How to Stop Choking in Tennis


The key to avoiding choking in a tennis match is to learn how to stop battling with nerves and other difficult thoughts and emotions.

The process of choking begins when we respond unhelpfully to the worries and feelings that often occur when we’re in the lead.

Instead, we should recognize those thoughts and feelings for what they are – an inevitable human response to the situation we are in.

These thoughts and feelings may be inevitable, but they don’t have to guide how we perform in a match.

Choking is not caused by the presence of difficult thoughts or emotions. It’s caused by how we respond to them.

If we respond to those thoughts and emotions by thinking about them, or by trying to work them out, then we are contributing towards the choking process.

Choking is like a snowball gradually being rolled across the ground. At first the snowball is small and insubstantial. It needs to be packed with a few layers of snow to stop it disintegrating.
As you roll it through the fallen snow on the ground it picks up more and more snow, which gets impacted on the surface, making the ball bigger and more solid. After a while the ball is huge and if left alone will probably take hours to melt.

Something insubstantial that would have melted away into nothing became large and substantial because of your input.

The choking process is the same. At first, all it consists of is a few thoughts and a few feelings. Perhaps you think ‘I could lose this’ or ‘It will feel so good to win this!’. Maybe you feel a burst of nervous tension in the stomach or arms.

If you could disengage from these feelings at this point, the potential choke would remain insubstantial like a small snowball left alone on the ground to dissolve.

But that’s not what happens for most players who struggle with choking.

Instead, they keep rolling the snowball until it has gathered so much size and weight that it completely overwhelms them.

Rather than leaving those initial experiences (the troubling thought, the anxiety (link), the sensations in the body) to dissolve, the player responds to those experiences with thinking and self-examination.

The thought is interpreted as a premonition of defeat. The unpleasant feelings are interpreted as confirmation that the feared outcome is really happening. The fact that your arms are shaking or your stomach is full of butterflies is taken as proof that something is going wrong.

A vicious circle develops. The more you think about those thoughts and feelings, the more they occur. As this happens, your concentration begins to slip. You make poor choices during rallies. You play too defensively, or go for too much. You drift from your game plan. You lose confidence in your shots.

Crucially, you become tired as mental energy is spent on managing the choking process inside your head, rather than on the match itself.

The results are never pretty, and the post-match feeling after a choke is one of the worst any athlete can experience.

Choking can hurt so badly that many players who struggle with it consider quitting tennis.
Fortunately, it’s possible to eliminate choking from your game in a relatively short period of time.

The key is to learn how to short-circuit the process of choking.

Consider what it would be like if you could prevent the vicious circle of choking from ever forming.

Think about how it would feel if you could simply leave the initial troubling thoughts and emotions alone, and refocus on the match.

The first step in overcoming choking is to accept that it’s normal to have distracting thoughts in a match when you are in the lead. You should expect to experience thoughts like ‘I could lose this match’, or ‘It’ll feel so good to win this match’.

You also need to accept that it’s normal to feel a range of distracting emotions alongside these thoughts, such as anxiety, and elation or excitement at the prospect of winning.

The difference between choking and not choking lies in your ability to disengage from these thoughts and emotions.

The thoughts and emotions are not to be pushed away or fought with. Instead they need to be noticed and accepted. Just let them arise and pass in the mind and body as they will.
Acceptance frees you to refocus on the task in hand.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Choking can’t be banished overnight.

However, with the right mental training you can get to a stage where you will never choke again.
It will become a habit to notice difficult thoughts and feelings on court, and then refocus on the next point.

As a starting point, next time you feel the early stages of a choke coming on, take a short pause between points, notice the thoughts, notice the feelings. Then focus on your breathing for a few seconds, tuning into the sensations in your nose or belly. Then bring your attention back to preparing for the next point.

This is a basic way of beginning to interrupt the vicious cycle of choking.

