Handling Nerves and Choking
Everyone gets nervous before and during the game. That’s normal – it’s just human nature. But you have to just accept it. Often it’s just indicating that you care about the outcome of your match. Nerves can be good in that they keep you focused, but they can more often be detrimental to your performance because your muscles are not relaxed, and you aren’t swinging freely like you do in practice.
The best ways to get over nerves are to stop worry about the outcome of the match. Whether you win or lose is already written, and what you just need to focus on is doing your best with a positive attitude at all times. Be aggressive and have fun. If you’re feeling very nervous and up-tight, sometimes forcing yourself to smile and laugh is a good way to release the tension.
When you’re playing, breathe out with each shot as this will regulate your breathing and keep your muscles loose for full proper extension.
Choking is a phenomenon that happens in all sports from amateur levels all the way up to the pros. It’s a mental thing that starts small and then begins to compound and get worse. Just accept that it will happen to you at some point. It tends to occur when you are focusing too much on the score, or the future outcome instead of just hitting one shot at a time. People begin to adjust their play – either being overly aggressive or too passive. They start losing points, and tighten up. They think to themselves “I’m better than this! This shouldn’t be happening!” and they stress over the fact that they might have just choked away a few points. Stressing over it makes them lose more points, games, sets even – and then they’ve entered full mental meltdown mode. It sounds ridiculous but I’ve seen it happen.
Once I was playing a ‘super-set’ in a qualifier competition, which I think was first to 8 or 10 games or something. I was down 6-2 and came all the way back to win 8-6. The guy I was playing got so rattled after I won a couple games in a row, that he choked away the set. He started throwing his racquet and couldn’t believe what was happening. If he had just said to himself “ok, I tightened up on that last game but lets just focus on watching the ball and breathing here”, I’m sure he would have won at the end of the day.
You only have to win once in such a way and you’ll realize that even if your opponent is way ahead, and all seems lost, there’s always the outside chance that they may implode and let you back in the match. So you should always put in a strong effort.