Differentiating mental state and luck
I am a born skeptic. I feel like many times people improperly dismiss what happens in a match as being mental, when very often I think it is more likely to be due to either luck, change in strategy, or physical adaptation that results in changes in momentum during a match.
For instance, I often find that my performance in first and second sets is always very different. I do not attribute this to my mental state most of the time.
For instance, in matches where I lose the first set badly and win the second set or play a competitive second set, it is almost always because I feel something is wrong with my stroke production. I can tell within 2 minutes of warmup whether my stroke production is good or bad. I sometimes suffer from yips, where I come onto court and certain strokes seem impossible to hit for the first few minutes, and eventually they return to good form.
It makes no sense that I would randomly be in this mental state where I step on the court and can't hit a stroke, yet other times I can hit perfectly from the very first shot. Instead I think that I'm going through ups and downs in my muscle memory for whatever reason, maybe because I'm still trying to develop and refine my strokes.
In matches where I play a good first set and lose the second set badly, its almost always because my strokes are working from the start, so I come out strong against an opponent who isn't quite prepared to deal with my game. Then my opponent figures out what is going on and makes the necessary strategic adjustment to neutralize my game. Its not because I choke once I realize that I can win the match, because I can see the opponent getting better, and not me getting worse.
My question to other posters is this...can you tell if your mental state is affecting your game negatively or is it subconscious? Particularly if you choke away a lead? I can admit there have been a few moments where I felt pressure and it affected my game in a choking kind of way, but its definitely more of the exception than the rule. Still, I've blown some 5-1, 4-2, 5-2 leads and I think it was a case of bad luck or my opponent figuring something out more than anything.
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