Learning how to consistently disengage from unhelpful thoughts takes practice, and there are a range of tennis-specific mindfulness exercises which can help you get there.

Nerves In Tennis


Struggling with nerves during tennis matches is one of the most common problems that new coaching clients ask me to help them with.

Like all difficult emotional experiences in tennis, nerves can be overcome, and soon you’ll be able to maintain a high performance level whatever pressures you experience on court.

I’m going to explain how you can beat nerves and play with freedom, even on the big points.

Nerves can manifest in many ways in tennis. The battle with nervousness can start well before a match for many players. The moments before going on court in a tournament are a nervous time for almost all players.

Even the mighty Rafael Nadal gets so nervous before matches that he has to go to the bathroom sometimes up to five or six times.

Many factors can play on your mind before a match. For example, fear of failure; intimidation at facing a strong opponent; worry about making mistakes in front of spectators; and sometimes fear of letting down a coach, team or family.

These fears lead to tension in the muscles, and other unpleasant sensations, such as butterflies in the stomach and trembling. Nerves can also make it hard to concentrate and some players can feel spaced out and tired even before striking a ball.

For other players, nerves are confined to the big points, or to situations like serving for the set or match. Moments of pressure in a match can turn some players’ legs and arms to jelly, send their minds racing and disrupt their concentration.

How many times have you seen elite players wilt under pressure when facing a match point, or relinquish a lead because the pressure got to them? It’s a common problem for tour professionals as much as for beginners.

Some players feel nervous and self-conscious about particular shots. This can lead to avoidant, defensive play or a loss of swing power.

Again, you can observe this phenomenon at times at the top of the professional game. Consider Andy Murray’s second serve which can lose power when he’s nervous, or Novak Djokovic’s overhead which can let him down when the pressure’s on.

Some players struggle with a more general sense of nervousness in a match, which can seep into everything they do. This pervasive performance anxiety can become overwhelming. Some players, including elite players, end up quitting the game because of this.

1 – Accept that Nerves are Normal in Tennis

The first thing to accept about nerves in tennis is that they are normal and unavoidable. That’s one reason why I’m including references to top professionals in this article.

Nerves are an inherent part of the game. Everyone feels them, including the very best players in the world. There is nothing wrong you if you feel nervous at multiple points in a match.

The very structure of a tennis match makes nerves inevitable. The unique scoring system repeatedly creates pressure points where one player is poised to take all, the other to lose all. If you’re match point up or down you can’t avoid being aware of what’s at stake. That knowledge will make you nervous, at least to some extent.

The tighter the match, the more intense the nerves. This is a natural reaction to a stressful situation.

2 – Your Response to Nerves is the Problem, Not the Nerves Themselves

As with all emotional experience on court, the problem is not the emotion, but how we respond to the emotion.

Players who struggle with nerves (and most players do to some extent) are responding to their nerves in unhelpful ways which exacerbate the problem. They tend not to accept nerves as normal, and instead feel that nervous feelings need to be banished or resolved in some way.

For example, some players respond to nerves by talking to themselves, internally or out loud, perhaps trying to rationalize the anxiety away or soothe themselves with affirmations. They may also get distracted by the unpleasant sensations in the body which occur with anxiety.

This approach is counterproductive for a number of reasons.

When we feel nervous, what we need to be able to do is maintain concentration and stay present. We have to be alert and ready to play the next point.

By engaging with nerves, by trying to ‘work them out’ or even comfort ourselves, we are taking the mind out of the present moment and generating unnecessary mental activity. As though the experience of nerves wasn’t enough, we are adding fuel to the fire with our attempts to lessen our nervousness.

The only sustainable way to deal with nerves is to leave them alone.

Allow yourself to be nervous. It’s normal and you can’t avoid it. You need to learn how to notice your anxious feelings without responding to them, and then refocus on the task in hand.

I use a wide range of tennis-specific mindfulness practices with my clients to help them overcome nerves and maximize their ability to stay focused on the big points.

