This is the fourth installment of a new feature on zootennis that taps the professional expertise of Andy Brandi and Harold Solomon of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Today's question from a zootennis reader: Our son is a junior tournament player. Whenever he plays National level tournaments, or a player he knows is ranked higher than him, his “nerves” get to him; he will get up in a set, and then end up losing the match. What advice could you give him to help get though these situations, and to help him win? Thanks.
Harold Solomon responds:
Your son's problem is quite a common one from the juniors up to and including the top professionals in the world. Most players think that they get into trouble when they get ahead in a match because they start to think too much. The truth is that they fail to think effectively. Many players, if they are honest, will tell you that when up in a big match or serving for the match, they have thoughts such as: "what will this win will do for my ranking?" or "who will I be playing in the next round?" In other words, they are totally getting out of the moment. Up until the point in the match when they think victory is in their grasp, they have probably been doing a pretty good job of thinking strategically and have been totally engaged in what's working and what's not working on the court.
It takes a great deal of discipline to be an effective regulator of your thoughts. I would say that everybody has thoughts during crucial times in matches that are off track; I think that the champions have trained themselves to chose thinking that supports being successful. For many players, it helps them to make sure that they continue to use their on-court rituals before and after every point. I used to tell myself to "hit the ball" at big moments in matches because I knew that most of the time players that were ranked above me were not going to give me the match, I was going to have to earn it. We tell our players at big moments in matches to focus on what has been working and to play the ball and focus their attention on the ball. I found in my matches that if I totally focused on the ball almost to the point that I was trying to read the writing on it, it helped me stay in the present.
There are no secrets that we know of to avoid choking. Everyone gets nervous; we think that the players who are successful are able to deal with their nerves knowing that nervousness comes from the way we think about things. We have the ability at any time to choose the thoughts that work or don't work for us, it's our choice.
Do you have a question for Andy or Harold? If so, please send it to clewis[at]zootennis[dot]com with the phrase Coaches' Q and A in the subject line.