Mastering your time between points must include, at times, some tactical or technical goal–that is, how you want to play the next point. And stage three would be the time to do it. You’ve already directed your attention away from thoughts or judgment about the last point and focused your eyes on something external (i.e. your strings).If, for example, as you prepare for the next point, you feel that you are holding back in the match and playing too tentatively you can visualize yourself stepping forward into the ball on a return. If you are serving, you can picture the ball going to your target or repeat the word “up” to keep your head up on the serve. As you may recognize, your focus is internal during this stage. Again, it needs to be brief—no more than 3 seconds. The quicker the better. Visuals are most effective but you can also use a “cue” word that reminds you what to do (i.e forward, down and through, crosscourt, loose, etc.. or, as I mentioned, “up” on your serve). This type of internal focus will eventually become automatic. You don’t want to linger too long in this stage and don’t TRY TOO HARD. Use any tactical or technical tip lightly and be done with it. But you do need to commit to your decision and do it! Don’t bail out because you are worried about making a mistake. This will sabotage your ability to master the between point time because you are overly focused on outcome. Beware of this trap!
Once again, the key here is that you are using your mind effectively and staying engaged with the task at hand. What can be more task-oriented than being decisive about how or where you will hit the ball? Just because you are making a plan or reminding your brain of your shot selection doesn’t mean that you are being analytical, which is why a visual is so helpful. Because I don’t want you getting into your left-brain. Take a moment right now, close your eyes and imagine hitting a serve down the T. Or, imagine yourself hitting a return crosscourt as you step into the ball. Could you do it? I am betting you could. I know it’s probably not any 3D image but I am sure you could see the trail of the ball going to your target or some general image of the ball traveling to a particular part of the court. This blueprint that you program in before hitting the ball can provide a lot of added confidence as well.
There are many studies that show the power of visualization on performance execution. Seeing it can make you believe in it. But, remember, keep this step very brief. I don’t want you to debate or second guess at this point. Stay decisive. This is not a time for deliberation.