Overcoming Match Pressure When it Matters Most
Whether playing in a local tournament or at the professional level, all tennis players have experienced pressure at some point during their career. What separates the tennis greats from those who go unnoticed is the ability to overcome pressure and even use it to their advantage.
As a former WTA player, Eva Borras noticed a gap in her mental training, which inspired her to pursue a career as a sports psychologist. By combining her experience as a player with the education she has received in the psychological field, Borras strives to help other athletes overcome the pressures of competition.
Although tennis players devote ample time to match preparation during practice, it is easy for emotion to take over on competition days. “Different players have different struggles, but most of the time, expectations are the main problem. Expectations cause players to think too much about winning. How you control your expectations and how you control your thoughts is key. Your expectations will impact how you think, and how you think translates to how you compete,” explained Borras.
According to Borras, learning to recover from unfavorable situations throughout the course of a match is the key to overcoming pressure. She points to professional players, who often take one or two points to regroup from a tough play. On the other hand, inexperienced players may dwell in the negative thoughts, and before they know it, the match is over.
Matches are the consequence of how you prepare every day.
To deal with the unfavorable situations, Borras uses a number of different approaches depending on the individual player she is working with. Techniques include writing down thoughts and feelings, visualization, and most importantly, goal-setting. “Matches are the consequence of how you prepare every day,” she explained.
Borras is a proponent of creating stressful, match-like situations for players throughout practice in order to prepare them for competition. Within that environment, coaches should aim to teach players techniques for responding to pressure, namely through communication.
“I have a lot of experience with players who don’t express the negative thoughts they are having about their performance. It’s really important to teach them to express that through writing and through speaking,” said Borras. “If they keep negativity to themselves, it’s going to result in pain, injuries, and uncontrollable situations. It’s really important to have control. The mind is connected to the body.”
It’s really important to have control. The mind is connected to the body.
WTA Tour coach and WTCA CEO Sarah Stone has experienced a vast amount of success in helping her players deal with pressure by encouraging them to engage in healthy communication. “By building strong and supportive relationships, particularly with my female players, they are more willing to open up to me about their struggles. Once we open this line of communication, I am able to help my players overcome pressure by getting them the help they need, whether it be through a sports psychologist or through specific on-court techniques,” said Stone.
As demonstrated by Stone’s success with her athletes, a healthy line of communication between coach and player is key to success in overcoming the pressures of a match. “As a coach, you must accept and understand your player. The player has to feel that the coach understands and is there for him or her. That unconditional support and understanding is key. When you understand the player, then it’s easier to help them,” Borras explained.