The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

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?

8 thoughts on “The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

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  1. Ah, consistency and focus. I feel like we could achieve every goal on Earth (world peace, anyone?), if we could only master those two elusive sprites. But alas, we are human. I love the idea of saying “bounce” and “hit” in your head while you play. That tool could bring mindfulness and focus into your game easily.

    So how do you remember to use the tips in the moment? How often I wish I had that skill. Maybe a regular meditation practice would help. I hear (and vaguely recall) that you can cultivate the ability to stay focused by meditating every day. I guess it couldn’t hurt. But what else works? I’m looking forward to that future post.

  2. Meditating is a smart idea. I think of doing it on match days, but of course that’s not enough. It needs to be a regular practice. Maybe I’ll try a couple of weeks of it and report back on how it affects my play. Or maybe we can all do a group experiment of the same thing– a LYB uncontrolled experiment on the efficacy of meditation. It’s actually not a bad idea…

  3. Everyone has “off” days, but I try to remember that every point is a new point – what just happened is over and each point is a fresh start. My husband is a lifelong baseball fan, and he always marveled at the focus of former Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez, who is #15 on the all-time home run list with 555 home runs. Ramirez was famous for his short-term memory deficiency that allowed him to bring the same level of confidence each time he was up to bat, regardless of whether he had struck out 23 times in a row. What happened in the recent past never impacted his batting – he looked forward. Every point is a new point!

  4. “What do I do to bring back my game when inspiration is sitting with the cool kids and ignoring my texts?” I love this line!!!! I also appreciate Eileen’s looking forward metaphor. Someone said on the court once, tell yourself, “I’m already over it.” And I will try to remember bounce and hit, when nothing else works. Inspiration is so far away, I don’t even have its number in my contacts!!!! Thanks Deb for adding more dimensions to our love of this game!

  5. I have meditated for at least 15 minutes every single day of 2018. My tennis game is the worst it’s been in recent history. But, that could be from NOT bringing my meditation practice into my game and having too much of real life creeping into tennis time. I know I’ve been better when I’ve just repeated the mantra “ball ball ball” (inducing focus) to myself as I’ve played… will start back up on that again. I think Eileen is onto something in just working on being in the here and now (hopefully without any short term memory problems!).

    And I always thought “bounce … HIT” came from Trisha!!!

  6. Uh-oh. So maybe meditation isn’t the panacea for all human failings that we’ve been led to believe? Bummer. I think I still may try it, though. I know I feel great on those rare occasions when I do meditate. Even if it doesn’t improve my tennis game, maybe I’ll just have more self-acceptance when I’m terrible.

    No, Trish didn’t invent bounce, hit. She may not know where it’s from either. She probably heard it from another pro. I’m only about 80% sure it’s from Inner Game.

  7. Also, re short-term memory loss, maybe I should sing Dory’s song after I miss a shot. “Keep on swimming. Keep on swimming.” Love that movie.

  8. Manny didn’t really have short-term memory issues….sports writers used that term to describe how he was able to block out his most recent batting performance, good or bad, in a sport where players are notoriously superstitious (they often have crazy pre-batting routines) and dwell on “streaks” and “slumps.”

Let me know what you think!

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