Problem Solving on Court: If X happens, I will do Y

Written by: Stephanie Nihon

In Collaboration with: Vietta ‘Sue’ Wilson


***Stephanie has received her Masters in Kinesiology and Sports from the University of Sydney. There she performed extensive testing and training on elite athletes and specialized in Human Biomechanics. As a varsity and national athlete herself in the USA and Australia, Stephanie received her Undergraduate Degree in Psychology and wrote her dissertation on golfers using Neurofeedback to enhance their performance***


I hate it when I hit a fantastic shot, get caught watching the ball, and for some magical reason my opponent gets it back in the court- a frequent grievance of many tennis players. One way to resolve situations like this is to have a simple plan, much like a huddle in a football game. “If – then planning” is a technique uniquely useful for building good habits, resisting temptation to go away from your game plan, and solving problems on court.

When building a plan, you need to be as specific as possible. The if-then version of any plan must spell out exactly what needs to be done in a critical situation. If X happens, then I will do Y. X can be a scenario, such as, my opponent keeps hitting cross-court to my backhand. Y is the specific action you will take when Y occurs, for example, hit the ball deep with spin.

Amazingly, you are two to three times more likely to succeed if you use an if-then plan then if you don’t use the plan.  Peter Gollwitcher, a NYU psychologist who first articulated the if-then planning, recently reviewed results from 94 studies that used the technique and found significantly higher success rates for just about every goal you can think of. This includes competitive tennis situations!

These plans work well because they speak the language of our brain: the language of possibilities. Humans are very good at encoding information in “if X, then Y” terms, and using this process to guide our behavior. Deciding when and where we will act on our goal creates neural-networks in our brain between the situation (the if) and the behavior that should follow (the then). It goes with the age-old expression that the neurons that wire together, fire together.

By saying, “if I start to get emotional on court (X), then I will take my 3 deep breaths, release the muscles, and clear my mind (Y),” the plan has already been processed in your brain, and when the situation occurs, you have a better chance of having a solution. With practice, the “if-then” plan can become ‘automatic,’ and your plan is carried out while consciously unaware.

Problem solving through ‘if-then’ can be practiced every time you are on court.  Two examples are as follows:

1)      If you hit two balls in a row into the net, you can perform the following routine:

i)                   Evaluate If X (hit two balls into the net), then Y (more spin, hit higher).

ii)                 Relax/ let go

iii)               Plan next action –see or say, “ball into back of court.”

iv)               Cue word: back

2)     You won the first set against a similar skilled player and you know s/he will change his/her playing strategy.   If s/he gets aggressive and comes to the net, then I will do…Y. If s/he goes for fewer winners and extends the points, then I will do…Y.

If you are having difficulty knowing what to do for the THEN (Y) part of the problem solving solution, talk to your coach.  If you have difficulty thinking on the court, see us, as we can use brain equipment to track your thinking patterns and help you improve.

Next Gen Tennis League promises exciting matches

The Next Gen Tennis League again saw some great tennis last weekend at The Credit Valley Tennis Club and Burlington Tennis Club. This promises that Saturday the 24th will feature some exciting matches and very competitive tennis. All three matches will be played on Saturday October 24th, with Team Byte Network Security facing Team Hydrogen at noon (Burlington Tennis Club).

ITF Men’s 85 World Team Championships Renamed the Lorne Main Cup

Toronto, October 13, 2020 – The International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced on Tuesday that, as of 2021, the Men’s 85 World Team Championships will be renamed the Lorne Main Cup after the late Canadian. Lorne Main was selected for the honour following a unanimous vote by the ITF Seniors Committee, and approval from the ITF Board of Directors, after his name was put forward by Tennis Canada as part of the nomination process.

A New Reality By Nicolas Pereira

This past week in the World Team Tennis ‘Bubble” I have seen the efforts to keep everyone safe while carrying on a team competition with around 60/70 players and coaches onsite. Counting organizers, officials, media, and support personnel are around 150 people trying hard to make this happen. I am very impressed by how the strict protocol has been handled and how everyone is invested in making this event a success, but The Open is a completely different scale of details.

The Importance of the Cool Down

In brief, the main goal of the cool down is to reduce your load level gradually and normalize basic functions of the interior body. Scientific evidence has shown that a good cool down reduces body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure which can then return to resting levels. It also helps to accelerate the removal of metabolic acids and other waste products generated during exertion in the blood. As well, the cool down reduces adrenaline and noradrenaline (endocrine system) to prevent sleep disorders and restlessness.

Part 2: Considering the SAT during COVID-19 Crisis

The cancellation of year-end standardized exit exams around the world means that this year, the SAT may very well be the only international standardized exam that takes place. Having a good SAT score therefore could make a difference to your immediate future and it is definitely better to have SAT in your portfolio than not have it.

Pierre Lamarche: “Why Ontario needs a Coaching Commission”

I was told recently by a good friend at Tennis Canada, while discussing a subject related to Canadian Tennis Player Development, “the system is not going to change,” and that I should just accept it. Others had said this comment to me as well. So what do I do if I really feel that this system is negative to the overall development of the sport in this country and affects the lives of our coaches, players and families? Of course I must try to do something.