It takes practice, but with consistent practice over a number of weeks, you can develop a sense of complete comfort with nerves.

You can develop a newfound ability to play with freedom and courage.

You’ll relish the big points, rather than fearing them.

Anger In Tennis


The best way to control feelings of anger in a tennis match is to stop trying to control your anger. The best course of action is no course of action!

It may sound counterintuitive, but doing nothing is the best way to deal with your temper on court.

By doing nothing, I don’t mean you should continue doing what you usually do when you feel angry.

Usually, you respond to your feeling of anger with thinking and self-analysis.  You get involved with your anger. You take it seriously.

You justify your temper, believing that you need to respond to it in order to work it out, or get rid of it.

Perhaps you swear, or throw your racket, or berate the umpire, or curse your opponent.  Most likely, you curse yourself, either out loud or in the silence of your thoughts.

That’s right, for most players, anger is directed inwards.  We lash out at ourselves, with self-criticism and other unhelpful patterns of thought.

But what if you could just let go of anger, even welcome those uncomfortable feelings?

The first step is to acknowledge that anger itself is not the problem.  The problem lies in how we respond to anger.

Anger is a normal human emotion that all players will experience in tennis, sometimes multiple times in a match.

We should expect to feel angry sometimes in tennis.  It’s a demanding sport with a scoring system that constantly puts us on edge, with one player poised to take all, the other to lose all.

We’re not rewarded proportionately in tennis. We can win plenty of points in a game, but still lose it with nothing to show for our efforts.  We have to win the right points at the right time.

This explains why tennis is such a psychologically challenging game, and why so many players struggle with anger and lose their temper.

Overcoming Anger On Court

If you meddle with and respond to your angry feelings, then you’re adding fuel to the fire. There’s no time in a match to try to talk yourself out of being angry. The very act of trying to do this adds a layer of unnecessary thinking into an already overactive mind.

Likewise, acting out your anger by throwing your racket or shouting, apart from being embarrassing, is often counterproductive.  Sometimes it may bring temporary relief, but over time it exacerbates the problem, making angry episodes more likely.  This happens because the behavior reinforces the emotion, effectively encouraging it.

A more sustainable approach to anger management in tennis is to learn to leave anger alone and let it subside naturally.

This is hard because the emotional purpose of anger is to prompt an action.  Anger is useful if we are being physically attacked or need to motivate ourselves to resolve a problem or a social injustice.  Anger is not very useful in tennis, where a sense of deep concentration and calm are key drivers of success.

Sure, a ball struck in anger might sometimes result in a blistering winner.  But more often than not an angry shot will miss the mark.

John McEnroe is a great example of how anger impedes a tennis player.  McEnroe admitted in his autobiography ‘Serious’ that anger hindered rather than helped him on court.  Despite occasionally playing well after an angry outburst, in general it led to a decline in form.   He is clear that he would have been an even better player if he had been able to deal more effectively with his temper.

Fortunately there’s a lot we can do to improve our relationship with anger.

I’ve written before about an exercise which will help you to overcome anger on the tennis court.  This practice teaches you the importance of noticing and acknowledging anger – and then redirecting your attention.

The power of this exercise is enhanced substantially if you have already developed a range of tennis-specific mindfulness skills off court.  For this reason I teach my clients a broad repertoire of foundational and concentration-based mindfulness skills, as well as on court practices.

I also encourage players to notice when anger arises in their lives outside of tennis.

While anger sometimes has its uses in everyday life, there are also many times when anger is unhelpful.  When an unhelpful feeling of anger pops up, acknowledge it, notice what it feels like in the mind and body.  Practice being with that feeling without responding to it with an action. Remind yourself that this is a process of mental training.  You don’t have to be on court to practice this, or even in a tennis situation at all.

Finding a new and more productive way of dealing with anger is liberating.  It feels great not to be a slave to an emotion, when that emotion is leading you down a problematic path.

