Dear tennis friends,
"What happened? You were leading 5-2 in the third set." asked the father.
"I choked...I couldn't close the match." replied the son.
Do you find this dialogue familiar or have you experienced difficulty in closing a tennis match before?
What is choking?
Choking occurs when you feel paralyzed by fear of failure, tension, or anxiety. Nothing halts a winning performance quicker than a choke.
What makes it worse is that choking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, the more choking happens in the past, the more likely you think it will happen again!
When athletes are afraid to fail, they tense up, perform tentatively, and lose momentum.
Focusing too much on the uncomfortable feelings only heightens the tension. When you feel nervous, do not bring more attention to the knot in your stomach or a rapid heartbeat. Accept that your body is preparing you to perform your best in competition.
So what can you do if you are facing crunch time again?
Here are 3 ways to help you:
1. Stay aggressive and don't protect your lead. It is common that some players, who have a big lead over an opponent, become defensive and lose momentum. Many players confessed that they feel most pressurized when they are serving for the match. Being in the lead can bring on distracting thoughts such as, "I am playing beyond what I am capable of" or "I shouldn't be beating this player, he is better than me." If you have these thoughts, maintain your game play and keep going for your shots.
2. Focus on what helps you perform well. Thoughts such as "what will happen if I mess up?" or "I really need to play perfectly to win this match" cause athletes to choke in crunch-time. These thoughts detract from what is important for successful execution. You want to stay focused on performance cues that help you execute your shots. By this, I mean focus on the thoughts or images that are relevant to executing good shots--not the thoughts and images about missing shots. Think about the aces that you have executed before and not double faults!
3. Embrace big moments. If you label yourself as a poor closer or crunch-time "choker," you will most certainly live up to this label and then not perform up to your ability in crunch-time. Therefore, it is important you change your self-image to one that helps you excel, such as "I excel at crunch time" or "I will finish strong." The goal is to see yourself as a winner so you can perform under the pressure of crunch-time.
As usual, I welcome your feedback or comments on the tips that you received. If you find these information useful, please forward to your friends so that they will benefit from these tips as well.
To your tennis serve success.