This past weekend I attended the United States Professional Tennis Association/Missouri Valley Division Annual Convention in Wichita, KS. I gave an on-court presentation that was tennis specific entitled “Coaching Dynamic Team Practices the Bruin Way.” There was also a presentation given that included some valuable tips on the mental side of sports. The presentation was given by Jeff Salzenstein (www.tennisevolution.com) on deadly mistakes players make on court. Jeff is a long-time tennis pro and he is a certified Extreme Focus Performance Coach. Listed below are the two mistakes that relate to the mental side of sports.
1 Negative Self-Talk
This is a big time mindset mistake. When you frequently judge yourself in a negative way it becomes counter-productive to getting the best out of yourself. First you need to be aware you are doing this, and then be willing to take action to change your pattern of thinking to self-talk that is helpful to your cause. Step outside yourself and become an observer instead of judging what happened as good or bad. You can then make adjustments in an unemotional way.
One strategy that Jeff mentioned to overcome negative self-talk was Flip & Boost. The flip part means to flip the negative self-talk or the mistake to “how can I make this better?” The self-talk statement could start with “Next time I’ll …”. The boost part means to re-frame the mistake with an affirmation. For example in tennis, after making a backhand error, you could say, “I love hitting my backhand with topspin.” This creates a positive image and positive emotional mindset of what you see yourself doing next time.
A second strategy that Jeff mentioned was to use “Cave Man Language.” This simply means to give yourself a trigger word or a short trigger phrase geared toward what you want to happen. For instance, you might say to yourself “Relax”, “Loose Hands”, or “Love to Compete.” This strategy creates positive, constructive images that will give your mind an objective.
2 Just Win The Point
Too often in sports the athlete becomes obsessed with the outcome while they are competing. If you are outcome focused you are no longer in the present. Instead it would be better to be process focused. Think about what you need to do in the moment to perform well, rather than be focused on the result. You could utilize a strategy like focusing on your rituals or pre-point routine in a sport like tennis. Rituals put your mind in a comfortable place with the focus on the present. Another strategy would be to set a mini-goal related to performance, such as “I’m going to clear the net on each shot.” This is a performance goal versus an outcome goal that is related to the now rather than a possibility in the future.
In summary, see if you can flip any negative self-talk into something more constructive utilizing the strategies above. Then also set mini-goals that are process or performance oriented, rather than outcome oriented. You will likely get better results with this approach.