FlowState

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Olly Nelson
Olly Nelson

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How tennis is a battle of the mind and the body

Tennis is a sport that requires a large amount of focus and the flow state is crucial for success and playing your best game. Throughout my life, I have found tennis to be as much a battle with yourself as it is your opponent. Staying mentally stable during the most important moments can turn the tide of the match.

Tennis has been more of a lifestyle in my family, with my dad being a tennis coach and tennis balls and racquets everywhere in the garage, I'm sure lots of people can relate with their own families and favourite sports. When you have grown up with a sport, it's easy to forget how to enjoy it and have fun which is fundamental in being successful in any aspect of life. For many more competitive players, it may feel like a sport has been forced upon them and they were never given the opportunity to find what they enjoy and are talented at.

I have definitely felt this way about tennis in my life, it is hard to improve and get better when all you want to do is go home and do something else. This same idea applies in all sports and activities.

When you aren't having a good time out on the court, frustration, anger and boredom are just some of the emotions that flood your mind and overwhelm you. One concept tennis players often refer to is being 'asleep'. This is where on the court you start day-dreaming or lose focus and take your eye off the ball (literally) and loses you the point. This is something everyone has experienced and if you don't 'wake up' and become aware of what's happening, one point can become a game and a game can become a set. From experience I have found this most often happens when you have an advantage, you feel like you can take your foot off the gas a bit. But it is very easy to lose your advantage in a game like tennis, and comebacks are very common for this reason.

In professional tennis and club tennis, pressure can be a huge factor in deciding the victor too. That feeling of everyone watching you, having faith that you will beat your opponent, but they have no idea of the storm of thoughts and emotions swarming your brain. Tilt is all too common in tennis, we've all seen our favourite tennis stars smash their very expensive racquets.

"My family, they wouldn’t have allowed me to break a racquet. For me, breaking a racquet means I’m not in control of my emotions" - Rafael Nadal

Nadal's attitude towards tilt in tennis is one of the major reasons he is so successful in the tennis world. Djokovic may disagree though, being a major culprit of racquet smashing and displaying anger on court. Having said that, Djokovic's mental toughness is also unmatched, even if he occasionally has a tantrum...

Here is some clips from ATP matches of top players letting out their anger!

In the recent Australian Open, he displayed determination as he persevered through an abdominal injury in the third round and then went on to win the slam! Experience and prowess allowed him to beat the younger players and achieve his 9th Australian Open title.

The tennis 'Big Three' (Djokovic, Nadal and Federer) have maintained dominance of the sport for around 20 years now, and I think the idea of flow state and psychology can be used to understand this. Imagine stepping out of the locker rooms and walking up to the court to face one of the greatest tennis players and athletes of all time. How would you feel? You would feel nervous, stressed, anxious, paranoid etc. All of these emotions are just putting you at a disadvantage and the match hasn't even started yet. You would believe you are going to lose before you even start: 'How can I beat Nadal? He is practically unbeatable on clay courts!'. All it takes is that loss of faith and a good initiative by the other player to crush you on court.

Overall, I think sports psychology and diving deeper than just the ball and the racquet makes the sport that bit more interesting and can be used to understand how to be successful, but also how to stay healthy and have fun while playing. I would love to hear everyone else's takes on tennis and other psychological battles in sports or working out!

Thank you all for reading and I hope you enjoy your day!

Olly Nelson

Discussion (4)

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Abbey Shepard

I like the narrative around professional athletes here being 'bred' to centre their whole life around dominating a particular sport (primarily by their parents). You can see it with Andy Murray, the Williams sisters, Lewis Hamilton (Michael Jackson) etc. I often wonder how happy they really are and how it impacts their long term behaviour and self-identity if that obsession and identity were bred into them as a child.

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Olly Nelson Author

Yeah definitely, I think that is one reason that someone like Andy Murray has continued tennis even after his hip replacement. All he knows is tennis and it has been his whole life ever since he was a young child, so leaving something like that behind would certainly leave him in a bit of a mental crisis and feeling like he has no meaning. As you say, they've had that obsession bred into them and it makes you think how tough it was for them to keep up the sport and still find enjoyment in something that is like a lifestyle to them.

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Jessica

Wow! Very interesting 🎾

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Lee Wynne

This a brilliant read @olly 🎾 🎾 🎾 🙏🏽