Did you know that only 20% of your time on the court is actually spent hitting balls? Were you aware that the remaining 80% of time in any given match is spent walking from one side of the court to the other, sitting on changeovers, or preparing for the next point? This time is ripe with opportunities for the brain to work over time. After all, there is a score, the prospect of winning or losing, perhaps a shot to fix or a strategy to revise, a comment from a doubles partner to let go of….Oh, the traps we can find ourselves in! For years, I fell into them a lot! Still do, but far less frequently now that I am clearer on what to do with my mind.I’ve always been a thinker. My brain likes to work…a lot. But, guess what? The brain is designed to think. That’s its job. And, as you probably well know, this can get you into big trouble on the court, especially between points.
What I want to introduce to you in the next few posts is how to manage your focus between points. No longer do you want to view focus as an either/or phenomenon. It’s more subtle than that. The fact is your focus will be either internal or external. Period. Internal focus means that your attention is within yourself (body or mind) and external is outside of yourself (ball, strings, target). I want you to learn where your focus should be when the point is finished so you can play better. Focus is so important.
And, of course, most successful pros have figured out the keys to mastering the between point time. How? Through the doorway of FOCUS.
Let’s take a closer look. The reality is that you get 25 seconds from the time the point is over until you are in position to play the next one. So the key is to be productive with your mind and avoid getting too “left-brain” or overly analytical (internal focus). If you’re not productive with your attention your mind will likely wander.
Eventually, I believe it is best to stay out of your head after the point is over. However, some players need a brief reminder at times to let an error go and simply say, “It’s ok” as Serena Williams does (except, of course, if she foot faults on a big point:).Yes, I am advocating that you give that error almost no air time. Please read my post on making adjustments if you would like to dive deeper into the whole “adjustment” process during matches.
One of your goals should be to play as freely and automatically in matches as possible. This requires some discipline as you need to practice non-thinking, which is done by putting your attention in your body (internal focus) or on a target or something relevant to the task at hand that resides outside of you (external focus).
So, my first suggestion in dealing with the between point time, as strange as it may sound, is to drop your attention into your feet–literally feel your feet on the ground walking–so you can stay free from thought altogether (internal). But, it doesn’t have to go to the feet. The key is that you get in touch with something sensory–feel your racquet in your hand, the grip, notice your breath (it’s good to breathe deeply a few times as you walk to prepare for the next point)….This is known as mindfulness, which has been practiced for thousands of years and involves greater awareness and the training of your attention. But you don’t have to be a monk to do it! The key is that you are out of your head and in your body. This stage should last approximately 5 seconds.
People talk about being “grounded.” What can be more grounding than literally feeling your feet walking? Am I becoming more zen? From time to time, yes. Having “no mind” for a few seconds will keep you from overthinking your strokes.
So, while you are still in an internal focus you are being productive and not activating your analytical, judgmental left-brain.
The remaining 3 stages will be coming shortly. Also, please play around with this first stage as it needs to feel personalized for you. Work on the mindfulness but use whatever “cue” feels effective for you. The first stage is most critical because it is where the mind can bend in dramatically different directions.