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Prioritize Your Focus

Last week a player at my club stopped to tell me, “Jeff, what I didn’t realize is how hard it is to sustain your focus in a match.” She was trying to tell me that she used my tools between points and that they were working, but was stunned by how much energy it required to control her focus for an entire match. It does take effort, but it can be fun and challenging.

Are you prioritizing your focus? Remember, focus is what I call the “gateway” to your best “state.” That is, by being more focused, you will find yourself “looser” and able to maintain your  optimal intensity as well—more about my other two “dials” later.

Perhaps part of your problem with focus is that you assume it SHOULD just be there—as opposed to something you need to take charge of.

Or, maybe as the match draws near and your nerves ramp up, your mind takes you for a ride that just has too much momentum—all fueled by the uncertainty of how you will play or whether you will win. Your mind darts here and there and the thoughts pour in: “How good is she? I hope I don’t let my team down.” If only I got that last game.” “Just one more game and you got this.” So, thoughts disrupt your focus. And REFOCUSING becomes the challenge without forcing it too much.

Know this: You can get a better handle on your focus and it is a process. But, like a muscle—and that’s how I’d like you to see focus—you can strengthen it day by day, match by match.

As I point out in chapter 4 in part one of the Fearless Tennis course, thoughts are just thoughts. This may sound overly simplistic and something you already sort of know. But, when you understand that thoughts DO NOT need to rule the day, that they are normal and nothing to fear, you can begin to build your focusing muscle.

Here are a couple of options:

  1. When you notice that you are having a negative thought (often they are outcome based—related to the score, about the future result or what others might say if you win or lose)—change the thought in your head. “Play one point at a time. Keep moving her around and play on your terms.” You have a better forehand.” But, here’s the key, you have to ACTUALLY say it in your mind. It is not a passive moment, it is an ACTIVE one.

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2. Practice letting the thought go. Literally, take a windshield wiper in your mind—that’s right—like the wipers on your car and wipe the drops away. I used this in the finals of the World Championships many years ago (still do) and it helped me take the title. Learning to wipe away or letting the thoughts go (not holding onto them or letting them decide how the match will go) is something you can improve on. But, you need to “catch” these thoughts in the moment and then USE one of these techniques.

Andre Agassi used to describe this inner battle and how he would begin to say as many helpful and productive things to himself as possible. And it began in the shower BEFORE the match. I have done the same for years! And, then we will talk about visualizing in the shower…

I have more strategies to shift your focus, which is, ultimately, where you want to get to. That is, being able to gently REFOCUS to what is relevant for the NEXT point.

Of course, if you don’t “catch” these thoughts, which takes practice over time, it can and will quickly affect you emotionally and physically. And, this is what part two of my course will teach you–that even when you get tight there is a way to “drop” back into a “looser” state. It’s not all or nothing…more on this later.

Just wanted to give you a little more guidance on how you, too, can begin to master your focus!

Prioritize your focus and take charge of it and let’s see what happens to your performance and satisfaction on the court.

What’s it like for you when you try to catch your thoughts, reframe them positively or let them go?