Do you let outside factors influence your game? And, if so, how can you toughen up and put the distractions aside to play your best?

It happens to the best of them – just look at Samantha Stosur at this year’s Australian Open.

Most of us at one time or another – or maybe all the time – will feel the pressure to perform at a certain level to either “prove” ourselves to our fellow club members or to our opponent, or because we’re “expected” to win one for the team or against a supposedly less skilled competitor. And we all know what this feeling feels like. Our breath becomes shorter, our strokes less consistent, our movement not as good.

In short, our body succumbs to the pressure our mind is placing on it.

Feeling some pressure isn’t necessarily negative, and can even be positive. It adds to our enjoyment to allow ourselves to believe this match – this game – is important, and to get a little geared up for it. It’s only when that pressure begins to overwhelm us, to negatively impact our performance, that we need to consider ways to handle it better.

The next time you’re feeling this type of overwhelming pressure on the court, try these techniques to help settle yourself back down and return to form:

  • Remind yourself that no one wants you to win more than you want to win. It really doesn’t matter if your team has told you that you really need to win your match for the team to get a win. You already wanted to win the match anyway, so it’s not as if you were going to try less hard if the team didn’t need the win.
  • When faced with the expectation to win against a supposedly lesser opponent, think back to a time when you beat a player who would normally be considered stronger than you, reflect on the fine line between winning and losing, and concentrate on simply playing the next point to the best of your ability.
  • When we feel pressure, it is usually because we think others expect us to perform at a certain level and if we don’t we believe they will think less of us. Recognize that most people, tennis players included, are focused much more on themselves than they are on you and likely aren’t nearly as interested in the outcome of your matches as you think they are. And if they are the type who just can’t wait to remind you of your failures, well, what do you care what they think anyway.

These techniques won’t always work, and they take practice, but the more you focus on them and on your current playing patterns, the less you will be bothered by the mental game.

Have fun and see you on the courts.

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