The ability to perform consistently is one of the trademarks of the best players. They are able to play close to their potential day in and day out while the rest show large swings in performance.
What causes these swings? If you can do it one point, game, set or day, why can’t you do the same thing on the next? The key words are: awareness and control. Consistent performers are just better at monitoring and adjusting their, thoughts, emotions, focus and tension level. Here is how they do it and how you can do it too:
1. Constantly monitor and fine-tune your thoughts and emotions. The first step when things are not going well is to check your thoughts and emotions. Any negativity will hamper performance, even a very slight feeling of anxiety, fear, anger, etc. will lead to unforced error. So, look for any destructive feelings and ideas and work on letting them go.
2. Maintain a positive body language. Body language impacts emotions the same way that emotions impact body language. So if you want to create a positive state of mind attacking through both flanks: your thoughts and your body language.
3. Constantly monitor and fine-tune their physical tension level. Being too tense or too relaxed hinders optimal performance. You are looking for relaxed intensity. Intense on your focus and energy but smooth and relaxed on your execution. Work hard to find that line.
4. Be ready every point. When playing badly it is very easy to let your past mistakes negatively influence the future. Therefore, it is imperative that you play “one point at a time.” Make sure you start each point ready: forget the last point, have a plan, and start positive and focused on the moment.
5. Give yourself clear directions. Only by pursuing clear and practical objectives will you be able to perform at your best. “Get the ball in,” “Do not double fault,” or “You are the biggest loser in the planet,” do not quite cut it. Replace those thoughts with ideas like: “Keep your head still,” “Watch the ball after the bounce,” or “Loosen up your grip” – ideas that are clear and under your control.
6. Watch the ball better. Unforced errors create anxiety, and anxiety has a negative effect on our ability to track the ball to contact. When we feel unsure we tend to look up as we swing worrying about our ability to hit our targets. Trying to find fine details on the ball such as: the seams, the brand or the spin will help you get your focus back on track.
7. Use your strengths. When parts of your game are not working, find alternatives. Run around your weakness and use your strengths as much as possible. Some days the job calls for trying to win with your “B” game, maybe even your “C” game.
8. Scramble. Trying to reach every ball and get it in play is always important but it becomes essential when you are not playing your best. Matches tend to turn on a dime. Winning one point that you should have lost may be all it takes to plant a seed of doubt in the opponent’s head or give you the confidence you lacked. Fight for every shot!
Fake it till you make it. I left this one to the end, because it is probably the most powerful strategy. Acting as if you are playing your best game is probably the most effective way to turn your game around. The secret is to act as convincingly as possible. You have to become one of your idols. How do Serena or Roger feel when they play? How do they carry themselves on the court? You have to evoke their confidence, focus and poise. If you do it well enough you will slowly start to flow into your ideal mental state and things will start to turn around.
Take control of your game! Playing consistently up to your potential is mostly in your hands. Do not let the Tennis Gods decide your fate!