Tension Control and Optimal Performance
Most tennis players know that they play better when they are relaxed. In fact, step #3 of the 4-D System (see my book: Deconstructing Tennis) makes touching base with a relaxed body/mind a part of the preparation between each and every point.
One of the most basic ways to release tension is to speak. We all know that, at certain times, it pays off to just let it all out. But we also know that during a match there are not many opportunities apart from making line calls and calling the score to actually speak.
USTA-level players often carry on conversations during their games or make remarks which they share with their opponents when they are practicing. Make no mistake about it - these comments are serving to reduce the stress levels under which they are playing. Many of these players play far better in practice than they do in matches and then wonder why they don’t play better when it “counts.”
There are three ways to improve your match performance if you are one of these players: 1) speak less in practice. Get used to consciously relaxing yourself rather than going to the unconscious use of conversation. This will make you a better match player; or 2) in doubles, use the time between points to converse with your partner. This is entirely legitimate and will almost always help you to play under less stress (unless you don’t get along with your partner – another future blog!); or 3) despite the fact that it’s a match, make remarks like you do in practice. This, however, is considered unsportsmanlike in professional tennis. No professionals do it. However, unless your opponent asks you to stop, it just might work in league play.
On the pro tour, many commentators have started to sing the praises of loud expletives and racquet smashing on the part of the players. Certainly, the players exhibiting these behaviors are releasing energy. But it is almost always the case that they end up losing the match. They may feel a bit better afterwards, but their best chance at victory would actually be to manage their stress like a mature adult.
Keep in mind that an opponent who is dominating almost always sees an accompanying sign of discouragement from the loser. If a loser fails to show these signs, the player in the lead may start to ask this question: is my opponent actually going to be the winner?