So, I’ve talked about getting out of your head after the point is over and putting your attention into your body—an internal focus. As I said, this should be approximately 5 seconds or so. It will help keep you present and less vulnerable to the extraneous, unproductive thoughts that swirl around in your mind. The key is that you are directing your mind and not being passive because we all know how negativity and indecision can trap us when we are not clear about what to do with our mind.
In the second stage, with approximately 15-20 seconds officially remaining (most players take less than this on average), I suggest you work on keeping your eyes focused on something specific because this is a time when your mind and eyes can wander–looking at other courts or who’s watching. Many players find that looking at their strings is helpful (external focus). In addition, believe it or not, players have also reported to me that my suggestion of occasionally gazing at a tree outside the court, for example, to take a mental break has been effective as well (you can refer to my Fearless Tennis CD program for more on these focusing cues). Again, any of these external cues should last no more than 3-5 seconds.
Research studies have demonstrated that when we feel anxious our eyes have a tendency to dart from side to side and scan the environment more intensely. Training yourself to keep your eyes on specific external cues can create an inner calm and focus that eventually may lead you to a peak performance state. Don’t underestimate the importance of eye-control as it relates to the fluidity of your strokes, decision-making and performance in tie-breakers. All of these tasks require the right “internal climate” and your eyes just may be the doorway into that relaxed state you have enjoyed from time to time.
As a reminder, what you are cultivating with both of these stages is the ability to go into “no mind” where thoughts are kept to a minimum. It is important that your focus is intently focused on the “cues” I have mentioned thus far. Of course, this will take time as your mind is used to working–worrying, analyzing, projecting into the future, etc…Trust that keeping your mind out of it for these 7-10 seconds will be most helpful to your game. Most likely, you already know this. It’s just a matter of getting used to directing your attention regularly between points.