As we roll into the heat of the summer of 2017, I thought I would address what separates all of us on the court: How we deal with the heat of pressure. From the first time we compete in any way, shape or form, even as children, it's the first time we realize we could "LOSE.”
It is that starting point where pressure enters our lives. I have always believed it separates us. We all walk on the court with the same goal: Win the match! But only one player or team comes back victorious. It's the player/team that copes with and even gets to the point where they love the pressure that comes out on top.
I feel very fortunate to have been taught at a very young age by my parents and coaches to love pressure … lean into it and take my best winning cuts at defining points in matches. It was that approach that helped me love the big pressure moments. It was this approach that separated a Jensen from opponents on the other side of the net!
I never remember any of the four Jensen kids who played Grand Slam tournaments saying we are or were nervous. These days, I do so many tennis evaluations that I am astonished at the number of players who crack under pressure.
I use these few approaches to help players with nerves. First, if you are a competitive player at any level, identify what your goal is. Most players I speak to say: Easy question … my goal is to win.
So with that reasoning, you are going all the way to the result and passing over the process. So if your start to lose, the pressure builds because your winning goal is in doubt. I train players to change the goal from “winning” to “competing.” My goal is to compete better than my opponents, have a better attitude than my opponents and play smarter than my opponents. My focus on the competitive process to reach my ultimate goal of winning the match helps me win the small battles within the match that I am in control of.
I know that's heavy, and if you are a fan of the Jensen Zone column, I rarely drill this deep into an emotional part of the game.
My second nugget is to have a well-thought-out game plan … even go so far as to put pencil to paper. I have always found a tennis journal or playbook was helpful to track matches, practices and record my post-match notes to help me improve. I would write down what I needed to do first, and then a breakdown of my opponent. That would change as the match went along. Good players never finish a match the way they start. A tennis match is a road full of twists and turns. I would write down those turns of tactics on changeovers. This kept me focused on the here and now of the match, instead of being worried about the outcome of the match.
For example, I was coached to be an all-court player. From the time I was 16, my tennis playbook covered four key areas of my attack.
1. Serve and volley
2. Long rallies
3. Drop shots(called Jensens)
4. Smash and crash (attack and come in on opponent’s second serve)
Depending on the opponent, there were even more details on strengths and weaknesses, but I kept to these fundamentals. I would read my match notes on every changeover, and it kept me locked into the match, not fearing losing while the battle was raging.
The third and final point that helped me was the ability to control my breathing while playing points and between points. I call it “Tactical Breathing Method.” I see many players hold their breath while hitting a ball. There is a ton of tension in that approach. I like to breathe out when hitting the ball, as this keeps my flow going into each shot instead of fighting the shot. I have at least 15 seconds between points. So from the point just finished to the point about to be played, I would close my eyes while I am walking to pick up a ball or while I am walking to my next position and take in a breath through my nose and out through my mouth. Yes … yoga tennis! I was not a yoga guy as a kid, but good breathing was always helpful to me. This helped me quickly lower my heart rate between points and maintain my focus. We all play better when we are relaxed. I found I thought with clarity within competition when I was aware of good breathing techniques between points. I even advise sound, focused breathing for extreme cases of players with restless nerves or bad ball tosses under pressure.
I hope this helps you. I could go on and on about pressure and what I've learned through my many years of competing with it. I felt my ability to understand and apply pressure was a huge part of my success. Make it yours!