In tennis history, only five players have earned their place in the upper echelon of tennis greats who have won the calendar year Grand Slam (winning the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open in one year). As Serena Williams embarks on yet another US Open, she is fighting to earn a place among those greats, as winning this major tournament would earn her a calendar year Grand Slam. Such a history-making tournament outcome could certainly put pressure on Williams. As a seasoned player at the professional level, however, she seems to understand the need to focus on the process of her performances, rather than the overall outcome. In an interview after her first match (in which Williams won after her opponent, Vitalia Diatchenko, forfeited in the second set due to an ankle injury), Williams explained that this tournament is an opportunity for her to reach a major milestone and that she’s, “trying to take one match at a time.” When asked what she needs to do to be successful, she stated that she needs to, “Stay relaxed, stay in the points, and stay calm.”
Staying in the present moment and focusing on the process is an important step in being able to perform at your best. To do this, let go of past plays or points (whether good or bad) and try to avoid thinking about the future. Keep your mind in the present moment by using focusing cues like, “here and now.” You can also add a deep, centering breath and combine breathing and self-talk to help you stay in the moment. Keep in mind that you will find yourself losing focus and getting distracted from time to time. Just recognize that (non-judgmentally), let the distraction pass, and use your refocusing strategy to bring you back to the moment. As Williams stated, it’s important to “stay in the points” and take things “one match at a time.”
Also, recognizing how you like to feel before you play – and using a routine to help you feel that way consistently – will benefit your performance greatly. Williams explained that she wants to feel relaxed and calm. You might find that you like to feel the same way, or maybe that you like to be pumped up and a little nervous. Every athlete is different, so find what works for you. Once you know how you like to feel and what you want to focus on, use a pre-competition routine to help you get to that state consistently. This includes making a plan for what you want to think about and focus on the morning of a competition, on the way there, during warm-ups, and as you compete. For example, if you like to be calm and relaxed, then consider listening to music that calms you, taking deep centered breaths, and doing a body scan before you compete to release any muscle tension you feel. All of these strategies should be used consistently for your routine to be effective. Remember, there are many things that you cannot control in competition, but you can control how you prepare and what you choose to focus on.
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