Racquet Sports Psychology Tips: How tennis players can stay confident under pressure
Pressure can help you raise your game.
Pressure is something that everyone faces in all areas of life, and sport is no exception. Athletes are by no means immune to pressure, but some deal with it better than others. So learning how to stay confident under pressure is a key skill.
Pressure can be very problematic for those who do not deal well with it. Their heart rate goes up, they start thinking about different things that are usually detrimental, they rush their actions so that they can get rid of the feeling of dread and panic as soon as they can, which can all lead to poor decision making. This, ultimately, creates a vicious cycle. The bigger the competition, the more pressure they will feel, the poorer their decisions are going to be, the worse they will play, the lower their confidence is going to be, the more pressure they are going to feel in future matches. Repeat.
First of all, it is important to understand and identify where pressure comes from. Everyone has different sources of pressure, whether it’s their expectations, perceived importance of the match/competition in question, fear of embarrassment, uncertainty regarding the reactions of those they want to impress the most, or losing their place on their team. Ultimately, the more important the outcome is to you, the more certainty there is going to be, and therefore, more pressure.
It’s useful to think that when we are feeling under pressure, we are not actually feeling it but instead thinking about things that are creating the pressure. Here’s an example of a tennis player who I am working with, and some sources of pressure we have identified together:
- The negative reactions of people he cares about
- Thinking that some points/sets/matches are must-win situations
- Replaying the potential consequences of losing certain points during matches
- Embarrassment from losing to rivals or players he perceives to be inferior to him
You can clearly see here that the pressure this tennis player’s facing is due to his perception of what he thinks might happen. The problem when people try to predict the future is that they can never be certain of the outcome until it actually happens, which leads to doubt and uncertainty, as they are trying to answer questions they don’t have answers to. Think about this, you have just been on a first date, you are replaying the night in your head. Did they like me? Was I funny? Will I get a second date? You won’t know the answers to these questions until that person tells you.
In order to think more clearly, and more confidently, we need to identify our own sources of pressure. Instead of thinking about things that are going to cause more pressure, we can start to dispute them, and subsequently focus on more positive things that are within our control. Most people try to ignore or get rid of pressure, but we can use it to our advantage instead. By focusing on things we want to, we are controlling the pressure, and we are able to use the increased heart rate and channel it into extra energy and focus, which is what your body was trying to do in the first place!
A couple of examples of how you can dispute your sources of pressure:
- What’s the worst that could happen if you lose? Is it as bad as you think? Compare it to other things that could actually be a disaster, does this pale in comparison? Some might think by doing this, you are downplaying the importance of competitions, but you are not downplaying anything; you are simply not exaggerating it. With nothing (or less) to lose, you will start to loosen up and be able to play to win, focusing on what you have to do and make better decisions.
- Does it make sense for you to guess what might happen if things don’t go your way? Does it make sense for you to shift your focus from what matters (strategy, gameplan etc), to things that are not going to make you play better, taking up valuable time, energy and focus, and might not even be realistic?
Once you have identified your own sources of pressure, here are a few tips to channel thoughts from ones that create pressure, to ones that control pressure. Remember, the more prepared you are, the less pressure you are going to feel.
- Dispute your sources of pressure. If they don’t make sense to you, change them to ones that do
- Focus on what is happening now and how you are going to approach the next point, rather than what has happened, what might happen, or what could happen
- View pressure situations as a challenge, not a threat
- Look at matches as opportunities to show yourself and others how good you are and how much work you have put in, rather than viewing them as must-win situations
If you have found this blog useful and are interested in learning more about how to improve your tennis feel free to sign up to the “The Mental Edge”.
Or to get in touch for one 2 one Sports Psychology Coaching with our Sports Psychologist and Mental Skills Specialist, James Lau. Who is based in the North East of England offering a telephone and online sessions
Sports Psychologist and Mental Skills Specialist located near Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. With over 7 years experience supporting athletes, coaches, parents and teams to achieve their goals, quickly.