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Monday, January 8, 2018

Mental Toughness

Play to the best of your ability in a pressure situation...

How many times have you seen (or been in) a game where a team with a big lead ended up on the losing end? I have (and I have). I know what happens to me in those situations. I start to lose just a little focus at first. Then I make a mistake. Then I keep replaying the mistake in my mind and my focus is further diverted. Things snowball. Sometimes the focus returns but the opponents now have so much confidence that it becomes a dogfight to the bitter end.

In other words, the problem is not generally a physical one but is a loss of mental focus. So how is a player to overcome the loss of focus and get stronger mentally. I have done a little research on the subject and some common themes have emerged as discussed below.

The first pieces of mental toughness are pre-game attitudes. Confidence matters. A belief that you will win matters. Anything less opens the door to doubts when adversity strikes. Stay confident and retain the belief in winning and the odds will improve.

Visualize your performance beforehand. Imagery is proven to improve performance. Develop images of successful shots and winning rallies. Rely on these when tough times come.

During play, don't dwell on the results of any single rally - whether won or lost. Instead, immediately start preparing for the next rally. Refocus.

Control your emotions. Don't get too high after a winning rally and don't get too low after a losing rally. Again, ignore the results and refocus. If emotions get too high, take a timeout. Visualize a stop sign. Tie your shoe. Get a drink of water. Anything to calm down.

Overcome negative thoughts with a recovery routine developed through practice. This may involve both mental and physical aspects but requires a release of emotions, relaxing the tension, reaffirming your confidence, and regaining focus. Some of this can be done by returning to the visualization developed pre-game.

Finally, take Sarah Ansboury's suggestion and develop a mantra. It can be as simple as "move your feet" or "watch the ball". It should be something specific and within your complete control. When adversity strikes, repeat you mantra to regain focus.

Use these techniques and you will find yourself closing out more games with wins.

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