Written by: Allen Fox, Ph.D.
Excerpt from allenfoxtennis.net
***Dr. Allen Fox, Ph.D. psychologist from UCLA, is a former NCAA singles champion, Canadian National champion, Wimbledon quarterfinalist and a three-time member of the U.S. Davis Cup team. Dr. Fox also coached the Pepperdine tennis teams to two NCAA finals, including team member Martin Laurendeau, captain of the Canadian Davis Cup team.
He has authored several books, his latest, “Tennis: Winning the Mental Match,” has been acclaimed as “the best book on tennis psychology ever written.” It can be purchased on Amazon or Tennis Warehouse, or electronically on Kindle or iTunes. For more information and articles visit allenfoxtennis.net. He is also an editor of TENNIS magazine, consults with players on mental issues, and lectures worldwide on sports psychology.***
Your game will tend to follow your emotions, positive ones producing good play and negative ones, bad play, so you need to control them rather than having them control you. The starting point for this (and probably the most useful single idea in this book) is the following: When a point ends have no feeling or emotional reactions at all! It means that whether you have made the most egregious error or hit the most outlandish winner, it’s generally best to have no emotional reaction whatsoever. No matter how important the point, when it’s over, regardless of outcome, you simply turn around and start walking back into position having had no emotional reaction. Nothing happened! As an example, watch Roger Federer’s face at the end of a point. You will not usually be able to tell if he has just hit a winner or missed a sitter. Most of the time, he doesn’t react. You see the outer lack of reaction, but, equally importantly, he doesn’t usually react internally either.
What about reacting positively after winning a point? Okay, let’s start with the obvious counter arguments. You may say, “What if I hit a good shot? Shouldn’t I celebrate or pump myself up with a raised fist or something? Doesn’t this fit better with your theory of having good emotions so your game will follow them and get better?” My answer is that most highly-ranked professional players do not do this. Notice I say most and not all. Of course some players, like Lleyton Hewitt, Jimmy Connors, Rafael Nadal, John McEnroe, and Maria Sharapova do (or did) play better by pumping themselves up after winning points. But even they didn’t do it after every point they won – often, yes, but only after some points.
These few players performed well on adrenaline and seemed, somehow, to be able to emote again and again without getting emotionally exhausted. But keep in mind that these people are champions with far more emotional resiliency, self-control, and confidence than you or I have. (If you win a couple of Wimbledons you might also be able to get away with it, but until then, I advise against it.) In any case, even they are the exceptions among the pros. The list of great pros that usually didn’t react after points is far longer – Don Budge, Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver, Roger Federer, Jack Kramer, Arthur Ashe, Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Stephan Edberg, Pete Sampras, etc., etc., etc.
The reasons for not reacting emotionally after a point are many.
Using adrenaline: Having said all this, there are occasions, not too often, when even the non-reactive pros choose to react after making a great shot or winning a particularly important point. They will do it to pump themselves up in crucial situations, usually late in a set or late in the match, to give themselves a shot of adrenaline. (You can also do it deliberately by slapping yourself on the side, making yourself feel aggressive, and saying something like, “Come on!!” or “Get going!!” under your breath.)
Paradoxically, this type of adrenaline response is sometimes even useful in counteracting shaky nerves in pressure situations. At such times it is natural to become tight and conservative. Calling up an adrenaline response can sometimes loosen you up. Essentially, you try to turn feelings of fear into feelings of aggression, the physiological correlates of which are quite similar.
Adrenaline is a hormone released by the adrenal gland that makes you stronger and quicker – sort of a personal afterburner – but running on it too long can tire you out. It can speed up your reactions, strengthen you when you are getting tired, or help you focus when your concentration is slipping. However it’s best to use it sparingly – on occasions when it will do the most good, such as when the finish line is in sight and you need a little something extra to drive you over it. Players differ in their response to adrenaline, so you will need to learn from experience how often and when to use it. But no regardless of what you learn, the vast majority of your points should end with no emotional reaction at all.