So, you’re on serve in the 3rd. You have not been serving too well so far, but it has been good enough to stay in it. You step to the line… Toss…. “Out.” Love-15. Second try: “Out.” Love-30…
What are you going to do? Buckle down or get the next serve in with the same authority and placement that you have all year.
Before we can answer that question, it is more important to ask ourselves “What is going on?” And for those of us who have faulted four in a row (maybe even in the Semi-Finals of a National tournament – I know this too well), we may not even know what is going on. And there is the problem and solution. You must know what is happening psychologically and physically in order to overcome it.
Many paddle players tend to experience a state of anxiety due to the “One Serve” rule. Often tennis players have absolutely no problem with their first serve in tennis because they know that they can rely on their second serve as a back up. Thus, the pick a target, reach back, and serve it hard with maybe a little spin. But, in paddle, this is rarely the case.
When we experience anxiety during the serve, it can have major effects to the serving motion. Luckily, there is a reason. A high state of anxiety can occur when we have negative expectations and negative evaluations of self, the situation, and the consequences. Let’s go back to the example: If you fault the first two points of a game, you may encounter negative expectations of our ability to serve effectively.
We can lower our chances of experiencing a high level of anxiety by increasing our preparation time and increasing confidence. For now, I want to focus on the fact that once we are in a high state of anxiety, what symptoms do we look for and how do we adjust accordingly?
In order to recognize symptoms of anxiety, you must first know what symptoms to look for. You will notice a general sense of nervousness, but you should also be aware that your hear rate will increase, your muscles will tighten (most noticeably your hands, shoulders, and neck), your breathing rate will increase by taking shorter, more shallow breaths, you will sweat more, and even your digestive system will start to shut down (that’s the “butterflies” you may feel in your stomach). Even your decision-making process speeds up and we can’t concentrate.
You must recognize that you are having these physiological responses. Without identifying these reactions, you can’t change them.
Now, we CAN change them by adjusting to those responses by relaxing our shoulders, loosing our grip, taking deep breaths, etc. The muscles in our body will increase with tension and makes it almost impossible to serve freely – or do anything on the court freely.
There are two things that you can try. First, if your first move with your paddle during the serve is to bring it up, try dropping the head of the paddle first to start your serving motion. If you bring the paddle directly up it can lead to becoming even more tension. Remember, the body is now in a protective state after the two faults. So, just like if someone were to a gun a you, your body will naturally recoil to protect yourself for harm. So, try dropping the head of the paddle as you start your motion. This will alleviate some of the tension and allow you to serve more freely.
Second, pick external targets. Many times when we try to “just get it in,” we become very focused on our form. Tell me the last time a professional basketball player has thought about his form while shooting a jump shot. What are the focused on? The hoop. So, although paddle and basketball are different in that you have to look at the ball when serving instead of the hoop in basketball, the concept is the same. It’s very similar to golf. Pick a small target in the serving box (this can be a board on deck, a leaf, a discolorization, whatever). As you serve, keep that spot in your mind and drive the ball at that spot.
When we get into a high state of anxiety, we tend to start focusing on our toss, extension, wrist-snap, etc. In other words, we start to focus internally. Focus externally. Pick a spot. Drop the head of your racket. And drive it at the spot you chose.
By Christian Buck
The author, Chris Buck, after 11 years on the American Stock Exchange, trading and brokering equity dirivatives, left “The Floor” and earned his Masters in Exercise and Sport Psychology. He is a provisionally Certified Consultant and member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP). To learn more about Coach Buck visit getitdoneconsulting.net.