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Psychology in Tennis: How to Handle Anxiety on the Court

March 16, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 73

Every tennis player experiences mild to severe anxiety when faced with the pressure of competing. When the game is on the line and the pressure is intense many athletes experience fear and anxiety. When nerves go unchecked it often leads to choking - the most feared state in sports. Choking means performing poorly due to fear. When we choke our muscles get tight, we can't think straight, things go too fast, and we feel out of control. Choking is the "elephant in the room" of sports - it happens all the time yet no one wants to talk about it. Worse yet, few players and coaches know how to deal with it effectively.

Remind yourself that nervous is normal

The first thing we need to remind ourselves is, that NERVOUS IS NORMAL. It is not a sign of personal weakness. While the feeling of choking is unpleasant, it is a completely normal and natural physiological response - even elite tennis players get nervous. The difference is they don't keep their attention on it. They acknowledge the "butterflies" and move on quickly - they do not allow negative self-talk in to their minds. Great players recognize the emotional flow of a game and know how to manage it. They know how to help themselves "snap out of it."

There are many remedies for choking just as there are many causes. Unfortunately, most of the cures - goal setting, affirmations and visualization, call for the work to be done off the court away from the heat of the battle. How can you get back in the game once you start choking? This is one of the greatest challenges a player will face.

Use the 3Bs

The 3Bs represent an on court quick-fix tool designed to "snap" you out of choking and to help you get back into the game mentally and emotionally. Each "B" can be used as a trigger word during competition, depending upon the specific situation.

Let's look at each B.


Unfortunately many of us hold our breath when we get nervous or uptight. If we do breathe it's usually shallow, which causes an increase in muscle tightness and blood pressure making the situation worse.

With proper breathing you can actually increase your endurance, lower reaction time, and stay calm, cool and collected in competition. Nothing controls and calms the emotions like full, deep breathing. When we breathe deeply - into the lower lobes of the lungs, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated which produces endorphins, which in turn makes us feel relaxed. Breathing can help you let go of distractions, get re-centered and refocus on the task at hand.


"A deer in the headlights" - a fitting description for a tennis player who is choking. They often appear frozen, stuck or moving in slow motion. Bounce means getting yourself to "bounce" around or move your feet like a boxer. Jumping up and down on your toes increases blood flow and energy levels.


Choking can lead to decreased blood flow to the hands and feet. Many players experience this as tightness and describe losing feeling in their hands, racket and a feel for the ball." "Bang" - clapping, slapping one's thigh or high-fiving someone will help you recover feeling in the hands and feet, and get back into control of your body.

Using psychology in tennis is a vital tennis skill, so practice up! When you are training for tennis, exercise your 3Bs routine along with your ground stroke, serve, volley and overhead drills. Before you know it, even in the most intense moments of competition, the three Bs will help you get a grip on anxiety and get back into the game mentally, physically and emotionally. No more elephants in the room or on the court!

Kathy Toon is a nationally-recognized sport psychology consultant, speaker, blogger, coach and author (Get Your Game Face On!). Her past and current clients include USTA, USPTA, Prince, US Sailing, US Lacrosse, Positive Coaching Alliance, and numerous colleges and high schools. A National Coach of the Year in tennis, at the University of California, Berkeley, Kathy holds degrees in: Sports Medicine & Nutrition and Sport Psychology. For more free articles and instructional videos about the psychology of tennis, by Kathy Toon, including The X-Factor Report on Winning Doubles Tennis, visit

Source: EzineArticles
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