Like many of you, I wonder how things will get back to normal post the COVID-19 crisis. The last nine months have definitely been unprecedented. Fortunately, vaccines are now being distributed to health care workers and in months the general population. So, what can tournament tennis players do in the meantime?
My hope is that this sports “pause” has and will allow athletes the time to step back. What if, in some way, this pandemic has a silver lining: we have an opportunity for a “course correction” in how athletes approach their sport? The correction doesn’t necessarily have to be drastic, though it will have a positive impact on your performance.
As tennis players, we are always pushing to improve technique, struggling to get stronger, forcing ourselves to be more fit, and working to reach another level. If we are honest with ourselves, we don't spend enough time re-centering and taking care of our emotional well-being. So often, when we get anxious or frustrated, we run from the present moment. When we are unhappy with an outcome or a score, we self-medicate by physically working harder, forcing more, and ultimately grinding ourselves to exhaustion.
We've all been there! But what if this approach is not the answer? Maybe the lesson here is to notice our fearful thoughts about not being good enough, or our anxiety about not reaching our goals, and instead reset by breathing, being in the present moment and focusing on what we can control.
Now with the New Year (2021) upon us, it is the perfect time to reflect and evaluate how you approach your training for the coming year. In addition to focusing on the physical, dedicate real time, effort and thought to the important mental/emotional side of who you are, what motivates you and how you play. Only then will you really experience true balance and perspective to go forward with passion and purpose.
Billie Jean King shared her thoughts about the pandemic during a CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour and Andy Murray, she said "It’s a great time to meditate...and also think about what it means to be the best you can be...I think the greatest players in the world, it doesn’t matter what generation are the strongest emotionally. It’s also really important to have reflection time... You’ve got to come out of this [pandemic] and it’s going to be different, and you have to adapt.”
The following are 10 ideas that can help you with your mental edge. Think of this list as a menu, choose what resonates with you. Use these mental and emotional course corrections to slow down, go inside, and become more aware.
1. Meditate. Breathe.
2. Make time to decide what you're grateful for.
3. Practice solo: shadow stroke, wall, games.
4. Be curious: read, watch videos, explore.
5. Take a walk or run outside.
6. Play with your pet. They are always present.
7. Hang with your arms from a tree, do yoga, or stretch.
8. Connect with family, friends and supporters. 9. Get more sleep and make healthy food choices.
10. Journal, write, draw, sing or create music.
Here’s an example of a course correction: I was watching the news and feeling more and more anxious (which is what many athletes are feeling about their game right now) and my dog, Gumbo, sensing my energy, was barking non-stop, wanting my attention. I ignored her at first, then I picked her up and she settled in my arms like mush (see the sixth idea above). This in turn allowed me to settle down and turn the TV off! I then begin this article. Taking a pause actually allows us the space to move forward.
To make progress as athletes, we need to step away from the noise, re- center, and reconnect with ourselves. Doing this has an added advantage as it allows us to see that sport isn’t your entire identity. Sports are what you do, not who you are. You are a whole human athlete, a person first with heart, energy, and spirit.
Paradoxically, you’ll find bringing this balance to your game will give you the mental edge, often the difference between winning and losing.
Rob Polishook, MA, CPC is the founder of Inside the Zone Sports Performance Group. As a mental training coach, he works with athletes helping them to unleash their mental edge through mindfulness, somatic psychology and mental training skills. Rob is author of 2 best selling books: Tennis Inside the Zone and Baseball Inside the Zone: Mental Training Workouts for Champions. He can be reached by phone at (973) 723-0314, by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, by visiting insidethezone.com, or following on Instagram @insidethezone.