Be a Better Player on Your Bad By Brandyn Fisher, Ph.D. hroughout my travels to junior and professional tennis events, I have seen some pretty crazy things that players have to deal with, so much so that I could write an entertaining book about it all. For example, I once saw a player who was behind 0-3 in the first set, launch all three balls into a pond behind the court, and then proceed to walk slowly to the tournament desk to get a new can of balls. I guess he didn’t like how he started off in the match. While this might be an extreme example, the point is that players have to learn to deal with adversity and figure out a way to keep charging ahead. As a competitive player, you are going to be exposed to a range of situations and challenges, and to be successful, you must be resilient.
Train for adversity, not to find the zone To become more resilient, players must build a tolerance to adversity, which is achieved by attacking challenges with a different mindset and attitude. Instead of trying to get into the “zone” each day, work on building a thicker armor that cannot be pierced by pebbles (petty events that happen during competition). The days when everything you do seems to work are few and far between. Instead, competition and training is full of random challenges and adverse moments. When asked how many matches in his career he would consider to have played “in the zone,” one former world number one said “about 20.” He was on the pro tour for over a decade and played nearly 800 matches in his career. Interestingly, he said he did not really improve at the pro level until he became a better performer on his off days. Bring your bottom end up Players who improve their bad days make bigger jumps than those who want to make their good days even better. Instead of trying to find your “Zone,” work on bringing your bottom end up. You will improve more if your mental performances are consistent from the good days to the bad days. Instead of striving for the highest level of physical performance every practice or every match, work on day-to-day mental consistency, which means you have a high level of mental engagement regardless of how well you are playing. Once you can accomplish mental consistency, then you can turn your attention to reaching the top one percent of your performance.