Remember that the ball is always in your court: Using Anchors and Affirmations to Gain Mental Toughness
The anchor and affirmation technique will help players play in the moment and find a resourceful state, one point at a time.
‘I want to play the same way in a match as I do in practice,’ is one of the most common wishes for tennis players who struggle with the mental component of the sport. Tennis performance in and of itself is extremely dependent on one’s mindset. However, a powerful mindset technique called anchors and affirmations can support tennis players struggling with mental toughness.
According to motivational speaker and High-Performance Coach, Emma Doyle, anchors and affirmations have been the most successful mindset tool she has implemented with many players of varying ages and standards throughout her career. In a sport dependent on rhythm, anchors and affirmations help players get centered and into a resourceful state to play each point on its merit and compete to the best of their ability.
The Relationship Between Anchors and Affirmations
The first step to this mindset tool is developing an anchor, which is a physical trigger or specific stimulus that is linked neurologically to a past intense positive and competitive experience. Some examples of anchors include;
- Pressing the thumb on the vibration dampener
- Putting the left or right index finger on the throat of the racquet
- Touching a necklace (that you always wear)
- Tapping your right thigh twice with your right hand
- Placing your thumb, index finger and middle finger together on your left or right hand
The next step is to link this anchor with an affirmation, which is a short, sharp statement that must include the words I, me, or my and helps players stay in the present. Examples of affirmations include;
- ‘I can do it’
- ‘I believe in me’
- ‘I am ready’
- ‘I am all in’
- ‘I belong here’
- ‘My game, my way’
- ‘I am here and now’
“The anchor is what triggers the capacity to remember to say the affirmation,” explained Doyle. “You first fire off your anchor (the physical trigger) which prompts the positive statement (the affirmation) to help find a resourceful state before each point. Being in state is really important in a tennis match when there is usually no dedicated ending or time limit. A match can last as long as it takes for you to solve the problem and find solutions to win that last point.”
In the 20 seconds a player has between points, your anchor and affirmation should be fired off in the few seconds right before you carry out your serve or return or serve ritual. “You already know your overall strategy, you have selected your tactical objective for the point, now it is time to trust your training and give yourself every opportunity to let it be,” said Doyle.
Choosing the Anchor and Affirmation
Players often choose their anchors and affirmations after completing a process of visualization, accessing a state where they are either remembering a past intense experience or imagining being as if, which entails thinking about how they want to play in the future.
Most importantly, the anchor and affirmation must come from the player themselves. “As coaches, we need to remember that our job is to unlock the learning environment, through a process of following and leading. We must passionately believe that the answers live within the player and the important role that we play in understanding how to help them discover those answers. Anchors and affirmations are so powerful when they come from the player themselves,” said Doyle.
Doyle has been using the technique of anchoring and affirmations ever since studying neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a practical body of knowledge about human communication, behavior and performance. NLP focuses on how our thinking affects how we feel and how our feelings affect how we behave.
According to Doyle, the key to successfully implementing anchors and affirmations is through sensory acuity. In the context of NLP, sensory acuity is the ability to use all of our senses when you are ‘remembering a time’ or imagining ‘being as if‘. For example, you may recall the smell of the courts, the sound of the ball, your visual surroundings and how you felt on that day. “You can start by picking a physical trigger. Make sure it’s specific, and then pick a short, sharp, positive statement. Make sure that it lives right before the ritual within your between-point routine,” she said.
Using the Anchor and Affirmation When it Matters Most
Anchors and affirmations are only effective when utilized fully during both practices and matches. To get the highest return, Doyle recommends players commit to their anchor and affirmation for at least six months. By committing fully in practice, the player will be more apt to use their anchor and affirmation during high-pressure situations in a match.
“The more pressure you’re under, the more useful this technique is,” Doyle added. “It really is something that does need to be honed in practice. A lot of people say to me, ‘I just want to play like I do in practice.’ If you really want to do that, make sure that you do your anchoring and affirmations both in realistic practice conditions and during a match.”
Your Anchor and Affirmation Checklist
Finally, Doyle offers three pieces of advice to tennis players in regard to choosing their anchors and affirmations. First, they must make sure they are either ‘remembering a time’ (from a previous positive match experience) or imagining ‘being as if .’ Second, they must commit fully to this technique for a minimum of six months. Finally and most important of all is trust. “Trust you’ve chosen the anchor and affirmation that’s going to unlock the best possible version of yourself,” she urged.