If you tuned into the 2021 Australian Open, you probably heard how much the top players increasingly talking about their “mental” games.
After Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Rafa Nadal in a five set thriller he said:
“How would I describe myself?” he mused afterward, asked to describe his mind-set after winning what proved a pivotal tiebreaker. “Nirvana. I’m just there — playing, not thinking. … I focused on one shot, on one serve. I wanted to stay on the court a little bit longer. It just took off by itself.”
There’s a way Tsitsipas–and many top athletes–find ways to NOT think when they don’t need to think.
And, while there are always mental and emotional challenges top athletes face under pressure–finding the right “state” or keeping it– isn’t necessarily only a mental Ninja trick that moves the needle in competition.
Down two sets to love against the greatest fighter of all time–a player who had only lost one match in his career from this position– Stefanos Tsitsipas found the zone and mounted his comeback.
While he accessed a “free” mindset, he also began jumping around on the return of serve–something that emerged for the first time in his career.
He appeared to discover that moving side to side was helpful to keep his intensity up–a way to stay engaged, relaxed and present.
Often, when people talk about the mental game, there is an assumption that the answer lies mainly in their head.
Well, often, especially in the heat of battle, an even more potent solution may be moving your body–creating the physical sensations you need to be at your best.
For just a moment, think about the gestures you see players making after the point–fist pumps, slaps to the thigh, engaging with their player box, smiles, shoulder shrugs, fiddling with the strings.
There are a lot of physical gestures and actions that can all contribute to helping you create your “ideal performance state.”
Try walking faster (on or off the court) or slower and notice how this affects your confidence, sense of purpose and mood.
Or, when you are in a neutral or slightly down mood, try smiling. You can think of something amusing or just simply smile. See if your emotion shifts even a little bit.
The point is that you can learn to adjust your state and upgrade your performance with a few physical “cues.”
Next time you feel like experimenting with your energy level, take a deep breath, smile and walk with purpose for a few seconds.
Or, maybe a fist pump when something goes your way. I’m curious what you notice.
I know it works for the best in the game and I bet it can work for you, too.