It feels great to relax into whatever your mind throws at you during a match – that’s what mental toughness in tennis really means.

It feels great to be a resilient, self-sufficient tennis player.  It feels great to be truly focused and present on court.

Above all, dealing better with anger during matches will lead to much better results, and greater enjoyment of match play.

Mental Toughness In Tennis


Mental toughness in tennis is not about ‘being tough’ in the traditional sense.

Toughness on court is not primarily about showing grit, determination, or courage, though all of these can be useful at times.

Rather, the mentally toughest tennis players adopt a gentle, light approach to their mental experience on court.

They are able to deal with the inevitable difficult emotions, pressures and events of matchplay with a sense of measured internal calm.

They have taken to heart the epic Rudyard Kipling quote inscribed above the players’ entrance to Wimbledon’s Centre Court:

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same…”

A tennis match contains multiple mini-Triumphs and mini-Disasters.  How we respond to those triumphs and disasters determines whether we play to our full potential or not.

Mental strength means not getting carried away by our experiences during a match, whether good or bad.  It means staying focused on what’s happening right here, right now.

We need to aim, as Kipling suggests, to respond with equanimity to whatever happens to us in a match.

We may have hit a fine winner and experienced an exhilarating rush as a result.  We still need to refocus immediately on the next point.

We may have hit a short ball into net and missed an open court. We still need to concentrate with full attention on the next point.

So, how do we treat triumph and disaster ‘just the same’ on court?

It’s not by being tough with ourselves.

The tougher we are to ourselves in our minds during a tennis match, the harder it is to find the ease, freedom and flow that we need to play our best.

Instead, we have to adopt a light mental touch. We need to develop an ability to notice our triumphs and disasters on court, accept them and move on quickly.

In a sense, we need to be soft not tough.  We need to be able to relax quickly, whatever is going through our mind.

This is the psychological skill that all the great champions have.

This might, at first, seem counterintuitive.  You might think that you have to try hard mentally in order to perform well in tennis and to control your emotions on court.

You might believe that you need strict mental discipline to maintain concentration during a match.  But ask yourself this: when you’re playing your best, when you’re in the zone, are you trying hard mentally? Are you being ‘tough’?

No. You’re actually in a state of deep flow and relaxation.  You’re not consciously doing anything much with the mind.  You’re in the moment. Right here, right now.

Ever notice what it feels like to make a mistake when you’re playing in the zone? It doesn’t feel like much at all.  We simply accept the mistake and move on.  We have an inner confidence, an inner peace which knows that the mistake is not meaningful.

Likewise, when we’re in that flow state, hitting winners might bring us a rush of positive emotion, but we don’t get distracted by those feelings.  We just let them be and move on.

This is real mental toughness.

But we don’t need to be playing in the zone to experience this mental approach to tennis.

Anyone can learn how to treat triumph and disaster just the same on court.

The key is to regularly practice noticing what’s going through our minds.

The key is to regularly practice allowing our experience to be as it is, without interfering with it or trying to change it.

The key is to regularly practice refocusing the mind on the present moment, on what’s happening right here, right now.

The more you try to interfere with your mental experience on court, the less calm, focused and mentally tough you’ll be.

The more you engage with emotions on court, whether positive or negative, the more distracted you will become.

The truly mentally tough mind is a mentally soft mind.  Understanding this is an essential part of mastering the mental game of tennis.

Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl’s Mindful Psychological Techniques


Did you know that Andy Murray learned mindful mental techniques from Ivan Lendl? Read my Huffington Post article on
why Murray should reconnect with what Lendl taught him in order to overcome his mental lapses and win Slams again.

Also, get my free report The Mindful Guide to Tennis Confidence by signing up for my Mindful Tennis Tips Newsletter via the sign up box on the right of your screen.

If you have any questions about Mindfulness-Based Tennis Psychology (MBTP), feel free to email me here.

