. Again, this practice forces you to focus on the way your breathing moves through your body. You train yourself to focus on the present and block out all distractions. Now our minds are easily distracted and when you start to meditate you will have a hard time staying focused. It is OK to guide you towards non-judgmental practice. There is no pressure – the more you practice, the easier it will be to develop your ability to concentrate. The less mentally cluttered you can be, the better.
Mindfulness isn’t just about staying calm during a game. It’s about exercising your brain and developing the ability to concentrate so that you can eventually get into the area, otherwise known as the flow state. It means your mind and body are working together to focus on your game. You can use meditation, breathing exercises, and visualization to help you deepen your game during your match in order to produce optimal results.
Nafari Vanaski has played tennis for almost 20 years and has written about tennis for a variety of publications including the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Washington Post, and his tennis blog, Tennis With Attitude.