The Mentally Resilient Athlete: The How-To of Managing On-Court Emotions

The Mentally Resilient Athlete: The How-To of Managing On-Court Emotions

Are you able to manage your emotions in the heat of battle?   Have your runaway negative emotions cost you a set or even a match?

It is not uncommon to see a tennis player act out or internally implode after things don’t go their way during a match.  There are a number of incidents that can push a player to the mental breaking point during a match such as: a bad line call, unforced errors, double fault, losing a set to a lower-ranked opponent, having an off day, or personal issues outside of sport.  Most of the time, it is not just one thing that causes a player to self-combust but rather a combination or buildup of incidences.

Just so you understand, emotions are normal and not necessarily bad for performance.  For example, anger after hitting a ball long can be motivating for some players and an impetus for better effort in later points.  Emotions detract from performance when they pull your focus from your game or when intense emotion morphs into frustration.  Frustration, without a doubt, is the most counter-productive emotion for a tennis player.  Frustration is a strong negative emotion coupled with a belief that you are incapable of changing your current circumstances.

Emotional management is a core component to mental resiliency or mental toughness.

Suppressing or bottling up emotions is not an effective strategy because you become an emotional powder keg ready to explode.  The key is to learn to manage emotions in an effective manner during a match so your focus and effort can be applied towards playing at your peak.

One tennis player who has received much attention for his inability to manage on-court emotions is the very talented Nick Kyrgios.  Kyrgios has been working on managing his emotions in a more effective manner.

Kyrgios talked about how he is in a better place mentally this year and how he has been working on managing his emotions

KYRGIOS:  “I think it’s starting in practice. Every time I go on the practice court, I try and be positive, try and have fun, not being too hard on myself. I was in a pretty dark place [last year]. Even [though I was ranked] 13 last year, but I wasn’t in a good place mentally at all.

In the 3rd Round at the Miami Open, Kyrgios had a couple of outbursts; reprimanding a ball boy for a bad throw (which he apologized to the ball boy afterwards) and throwing his racquet to the ground in the third set (which he rebounded from to win the match in straight sets).

The reason for using Kyrgios as an example is to demonstrate that managing emotions is a skill that requires attention.  The more you can learn to be in charge of your emotions, the better prepared you will be to play consistent tennis through the ups and downs of each competitive match.

Strategy for Managing your On-Court Emotions:

  1. Be aware of which situations set you off emotionally.
  2. Identify the early warning signs of your performance-detracting emotions.
  3. Have a re-focusing plan for when your emotions start to get the better of you. For example, “If ‘X’ happens, I will do ‘Y’.”
  4. Implement this strategy in practice. Managing your emotions is a skill requiring practice.