All the best,

Neil

Tennis Psychology

———————————————————————————————————————-
Recent developments in sports psychology research are bringing fresh insights into tennis psychology.   There is now a significant and growing body of research evidence demonstrating that mindfulness meditation techniques enhance overall sports performance by increasing an athlete’s ability to function ‘in the zone’, by sharpening concentration and awareness and by improving accuracy.  In contrast, the old model of tennis psychology is based on Psychological Skills Training (PST), which research shows does not significantly enhance sports performance and can lead to a deterioration in performance.

PST theory suggests that athletes perform best when they are able to control their thoughts and emotions. In order to develop this ability, athletes learn PST techniques which seek to modify negative internal experiences and replace them with positive ones. But this approach simply encourages more cognitive activity (thinking), which draws the athlete away from flow states, and makes it less likely that he/she will enter ‘the zone’.

The Mindfulness-Based Tennis Psychology approach takes the opposite view – that athletes will perform to the best of their ability when they give up on trying to control internal experiences, and instead hold thoughts and emotions in a non-judgmental awareness, accepting whatever their internal experience is at any moment. This non-judging acceptance frees the athlete to place his/her attentional focus on the task in hand, rather than grappling with thoughts and feelings.

In the mindful approach to tennis psychology, we accept that we cannot control the initial frustration we feel when we double fault or slam a smash into the net. With practice we learn to simply experience that frustration and any associated thoughts (ie. ‘Not again! What’s wrong with me today, why can’t I play? I’ve practiced that shot a thousand times’ etc) before choosing to refocus our attention on the task in hand – the next point – rather than ruminate between points about how badly we’re playing, or how we’re going to have to practice extra hard after this match is over to make sure we don’t hit shots like that again.

Gradually, by practicing the mindful approach to tennis psychology, you will find that your negative responses to missed shots and lost points decrease, and that you are increasingly able to brush off mistakes and get on with the job.

Djokovic’s Mental Strength

——————————————————————————————————————–
Novak Djokovic may be the mentally toughest player in tennis, and the secret to Djokovic’s mental strength is mindfulness meditation.  The Serbian world number one reveals in his recent book Serve to Win, that mindfulness meditation enabled him to overcome self-doubt, recover quickly from mistakes and fulfil his potential as a tennis player.

Djokovic writes that since practicing mindfulness meditation he is now able to notice negative thoughts and let them pass by.  He explains that he can now focus fully on the present moment, processing pain and emotions without getting caught up in unnecessary thinking.  Djokovic’s mental strength, brought about by mindfulness practice, has resulted in him being the most consistent of the big four players since 2011.

Djokovic’s use of mindfulness meditation has also helped him become one of the greatest comeback players of all time.  His remarkable victories from match point down against Roger Federer at the US Open in 2010 and 2011, and against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the 2012 French Open were only possible because of Djokovic’s ability to remain calm on the big points and allow negative thoughts and fears to be there without engaging with them.

Djokovic’s mental strength, underpinned by mindfulness, is also expressed in his impressive sportsmanship.  Djokovic is the only one of the big four to regularly applaud excellent play by his opponents. In defeat, Djokovic is generous and dignified.  Despite tough losses this year to Nadal at Roland Garros and Flushing Meadow, and to Murray at Wimbledon, Djokovic offered warm and genuine congratulations to both, and expressed appreciation for the privilege of playing them.

Any tennis player can learn mindfulness meditation.  By practicing the meditations in the Mindfulness-Based Tennis Psychology course, you will be able to enhance your mental strength, as Novak Djokovic has.

How to Overcome Tennis Anger in 2 Mindful Steps

——————————————————————————————————————-
Go to any tennis club the world over and observe people playing.  Before long, you’ll see rackets thrown to the ground and screams of frustration and self-criticism at missed shots.  Tennis anger is common, and all tennis players experience it to some extent.   Even if we don’t lose our temper, or show outward signs of anger on court, we often get angry inside.  But as I wrote in my last post about John McEnroe, anger can limit our ability to play to our potential and can seriously dent our tennis confidence.

