The concept of mindfulness is one that's grown in popularity over the years. It's the practice of bringing yourself into the present moment without judging yourself, using various tactics, including breathing exercises or yoga.
It's not easy to stay focused – a study from Harvard University says that the average mind is distracted 47 percent of each hour we are awake. When you consider staying focused during a game of tennis – when things can change many times within one game alone, you might wonder how possible it is to practice mindfulness during play. After all, any tennis player will tell you that your mental game is as important. But it's not only possible to practice mindfulness during tennis – some professional players have used the practice to propel themselves to the top. Bianca Andreescu, of Canada, won the 2019 U.S. Open to wrap up an amazing season that took her from a triple-digit ranking to No. 4 in the world. Among her pre-match routine is meditation. In various interviews, she credits visualization as a way to unclutter her mind so she can focus during a match.
Practicing mindfulness doesn't guarantee that you'll become calmer – it's acknowledging that you're nervous and working through it. So how do you incorporate mindfulness during a tennis match? Here are three things you can try to bring to your game.
Visualization is exactly what it sounds like – creating a mental picture of accomplishing your goals. It's not necessarily enough to visualize holding a champion's trophy, though. Your mental images should be centered around how you plan to win your match. For example, if you notice that your opponent's backhand return is weak, picture yourself hitting a serve to that spot as you line up to serve. You can also visualize carrying out a strategy – such as using drop shots or slices to draw your opponent into the net. Naturally, it might not go exactly as you planned every time, but the point is to concentrate on what you want to accomplish. This doesn't leave a lot of room for nerves.
Breathe In, Breathe Out
In a tight match, nervousness manifests itself in many ways – double faults, increasingly poor footwork, or decelerating through your swing. One other symptom of nervousness is holding your breath. Have you ever finished a point and found yourself exhaling for the first time since you struck your serve or return? Concentrating on your breath is a great way to clear your mind in between points. Just inhale and exhale deeply, focusing only on your breath. Pay attention to the air traveling through your nostrils or your mouth. Focusing on your breath places you in the moment, keeps you from becoming distracted, and places you in a better mental position to execute your shots and strategy during play.
Adding meditation to your pre-match routine is a great idea. All you need is a quiet place to be alone and a few minutes to concentrate. Again, this practice requires you to focus on how your breath is moving through your body. You're training yourself to concentrate on the present and block out all distractions. Now, our minds are easily distracted and when you start meditating, you'll find it difficult to stay focused. It's OK to guide yourself back to the practice with no judging. There's no pressure – the more you practice, the easier it will become to build up your ability to focus. The less mentally cluttered you can be, the better.
Mindfulness is not all about remaining calm during a match. It's about exercising your brain and developing the ability to focus so you can eventually get into the zone, otherwise referred to as a flow state. That means that your mind and body are working together to focus on your match. You can use meditation, breathing exercises, and visualization to help you drill down on your game during your match to produce optimal results.
Nafari Vanaski has played tennis for nearly 20 years and has written about tennis for various publications, including the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Washington Post, and her tennis blog, Tennis With Attitude.