posted on: March 28, 2019
author: Brian Lomax
Note: Even though this post is written from the perspective of tennis, it applies to any sport in which the action can be broken down to the next play, the next pitch, the next possession, the next 1-on1 battle, the next move, the next moment, the next whatever. It’s always about what comes next.
When a tennis match is over, it’s easy to look back and identify the most important moments that led to the outcome. You have the benefit of hindsight and you know how the match turned out. You can analyze specific points, games, mistakes, winners, statistics, etc., and see how they affected the final result. However, it’s impossible to do this while you are in the middle of playing a match. The future has yet to unfold and the result is still in doubt. What you do in the next moment or next game could have a major impact on whether you win or lose. It’s for that reason that the most important point in a tennis match is always the next one.
When I ask players what they think the most important point of a match is, the responses are the traditional big moments such as match point, set points, break points, deuce points, etc. Of course, those are important points. In tennis, some points are more consequential than others, but from a mental toughness perspective, you can’t play that way and expect to win. You shouldn’t save your best focus just for the big points because if you do, you’ll never be the one in a position to win. You will have given away too many points over the course of the match due to a lack of focus.
The next point in a tennis match is always the most important one because it is the only point that you can do something about. The last point or last game are gone. You can’t change them. Two games from now is too far in the future, and you don’t know what is going to happen between now and then. You have to be right here, right now. Complete present focus is your goal. The next point is an opportunity to play your best tennis. The next point is an opportunity to break your opponent mentally. There is always an opportunity to achieve something on the next point, and your focus and intensity must reflect that awareness.
So how do you do this? It’s not easy, but here are some things to think about. First, you want to reset and refocus. Resetting means forgetting about the last point, last game, etc. You can’t change the past. Whatever the score is, it doesn’t matter how you got there. It is what it is. Use your breathing to settle down and relax physically. Once you’ve reset, it’s time to refocus. Focus your thoughts and energy on playing a high quality point right now. The more high quality points you play, the better your chance of winning is. Make quality play on a point your criterion for success over winning a point.
Your self-talk is an important part of playing higher quality tennis. If you played well on the last point, say something like, “Let’s go, keep it rolling, next point!” If the last point was just average, say “OK, next point!” And if the previous point was below average, say “Needs work, on to the next point.” Notice how simple this is. There should not be a lot of deep analysis going on during games. That tends to get in the way of trusting your skills while playing. This self-talk is calm, intense, and rational.
You now have the recipe to play the most important point of a match. Reset, breathe, refocus, productive self-talk, repeat. This approach helps you chunk up your focus into smaller increments of time which is much easier than thinking that you need to be focused for the next two hours. You can now just think about being focused for the next 10 seconds and then taking a break. And then the next 10 seconds, and so on, and so on. This will help your mental energy to be much stronger at the end of a long match.
Even though we are talking about the next point always being the most important one, that doesn’t mean I don’t want you to be aware of the score or situation. For example, if you’re a college player and you have a no-ad deuce point coming up, I want you to realize this and play with the appropriate strategy and intensity. If you win the point, great! On to the next one. If you lose the point, on to the next one. The next point is always an opportunity to find your best tennis.
I hope that you can adopt the competitive mindset that the next point in a tennis match is the most important one. It is a major part of your foundation of mental toughness. When you adopt this mindset, you will compete better, you will be mentally tougher, and you will enjoy tennis even more. Competitive greatness awaits you. Find the courage to go after it by playing the next point as if it were the most important one of the day.
Brian Lomax founded PerformanceXtra™ in 2009 with a mission of helping athletes achieve their goals and their top performances more consistently through a progression of mental skills that enables them to focus on what is truly important.
Learn more about the author: https://performancextra.com/brian-lomax/