Patience and forgiveness are often synonymous. Whether you're practicing or competing, you'll have good and bad days. No one's perfect, not even the pros. We all have moments where we don't make our usual shots.
When that happens, our "fight or flight" instinct kicks in. We get angry with ourselves and fight to recapture our strokes. Sometimes, we give up hope. Referred to as "tanking," this is the flight response. We want to flee the discomfort of losing and give up trying to win.
True competitors have a particular kind of patience that is born from forgiveness. When we forgive ourselves for being less than perfect, a relaxation sets in. We become more patient and have a greater likelihood of resurrecting our game. When things go horribly wrong, forgive yourself as soon as possible.
Even a typical game requires a level of patience for the successful player. Unless you are very fortunate or playing an inferior opponent, you'll need patience to win. If you lose the first game, you must be patient and find a way to win the next two. If you win the first game, the battle is not over until the last point is played. Rushing your game physically and/or emotionally is rarely beneficial.
Pros repeat well-defined rituals in between points. Some rotate their paddles in their hands. Some jog on their toes and then settle into a ready stance when the serve begins. Rituals are one way to encourage and enhance patience.
We are generally too eager to end the rally. If the ball's passed over the net twice, we're looking to end the point with a winning shot.
More often than not, winning points are a result of patient, consistent hitting. Buying time until the right reply from your opponent comes along is critically important. Even how we stroke the ball requires patience. We generally perceive that we have less time than we really do to set up and hit a stroke. This is particularly true when waiting to hit a volley. We sense that the ball is coming at us very quickly, and that we must instantly respond to the opponent's shot.
In my experience, we tend to rush our shots when we are under pressure or fear losing. This, coupled with the muscle constriction that happens under stress, can significantly deteriorate our ability on the court.
When rushing between shots (and this happens to everyone at some point), try slowing down between points. In another post, I discussed focusing on your breathing in order to relax. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. During the exhale, try to relax all the muscles in your body.
When playing points, make an effort to quiet your thoughts through the whole stroke and for a fraction of a second after your paddle contacts the ball.
Be patient with yourself and your game, and you'll both improve.