Photo Credit: Darren Carroll/USTA
With the demands of the sport, it is common to see tennis players dealing with anxiety, stress, and overwhelming complications that take place in the mind. The mental aspect of the game is sometimes even more important and critical to look at than the physical.
Having a journal has become such a key component of my life as it allows me to have an outlet for my feelings and emotions on a regular basis. When I’m playing at my very best, people usually say: “Oh, she’s playing out of her mind… She’s in a zone… She looks unconscious!” What is the common theme here? That I’m allowing some part of my brain to silence and I’m playing so freely that it’s almost as if I’m not thinking about what I’m doing at all; my brain is not active.
That zone is my optimum level. But how do I get there? That is the real question as it is so hard to play at this level on a consistent basis.
Let’s break it down. Without getting scientific, how do we function? Well, there’s a part of ourselves that tells us what to do (brain) and there is a part that actually does it (body). Is there a way to limit the role of the brain, the part of us that judges, criticizes, and comments on everything that we do? If there were, it would probably make it a lot easier for us to be able to get into that optimum zone and play more calmly, clearly and without those negative distractions. This would LET our bodies do the work and minimize the work of the brain that is trying to give every bit of instruction/over analyze/dissect what is happening on the tennis court at all times. The keyword is LET; LET your body take full control.
Elbaba won the 2016 U.S. Open National Playoffs Eastern Section at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Let’s say I want to hit a target with my serve out wide on the ad-side of the tennis court. There are two approaches I could take to achieve it:
A) I could measure how high I need to toss the ball, think about where I have to hit the ball, what speed I have to hit the ball, how much I have to pronate my wrist, at what height over the net I have to hit the ball, the exact dimensions of the box that the cone is located. That’s exhausting work and, let me tell you, it probably won’t work. That is allowing my brain to over analyze the situation
B) I could aim at the cone by looking at it, close my eyes, visualize where the cone is, take a big deep breath, and BOOM, hit it right over there. Chances are that method would work a lot better because I’m letting my brain be less active and letting my body do the work.
What allows your body to trust your mind? It’s probably experience. After thousands of reps of hitting tennis balls in practice and matches, at some point you must allow your mind to trust that your body is totally capable of doing what it is supposed to do. When tennis players are playing their best, they oftentimes describe it as being able to hit with their eyes closed. This is obviously not true, but it is a zone that lets you feel like you can do whatever you want and that everything you touch is perfect on your strings. You aren’t exactly thinking about anything, just how nice everything feels and how you can execute any shot with the right game plan. You’re basically just going after it and LETTING it happen.
This is something I strive to get better at and something that I believe will make me a better tennis athlete-- quieting my mind and trusting my body to do its job: Allowing myself to feel my actions rather than chasing words all the time.