How to deal with nerves

How to deal with nerves before/during matchplay? If it's a recreational match, no problem. But a league match, it's worse. I hate getting tight; it kills my game if I let it get to me. This seems to be a common problem across the board, and pros even mention it occasionally. Any thoughts?
 
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Fintft

Legend
  1. Also play more matches
  2. Don't think about the result, but about the next point, what do you need to do at that moment
  3. Inner book of tennis has pointers such as how you focus on your (abdominal) breathing while waiting for the ROS, etc
  4. Breathe in general: take a couple of deep breaths, start exhaling as you start your swing etc.
 

Dartagnan64

G.O.A.T.
1) Don't play on a "Win at All Costs" league team. Find a team that plays for the love of competition not for the love of winning.
2) Realize no one will think more or less of you as a person if you don't win a rec league tennis match
3) Before every point think to yourself "Loose grip, watch the ball". Then you don't have time to think about being tight or nerves
4) Breathe
 

user92626

G.O.A.T.
You're just a bit shy, especially not being in this specific situation too much before, like public speaking, meeting chicks first time. :)

Just push yourself to be out there and do more. Alot more. You will be fine.
 

RiverRat

Professional
I've played tennis for 50 years. I've been a pretty accomplished player. Still, I could be playing a 10-pointer and not make a confident swing. Nerves are going to happen. I think you need to recognize when they happen in practice and learn how to deal with them then, before the bigger matches you play. Acknowledging when you gagged on a shot is the first step to recovery. I'm joking a little, but you can't fake confidence. You need to build it in practice and take it to your matches. Never ignore it. It will only sneak up on you.
 
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There's good advice above. I struggle with this too, and have been thinking about it. The real driver for me is knowing someone might see all my losses on a league score sheet (which isn't even that likely in a private league!) I tell myself "I'm playing in a 3.5 league with only 4mos experience - I shouldn't be winning!" But it doesn't work. I need to learn to not care.

I started reading "Inner Game of Tennis" and am starting to learn to just trust my body to get the ball over the net. The fun part is, I'm now starting to notice things I didn't before, and thus improvements subconsciously happen. So I've been doing better and it's fun watching my game improve, but it all needs to set in a little deeper for me to not care about losing.
 

Shroud

G.O.A.T.
I played on my HS team and then tournaments and leagues in my early 20s, went to state...lol I was in my early 20s and all the other guys were 30+. I played doubles but the 2nd day in they were all wiped and I got to play singles...with an audience. Man I was ok but my TOSS was a disaster. My nerves would make my fingers not let the ball go on time and it was horrible. Probably not anyones issue but I fixed the toss by not using my fingers...just knuckles to hold the ball. No matter how nervous I get the fingers never mess up the toss because they can't shake in that position.
 
There's good advice above. I struggle with this too, and have been thinking about it. The real driver for me is knowing someone might see all my losses on a league score sheet (which isn't even that likely in a private league!) I tell myself "I'm playing in a 3.5 league with only 4mos experience - I shouldn't be winning!" But it doesn't work. I need to learn to not care.
Learning not to care might be a short-term expedient but I don't think it's the long-term solution. Caring about something is what drives us. If you really didn't care, why bother playing?

Instead, you need to learn that nerves and tension and doubts and fears are normal. Pros have them too. The difference is that they know how to deal with them, as opposed to trying to construct an impenetrable wall or "not caring". Once you accept that losing is part of the game and it's not the end of the world, you can embrace the competition, win or lose.

Also, a piece of advice: other people care a lot less about your matches than you think they do. It's not that they don't care about you; they just have a million other things to care about.
 
How to deal with nerves before/during matchplay? If it's a recreational match, no problem. But a league match, it's worse. I hate getting tight; it kills my game if I let it get to me. This seems to be a common problem across the board, and pros even mention it occasionally. Any thoughts?
You have to figure out what drives you: if it's winning, you're going to tense up any time you're competing. But if you focus on the process, you can more easily play loosely because you're sense of self-worth is not tied to the outcome.

One of the single best videos on the topic:

 

toth

Professional
For me the serve, expecially the toss is clearly weaker under pressure.
I learn the topslice sev serve since a month, (my kick sec serve try to learn was not siccesfull) much better if there is no pressure.
My groundies are fortunately decent under pressure.
 

zaph

Professional
My advice is to play conservatively at the start and don't let the scoreboard runaway with you. Take your time and go for high percentage shots. Once you have relaxed, that is the time to be more aggressive.
 

fuzz nation

G.O.A.T.
How to deal with nerves before/during matchplay? If it's a recreational match, no problem. But a league match, it's worse. I hate getting tight; it kills my game if I let it get to me. This seems to be a common problem across the board, and pros even mention it occasionally. Any thoughts?
I've coached high school teams for several years and another coach I've known for a while got talking about this once. His team included one of the top girls in the state and he had to talk with her about managing the nerves. He encouraged her to not be too at odds with them when they show up... because they're gonna show up, especially in any match that carries more significance than usual. There's huge value in understanding that it's okay to be nervous. As this coach sees it, the trouble happens when we assume that we shouldn't get nervous or that we can just switch it off when the nerves creep in. When we fight the inevitable, that's when we forget how to play.

One of the practice scenarios I like to encourage the kids to use sometimes is to play perhaps a tiebreak where they completely utilize some new tactic or style of shot no matter what, even if that's going to make them lose every point. This can free them up between the ears to more readily embrace something that they're trying to learn to use in their matches. Much more constructive than fixating on merely not losing the point or not missing a shot - that's when we play like we're standing in an invisible snow drift and start wielding our racquets like snow shovels.

