Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How to tune out on court distractions

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Contributor

Have you ever been in a match where you've been completely in-tuned, focused, and driven when suddenly some clown comes onto the court next to you and starts pulling the curtains and setting up the ball machine? Absolute mental chaos! What's really frustrating is so many of us are pretty good at tuning out silly distractions: music, arguments, players tumbling on the court--the works. So why is it that some external distractions throw us completely for a loop? And how do you manage to pull yourself together and stop the mental downward spiral?

A streaker prances across Centre Court before the men's 1996
Wimbledon final. Talk about a distraction!
On court distractions come in all forms; lessons next to you, viewer chatter, grunting, kids squealing, power outages, water leaks, rain, wardrobe malfunctions, bad string job, lights shattering overhead (yes, that happened), fist fights (also happened). I can go on and on and on--and on and on. The thing is its these distractions that test your mental strength on the court, which can be the difference between a win and loss. The real test is figuring out how to refocus quickly after one of these disruptions attempts to shatter your attention, so here are some quick tips on how to do just that!
  • Drink water and stay hydrated. Being even a little dehydrated will make you feel tired and sluggish, which can make it possible to become easily distracted. 
  • Get enough sleep the night before a match. Lack of sleep makes you tired, irritable and completely disrupts your ability to focus. 
  • Be aware. Yes that person who's obnoxiously cheering for your opponent from the sidelines is annoying the crap out of you, but now that you've acknowledged it you can now regroup and focus back on the game. What tends to happen when we come onto the court without being aware of say darker lighting or that there's a cheering squad for your opponents, is you'll start to notice these things say while waiting on return of serve--you know, moments that really call for your full attention.  
  • Use a cue word, "Calm. Focus. Strong. Control. Breathe." This is actually one of my favorite ways to regroup after a distraction. Of course it only works when you remember to use it, so this is something you'll want to continually repeat before points so that at moments when you really need to be alert, these cue words will eventually become a light-switch to tuning out all the static intruding your mind. 
  • Plan ahead. When you make a game day plan/routine, you are actually organizing your thoughts which helps focus your attention to what's relevant to your game instead of distracting thoughts. 
Like in life, there are some things that are going to be out of your control. Sure, you can try to tell the club manager to cancel all other fitness classes and drills during your tennis match, but I'm not sure how much headway you'll get with that. Instead, redirect your attention to the things you CAN control. I love blaming a bad match on anything but me, but really I knew I should've gotten a better night sleep or I should've left for the match earlier rather than freak for being late. Hey, we're human. The point is have a plan of attack on how to avoid becoming a victim to the next distraction, whatever it may be. So next time you see that ball machine being rolled out onto the next court, you can just tell yourself, "bring it on!"

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