Sunday, July 05, 2015

How I Went From a Nervous Wreck to Cool and Confident

Another ball sailed wide and I felt it in my stomach. A gnawing, painfully uneasy feeling came over me and I knew I was in trouble.

It was the third and final set of my college intramurals and my team was counting on me and my partner to win this set. It was the decisive match. The winners would go on to the finals and the losers would be at home drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon while listening to Led Zeppelin with their dorm mates.

Even though I had some success in high school as an Imperial Valley League doubles champion, I hadn’t solved the mental game of tennis.

Not by a long shot.

My knees still felt like jello in between points. My breath was shallow and trapped half way in my chest. My hands trembled around my Wilson Hyper Pro Staff.

Hyper is right.

Miraculously, we ended up winning that night, mostly because I had a partner who was solid in all areas of the game, especially the mental side. Being on his team brought my anxiety down from an eleven to a nine on a scale of one to ten. Winning a match when there’s so much adversity is like flying over a beautiful mountain range. There’s no better feeling. But I knew I had a major challenge in front of me. How was I going to become a great competitor if I felt like I ate bad Mexican food every time I played a match?

“Dude, how do you remain so calm in those situations? Every time there’s pressure, I feel like I’m going to wet myself!”

What he said next, changed my life.

“What do you do between points?,” he asked.

“Um, I don’t know, brace myself?”

“There you go! You have to have a strategy for between points just like you do for the point itself.”

I nodded silently, and began to think. I had heard of a lot of techniques to reduce anxiety. I knew a little bit about visualization, because my violin teacher always told me to “hear the pitch before I played it.” There were studies that proved that people who visualized shooting a basketball, but didn’t actually practice, performed as well as those who physically practiced! I knew meditation had helped my uncle always seem like he was on some kind of drug, though I had never tried it myself.

But after Josh told me to develop a strategy, I went home and began to work on a formula that I use today to beat players with more physical and technical prowess than I do. They get more and more frustrated, as I get more relaxed.

I wish I had known this from day one, because practicing this process has allowed me to have more fun on the tennis court, win more matches, and helped me in all areas of life (especially when I was trying to get a date!). If you begin practicing these four steps, you’ll feel yourself growing calmer and more centered with every passing point. Gradually, you’ll be the one that appears impenetrable while your opponents get frazzled and start going for shots they can’t make.

This process begins as soon as a point is over.

Here it is:

1. Clear the balls off the court - This does many things for your mind. First, you get a chance to reset as you make the court safe to play. It’s like turning the page. Whatever happened during the last point, good or bad, will be erased from your memory as you make this a habit. You’ll still be able to remember key pieces of information like “he can’t hit a volley to save his life, I’m going to bring him up,” but emotions will be taken out of it, and you’ll be able to look at the point objectively.

2. Reframe - Remember whatever happened on the previous point is just a neutral result. We’re the ones that give it meaning by saying “that was terrible” or “that was terrific.” This is a chance to either reframe a “bad point” or reinforce a “good point.” If it was a bad point, what was it about the point that you would have changed? Maybe you went down the line when, clearly, the better shot would have been cross court. Or maybe you hit the frame of the racket when you should have hit the center. Simply affirming to yourself, “next time, I’ll take that shot cross court,” or “next time, I’ll hit the center of the racket,” is often the intention you need to put you back in a positive frame of mind. Similarly, if you had an outstanding point. Now’s the time to remember what went well, and to reinforce your intention. “Man, I moved her around the court left and right,” or “He can’t handle my topspin, I’m going to keep doing it!”

3. Refocus - If you’re down on yourself or overly excited before a point, it’s easier to make errors because your emotions get in the way of a clear mind. That’s why it’s important to come back to a neutral state with positive expectation. This is where a few deep breaths and some positive body language go a long way. Get up on your toes a little, or shake out your body while you center yourself with a couple of deep breaths. Any ritual here will do. Nadal pulls his shorts out of his butt, while Djokovic bounces the ball a million times before he serves. Pick your ritual, but it should involve some deep breaths, and some set of positive movements you do EVERY time. Over time, your ritual will automatically bring you back to a neutral state through conditioning.

4. Pick one point of focus - If you’re serving, you might tell yourself “get your toss right,” or “hit it into her body.” If you’re returning, you might tell yourself, “take it cross court,” or “be aggressive.” The possibilities here are endless. But choose ONE. If you tell yourself, “ok, I’m going to breathe, swing easy, take her cross court, and remember to keep my hands in front on the volley,” your brain will be overloaded and you will lose focus. But if you choose ONE point of focus, you’ll be relaxed and ready to win.

Put these steps into practice, and you’ll be well on your way to having more fun, and winning more matches!

Bye for now,


A little about me: I'm a tennis Coach/lover. I put the fun in fundamentals! Check out my website for HD video lessons at, follow me @osatennis or email me at

Here's a video that we can call, “The First 3 Levels of Forehand Power, and what you can do to move up a level (or 2)”:

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