So, how do we overcome it?

Overcome Tennis Anger Step 1 – Notice and Acknowledge Anger

Before we can overcome anger, we need to become skilled at noticing when anger arises.  Most of the time we’re on automatic pilot, and we experience our thoughts and emotions in a kind of foggy blur.  To get out of autopilot, the next 3 times you play tennis, commit to the intention of noticing anger.  When you realise you’re angry on court, acknowledge it by saying silently to yourself, ‘there’s anger’.  Then take a few moments, before playing on.

Remember, there’s nothing wrong with anger.  It’s a normal human emotion, and we don’t have to get rid of it.  If we try to suppress it, it’s likely to re-emerge with more force later.  So, when it arises, just let it be there.  All you need to do is notice and acknowledge it.

You can continue this practice off the court at any other times when you feel anger arising (for instance, at work or at home). Practicing off the court will help you notice anger more effectively on the court.

Once you’ve practiced this step over 3 consecutive tennis sessions, move on to Step 2.

Overcome Tennis Anger Step 2 – Redirect your Attention

Now, whenever you play tennis, after doing Step 1 (noticing and acknowledging anger), redirect your attention to your breathing for 3 breaths.  You can tune in to your breathing in your nostrils, in your belly or in your chest, or anywhere where your breathing is vivid to you.  After the third breath, simply continue playing.

So, the whole practice now looks like this:

a) Notice Anger
b) Acknowledge Anger by Saying Silently, ‘There’s Anger’.
c) Redirect Your Attention to Your Breathing for 3 Breaths, Before Playing On.  

Practice Step 2 for a few weeks, and you’ll notice a real difference in how you respond to tennis anger when it arises on court.  These 2 Steps can be enhanced by regularly doing mindfulness meditations, which will help you develop your skills of noticing anger and redirecting your attention, as well as improving your on court concentration and ability to play in the zone.

John McEnroe and the Mental Game of Tennis

———————————————————————————————————————
No player exemplifies the mental challenges of tennis quite like John McEnroe.  His epic outbursts  provided colour to many a match, and the infamous ‘You cannot be serious!’ episode at the 1981 Wimbledon has gone down as one of the most iconic moments in sports history.

But would McEnroe have been a better player without the tantrums? The great man himself certainly thinks so.   He writes in his autobiography, ‘Serious’, that if he had had the ability to remain calm, he would have performed better.  Of course, one might say that with 7 Grand Slam titles to his name,  McEnroe was already performing to the top of his ability. But after his golden year of 1984 (42-match winning streak + victory at the US Open and Wimbledon), McEnroe never again won a singles Grand Slam.  Although he often played well in his later years on tour, he never made it past the semis in any of the Grand Slams, and had difficulty getting to grips with the high power games of younger tennis stars like Boris Becker.

McEnroe’s Temper – A Sign of Nerves and Fear of Losing

In fact, McEnroe is the first to admit that his temper often disrupted his rhythm, and was often an indication that he was about to choke.  He sees his anger as a response to nerves and a deep-seated fear of failure.  Unlike his rival Jimmy Connors, who diffused tension in matches by joking around, McEnroe expressed tension by losing his temper and lashing out.  In ‘Serious’, McEnroe displays great humility by apologising to all those who bore the brunt of his anger. Indeed, McEnroe reveals in his book that he often apologised to players and umpires after matches for his behaviour.

McEnroe’s book offers some intriguing insights into both his personal psychological make-up and tennis psychology more generally.  Beneath the tough exterior is a sensitive man, with ultra high standards instilled in him by his parents.  His drive to succeed is intense, as is his contempt for failure.  He describes his 1982 Wimbledon (reaching the final but losing to Jimmy Connors) as a ‘lousy’ tournament.  Hovering around 8 or 9 in the world rankings during the last 6 years of his career qualifies as ‘world class mediocrity’.  McEnroe judges himself so harshly that it’s hard not to feel sympathy for him.

