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.