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Expect the unexpected

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Originally published on 01/05/13

Tennis and psychology go hand in hand at all levels. Anyone who has spent time around their local club, at tournaments, or simply watched the professionals on TV will have witnessed rackets fly, outbursts, and the distorted rage on the faces of those who’ve missed just one too many forehands that day.

Some of the game’s most infamous moments stem from players losing it but are negative outbursts always a bad thing? “No they’re not,” says psychologist Roberto Forzoni, who has worked with many British players, including Andy Murray. “But, from my experience, 99 per cent of the time it is a bad thing because many players haven’t developed the ability to get back to where they need to be quickly after an outburst.

"A great example is Andy himself. He used to have outbursts on the court and couldn’t get back on track. Whereas with his maturity he has learned how to deal with that.”

It’s said that a tennis player has two opponents on court – the opposition and their own mind. Tight matches often boil down to who copes best with the variety of scenarios presented during a game so it’s vital for all players – club standard or professional – to develop a set of skills to help them stay focused on the task in hand.

Forzoni says the first stage to seeing off unwanted negative emotions is to expect things to go wrong. That way you can plan for them.

"Players don’t like listening to that,” he said. “And they don’t like talking through it but it’s a massively beneficial experience and journey. If you go down the positive route and think that everything is going to be good if you do x, y and z then you’ve nowhere to go if everything’s not good.

“I’ve worked with football teams where they’ve had psychologists come in and they’d have a big match and everything’s going to be great and then they go one-nil down and they haven’t got a ‘what if’ scenario.”

Another important thing to remember, says Forzoni, is if you play roughly 120 points in a match you could lose 50 and still win.

“Tennis players are perfectionists. They want to play the perfect match. But it gives players comfort to know that, alright, I can lose 50 points here and still win. So there’s one I’ve lost and there’s two but I’m still okay and there’s a long way to go.”

Finally, Forzoni adds, it’s vital to have an idea of what you hope to achieve in each match. “It’s about getting players to have three key objectives – tactical, technical and mental – and getting them to achieve those."

Sport is all about being as good as you can be throughout each and every moment and having the concentration and confidence to use your skills to their full extent in spite of the pressure. This philosophy requires bravery, the bravery to control your fear and to play freely without the tension that fear imposes – to PlayBrave.

This article appeared in tennishead Volume 4 Issue 2. Subscribe to the magazine today or download tennishead on iTunes.

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