Three Ways I Overthink

Thinking is a real asset on the tennis court–except when it’s not. For me, thinking sometimes gets in the way of playing. My conscious brain gets in gear, and my shots go all to hell. But as they say, recognizing that you have a problem is the first step to solving it. Here, then, are three situations where thinking is my enemy.

Thinking about the opponents’ strategy. It’s pretty easy to tell when your doubles opponents are going to try something new. They get in a huddle and discuss.

I love doubles because of the strategy, but spending too much brain power trying to get inside my opponents’ heads is wasted energy. I end up being on guard for shots that may or may not come–and not fully primed for the shots that do. My mind is no longer in the moment but in the future.

Whatever strategy my opponents come up with mid-match, it’s likely to be their Plan B or C. If they excelled at whatever they’re going to be throwing at me, they’d probably have used that as their Plan A. Who knows if they’ll even be able to execute B or C?

Once I start overthinking and outguessing, my focus goes away from my game and the sting goes out of my shots. I don’t watch the ball closely because I’m too concerned about what might be happening on the other side of the net. The opponents end up winning points, not because of their strategy but because of my obsession with their strategy.

Deciding on my return before the serve. This one’s going to be controversial, I think. I know my coach won’t like it. But deciding what return to hit before I see the serve simply doesn’t work for me.

I have good variety in my return game. But hitting a lob return, for me, requires a certain type of ball. Same with hitting a slice, or driving it down the line. If I decide ahead of time to hit a particular return, and the serve doesn’t match up well with that shot, one of two things will happen. Either I’ll hit a weak return trying to execute what I planned to do, or I’ll completely mangle my return because I’m changing my mind. (My number one rule of tennis: Never change your mind!)

The downside of flying by the seat of my pants with my return is I can’t give my partner a head’s-up. If I hit a poor lob, my partner might not be prepared for the overhead that will be coming her way.

On the other hand, I’m less likely to hit a poor lob when I’m hitting the return I want, rather than the return I planned.

Thinking about my mistakes. I make mistakes. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, but you wouldn’t know it by how I react sometimes. I’ve been known to berate myself for not bending my knees on a half-volley or not following through on a backhand. But why? It’s counterproductive.

Recognizing what I did wrong is fine, but then I need to forget it and move on to the next point. Dwelling on errors only makes me tentative. I need to trust in my own abilities, turn off my brain, and just play. Yes, I’ll make mistakes. It comes with the sport. Even Nadal with all his topspin sometimes hits the ball out.

Truth be told, I probably overthink in many other match situations. But three is a nice number. Nobody’s going to read a blog post titled “57 Ways I Overthink.”

So when should I be thinking? For the sake of symmetry, here are three times: During warm-up when I’m assessing the opponents. When I’m losing and I need to find a solution. When I’ve made the same mistake three times in a row.

Does thinking ever get in the way of your playing? How do you turn it off? And what about the return of serve–do you like to figure out what you’re going to hit before the serve is struck?

Let me know what you think!

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