It should be easy, right? Pick up a paddle and start swinging. Well … Not as easy as all that. I find myself thinking, “I’ll get to the courts and I won’t be half as good as I once was. People are going to think, ‘Hey, what happened to her? She used to be better than that.’ I’ll be embarrassed; I’ll want to make excuses. It’ll be bad.”
With such thoughts in my head, my first appearance on the court is destined for disaster. I don’t stand a chance. My inner opponent has beaten me, and I haven’t even put on my shoes.
What’s going on in my head is probably not so different from thoughts you’ve had before a game that mattered, let’s say, or some other event where your performance was being judged, either by you or by others. The horrible part of all of this is that the worry, the thoughts your inner opponent throws at you, will cause you to fulfill your expectations and perform worse than you would otherwise.
I don’t expect to get to the courts after a long time away and play the best game I’ve ever played. But if I can keep my inner opponent from offering comments and taking over, my game might not be that bad. How do I do that?
There are a few ways, and they fall into two general method groups: discipline and relaxation. As you’ll see from the points below, these aren’t always mutually exclusive.
- Stop thinking. At least, stop thinking so much. If you can tune out negative thoughts especially, your play will improve. Stop thinking about the game and just start playing it. Someone recently said we all have baggage – you just need to make sure it’s checked baggage and not carry-on.
- Concentrate on something and keep that focus. Watch the ball. Pay attention to your follow through. Concentrate on your target. Whatever you choose, stay focused on that thought and don’t let other thoughts or events distract you.
- Stay calm. Don’t react to things happening around you. Take even breaths. Keep your composure. Almost like a meditation on the court, let go of any tightness, relax your body and mind, and “go with the flow.”
- Take the game one serve at a time. Let go of the last point as soon as it’s over. Each new serve is a new chance to make a point, and making points, one by one, wins the game.
- Make a pattern for your rally preparation and do it the same way every time. Relax; move into the ready position; stay alert; watch the ball. Whatever you do, whatever routine you set for yourself, focus on this and nothing else.
- Be fearless. What good does being afraid do for you? Believe in yourself, in your body’s ability to do naturally what you’ve practiced. You’ve made plenty of good shots before. You can and will do it again. Don’t let anyone or anything bully you into believing otherwise.