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What tools would you recommend to help mental focus? I’ve played for three years now and have reached a 3.5 level, but during matches I tend to get down on myself when things aren’t going my way. For example, I’ll miss an easy put-away, and it’ll take me several points of poor play before I can even begin to recover. Any help would be appreciated.—Ricky F.
Mental training, Ricky, is a very complex and involved endeavor, one that I certainly won’t be able to cover in-depth here. Nevertheless, let me throw out a technique that several ATP pros I’ve interviewed say they’ve used, ostensibly with success.
The technique is narrativizing, and the only tools required are a pen and some paper. American player Tim Smyczek, who reached the second round at this year’s U.S. Open, recently told me that he regularly writes out stories about how he’d like to behave on-court. “You think up a situation on the court that might normally bother you,” Smyczek explained. “And then you write about how you want to react to it. The idea behind it is, if you’ve been there on paper before, when it actually happens you know how to react.”
With your predicament, it might be worth adopting this affirmational exercise in a daily dairy. Describe a particularly mind-gnawing point, followed by a speculative account of constructive self-talk. The imagined outcome, of course, should be positive.
(A highly-attenuated example: “The next time I flub an sitter overhead, I won’t become depressed; I’ll move on to the next point and continue to try my best.”)
With enough time and repetition, these thought patterns should begin to surface in your mind during match play; and with good vibes floating around your head, it should be easier to feel sanguine about your play.
Be diligent. Have faith. It’s only a game, right?