You know those days when the ball looks like a giant beach ball, slow and huge and un-missable? Those days when you split-step and watch the ball and follow through and just can’t stop hitting winners?
Today was not one of those days. I looked at my target and not the ball. I didn’t bend my knees. I ran through my shots or got set too soon.
Honestly, I couldn’t hit the side of a barn, as the saying goes.
So that raises two questions in my busy little brain:
One, why is it that my game can be wildly different from day to day, while some other players bring the same steady play every time they take the court?
And two, on days when my game has gone so far off the rails, what can I do to bring it back?
Here’s my hypothesis about question one. Consistent players focus on clean form and fundamentals. Inconsistent players focus on results.
When you’re focused on your form, good things invariably follow. You’re not thinking about hitting a winner. You’re thinking about what your forehand should feel like as you hit it. When you’re focused on form, you may get beaten, but you will not beat yourself.
When you’re focused on results, spectacular things follow IF you happen to be having an inspired day. But inspiration is a fickle, fickle friend.
In the absence of inspiration, actual work needs to happen. Actual work means paying attention to the mechanics of producing solid shots. And when you’re not used to paying attention day in and day out, it can be hard to bring the focus back to where it ought to be.
Which brings me to question two. What do I do to bring back my game when inspiration is sitting with the cool kids and ignoring my texts? How do I bring my focus back to the mechanics of my shots?
Two techniques have worked well for me in the past, although I didn’t think of using them today. (That’s a post for another day–how to remember my tennis tips when I need them!)
The first thing I should have done is say to myself “There’s no one over there.” In saying this mantra, I picture myself in a tennis lesson or clinic. There are no opponents on the other side of the net. It’s just an instructor feeding me the balls, and all I’m doing is working on my shots.
I think this second technique comes from the book The Inner Game of Tennis, but it’s now a standard part of every teaching pro’s toolbox. The trick is to say “Bounce” as your opponent’s shot bounces in front of you and “Hit” as you hit the ball. Sounds silly, but this trick improves your focus on the ball and gives your brain something to do besides obsess over what a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad player you are.
Ideally, of course, I’d focus on my form all the time and just become one of those wonderfully consistent players I admire. But until that happens–or until inspiration decides we’re BFFs again–I need to start relying on my mental tricks to rein in my erratic game.
Is your tennis game consistent or streaky? Do you have any tips for fixing a terrible, horrible tennis day?