Sometimes I refer to that practice scenario as "losing on purpose". Heavy on the "purpose" I guess. If you can try it with a hitting pal on the practice grinder, it might be good for helping your mind's eye stay on track with a certain tactical blueprint from one point to the next. Or if you're trying to put maybe a new spin serve or funky backhand to work, this is a good way to learn to trust it no matter the outcome.
 

RiverRat

Professional
Another thing that comes to mind about nerves is not trying to be overly calm before the match. Where others attempt to calm themselves before matches I like to whip myself up a bit. The reason is that it's not being nervous that incapacitates, it's the reaction to the nerves that amplifies them to the point of being incapacitated. That's why I said in my earlier post that it's important to always recognize the nerves early because they're more easily managed when they are at max amplitude.
 

Dartagnan64

G.O.A.T.
You have to figure out what drives you: if it's winning, you're going to tense up any time you're competing. But if you focus on the process, you can more easily play loosely because you're sense of self-worth is not tied to the outcome.
I think part of what drives anxiety is not being in control and often with losing, you aren't in complete control as the opponent may be playing better than you that day.
So I think that even if winning and losing is big for you, during a match, trying to concentrate on things in your control is important. Just like in doubles when your partner is playing poorly. You can let it drag you down or you can choose to focus on what you can control.

So if you get into a losing situation, you need to evaluate, "What is in my control" and keep it simple. I suggest a basic thing like "keep my head still" or "loosen my grip" or deep breaths between points. Even things like taking time to straighten the racket strings or pick which ball to serve with. Things you can directly change no matter what the opponent is doing. That takes your mind away from the score and puts it back into your control.
 

Raul_SJ

G.O.A.T.
I think part of what drives anxiety is not being in control and often with losing, you aren't in complete control as the opponent may be playing better than you that day.
Even if we take the opponent out of the picture, there is a lot of randomness to it. It is very difficult to wrap your head around the fact that there will be a certain number of random unforced errors.

Rec players can certainly put it in the practice to help minimize those unforced errors but there will always be a great number of unforced errors randomly occurring throughout the match.

Even with practice, it is not really under your control.

That is the reality.

When you are down match point, you must hope that one of those random unforced errors do not happen. Ideally, you must forget the score and play it like any other point in the first set. Easier said than done.
 
Even if we take the opponent out of the picture, there is a lot of randomness to it. It is very difficult to wrap your head around the fact that there will be a certain number of random unforced errors.

Rec players can certainly put it in the practice to help minimize those unforced errors but there will always be a great number of unforced errors randomly occurring throughout the match.

Even with practice, it is not really under your control.

That is the reality.

When you are down match point, you must hope that one of those random unforced errors do not happen. Ideally, you must forget the score and play it like any other point in the first set. Easier said than done.
I think many people believe they have a much greater degree of control over things than they actually do. I happen to believe there is a lot more randomness out there and I'm OK with that.
 

Raul_SJ

G.O.A.T.
I think many people believe they have a much greater degree of control over things than they actually do. I happen to believe there is a lot more randomness out there and I'm OK with that.
I find that I often get a better result if I just accept there will be a large number of unforced errors. But this is somewhat at odds with the mindset of practicing hard to reduce unforced errors... It is almost like "not caring" will generate a better result. It is somewhat of a paradox.
 

jdawgg

Rookie
A player that I looked up to (he's like a 5.5 now) tried to teach me many years ago that to settle his nerves he would only focus on one thing: looking at the tennis ball. He tried to make the only thought in his head to be staring at that ball. He even made it a little game to see if he could pick up some of the lettering.

I think I tried it but didn't really understand at the time the mental strength that goes into that. It felt like a cliche that a lot of people said. I didn't really get it until I gained a lot more experience. The mental effort required to think of only staring at a tennis ball is difficult for just one game let alone a whole match. That tip, in the end, served me well in many, many matches. It doesn't have to be just staring at the ball either, I often use my breathing as the one thing I'm thinking about and it works great. I make sure I'm taking good breaths during the point and exhaling during my shot.

I know The Inner Game talks about self 1 and self 2 or conscious vs subconscious. Let your subconscious play tennis and you will be in the zone (not thinking at all), the closest you can get to that is just by thinking of one thing.
 
I find that I often get a better result if I just accept there will be a large number of unforced errors. But this is somewhat at odds with the mindset of practicing hard to reduce unforced errors... It is almost like "not caring" will generate a better result. It is somewhat of a paradox.
I think there's a difference between "not caring" and "acceptance". I think the former is mostly passive while the latter is more active.
 

Raul_SJ

G.O.A.T.
I think there's a difference between "not caring" and "acceptance". I think the former is mostly passive while the latter is more active.
I've seen some USTA 3.5 players get really nervous at the start of every match and fall way behind in practically every match. When it becomes evident that they are not gonna likely win the match, they suddenly get loose and start playing at a much higher level. Sometimes almost pulling the match out. Maybe they just need to start out the match thinking they are 1-5 down.
:unsure:
 
I've seen some USTA 3.5 players get really nervous at the start of every match and fall way behind in practically every match. When it becomes evident that they are not gonna likely win the match, they suddenly get loose and start playing at a much higher level. Sometimes almost pulling the match out. Maybe they just need to start out the match thinking they are 1-5 down.
:unsure:
It doesn't just happen at 3.5.

I remember an insightful comment from my HS coach about X playing very loosely: "He's too tired to be tight."
 
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