In the book, The Competitive Buddha, written by my colleague Dr. Jerry Lynch, he speaks about the importance of patience. He says “patience is an important virtue for those of us in athletics, we want success, and we want it now...and we do not want to wait. This makes us tight, tense and tentative, which in turn delays what we desire to have happen.”
In this article, I’d like to expand on Dr. Lynch’s perspective on patience and introduce the power of the pause. The pause is a component of patience and a tool which can be used when facing challenges, obstacles and adversity. Choosing to pause will enable competitive tennis players to step back, open up, and play in the here and now.
Interestingly, all great tennis players physically pause before they make contact with each shot. It may be a crushing Novak Djokovic backhand down-the-line or a Paula Badosa forehand deep and heavy. We all see it; it’s in the split-step. The split-step is an integral part of the technical shot. However, its purpose is often overlooked. The split-step ensures that a player is properly set up, balanced, and able to choose the most efficient path to the ball. In short, without the split- step, a player will rush and run through their shots.
What would happen if there was also a mental split-step? Something a player could do between points, games or even sets to help them mentally recalibrate? There is and, like the split-step, it is even more so overlooked by junior players. The mental split-step is a pause, which provides the player the choice to settle down, re-center, and exist in moments of adversity without rushing. It can allow them to cope with challenging situations and provide clarity to evaluate what is happening.
Pausing can also help a player to let go of negative energy or excess energy and refocus on what’s important now.
The mental pause technique which I recommend is called Feel, Breathe, See. It can be done for 10 seconds to a minute, or even shorter or longer depending on the situation. A player can also choose just one element, for example, the breath, and bring their awareness to that for three-to- five seconds.
The mental pause (Feel, Breathe, See) is simple, but it’s not easy to do! Why? Because often a player will be so caught up in the emotions of a match, or distracted by what they cannot control, that they forget to pause. I recommend that players get a three-by-five inch index card and write a few mental points which are meaningful to them.
One of the entries would be: Pause... Feel, Breathe, See. The card can be referenced at change overs and between sets. Alternatively, for immediacy, it can be stapled to the corner of a player’s towel. Anything to help the player pause, slow down, and play their game. Feel, Breathe, See can be used during different situations and times in a match.
As an example, here are three different times a player can use the pause...Feel, Breathe, See:
Pre-match: As the player walks out to the court, they can bring their attention to their feet, and simply feel the sensation of their feet on the ground. Then when they put their bag on the ground, they shift their attention to their breath, just noticing their breath. Then, when they are walking to the baseline, once again shifting their attention to what they see, looking around the complex, orienting to the court and surroundings.
Changeovers: As the player sits down, they can bring their attention to the feel of the chair on their body, and noticing their feet on the ground, then again shift their attention to the breath, just observing their breathing, and then when they are ready to return to the court, allowing their eyes to re-orient to the court.
Between points: As the point ends, the player can do the entire Feel, Breath, See exercise or only incorporate one element. For example, noticing their feet as they walk to the ball, or bringing their awareness to their breath, or orienting to their strings or maybe a tree in the distance.
In summary, every match has its challenges, momentum shifts and moments of adversity. I encourage my clients to incorporate the pause, Feel, Breathe, See, either in entirety or just one aspect into their between point ritual.
The power of the pause is a great way to step back, slow down and recharge. Remember, just like a great player doesn’t forget to split-step prior to a shot, they also don’t forget to mentally re-center before each point. The power of the pause is a game changer; don’t play a match without it.
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.