McEnroe Never Enjoyed Competitive Tennis

It’s interesting to note that as a child, McEnroe would burst into tears whenever he lost, but never lost his temper.  Like Andre Agassi, McEnroe admits he never really enjoyed playing competitive tennis, finding the stress and loneliness of the sport hard to bear.  Every match was haunted by the fear of losing, especially at the height of his success when he was expected to win against all but the very best players.  Victory brought relief, rather than pleasure.

McEnroe had great natural ability and worked hard.  This translated into many years at the top of the game and 7 major singles titles.  He also spent more time engaging with the thought stream in his head than many other players, and I wonder if, ultimately, this prevented him from reaching his full potential.  His famous defeat by Lendl in the 1984 French Open final is a case in point, where a loss of mental composure cost McEnroe the title.

How many more Grand Slams might McEnroe have won had his mental game been stronger? Might he have been the Federer of his day if he had been able to disengage from his thinking and focus fully on playing each point?

How Andy Murray Can Improve his Mental Game and Win a Grand Slam

——————————————————————————————————————-
Andy Murray deserves his place among the elite top four players in the game, as he recently proved by winning three Asian Swing titles in a row, adding to his two Masters 1000 titles this season.  Murray can and does beat anyone.  In 2011, he’s beaten Djokovic and Nadal in finals, and remains one of the few players to have a winning record against Federer.

Yet unlike his elite rivals, Murray hasn’t come close to winning a Grand Slam.  His three major final appearances all ended in straight sets defeat, with the Scot unable to play to his potential on the biggest stages.  Likewise, Murray has put in lacklustre performances in crucial Grand Slam semi-finals, notably against Nadal the last two years at Wimbledon, and again at this year’s US Open.

Murray’s Mental Game

So, he’s capable of beating anyone, but can’t do it when it counts the most.  Murray’s friend and rival, world number one Novak Djokovic, has said that the only thing standing between Murray and a first Grand Slam win is his mental game.

There was no doubting Djokovic’s wisdom after Murray’s defeat against Nadal at Flushing Meadows.  Early on in the fourth set, Murray had the edge on Nadal, but when he netted a straightforward backhand and lost his chance to break Rafa in the second game, he slumped never to recover.

Murray spent time between points commentating on his own play, vocalising his frustration and trying to talk himself into playing better.  A similar situation arose in this year’s Wimbledon semi against Nadal, when Murray, leading by a set, missed a simple forehand, which sent him into irreversible decline and another defeat at the hands of the Spaniard. It’s clear that this negative, self-critical approach doesn’t work for Murray, yet he keeps doing it.

Learning to Disengage from Thinking on Court

What can Murray do to improve his mental game and win big? Learn to disengage from his thinking.  At the moment, when the pressure’s on and the stakes are high, Murray gets lost in his thoughts, trying to ‘work things out’ in his head.  This approach compounds his problem by increasing cognitive activity (thinking) and thereby making it much harder to play with flow and instinct.  In tennis, or any other sport, it’s simply not possible to think your way into the zone.

Rather than engaging with the thought stream in his mind, Murray needs to learn to let his thoughts be just as they are, and refocus on the task in hand.   A good way to do this is to develop mindfulness skills.  By regularly practicing short, daily mindfulness meditations, you can learn how not to get carried away by thoughts, and thereby remain fully focussed on whatever task you are engaged in.  If Murray developed such skills it would be much easier for him to let go of the negative thoughts which arise when he misses an easy shot at a crunch moment in a big match.

By not engaging with his thoughts, and refocussing his attention on his present-moment experience, Murray could free himself to play to his potential – and there’s no doubt that he has the potential to win one or more Grand Slams.