Finding Your Center (Court)

Tennis is a mental game. It is a game that required concentration and focus at all times. It does not matter if you are winning 6-0 / 5-0 in the last game, or are staring down that same score line from the other side of the net, there is no guarantee in the sport.

One slip of the mind, and everything else can crumble in a second. In many ways, it is not your competitor that you are truly playing against, but yourself. Your competitor is, of course, important, but yourself. You are not playing the game of tennis, but rather fighting against those inner demons that lurk in all of our minds, and come to the surface at the times we wish they would vanish the most.

Focus, that is the name of the game. You can spend as many hours on the courts as you want, returning serves to a trainer, or a machine that fires balls at you until the motions and the ability to read the game are second nature to you, but if you do not work on the mental aspect of the game, then you will always be one step behind.

There has been a long history of a Zen approach being successfully used in sports. Look at Phil Jackson, of NBA fame. He was famous for introducing Zen based routines into his team training sessions. This is a man who won thirteen NBA championships. A man who introduced yoga sessions and meditation to his basketball teams.

While there may be a lot of differences between tennis and basketball, they have one important thing in common. They are mental games. Things can change in the blink of an eye, and once momentum shifts, it can be hard to get it back again.

This is one instance where as an amateur tennis player, you are in a position to learn even more than the professionals.

Tennis Racket and three tennis balls.

Being Strong in Mind and Body

The great thing about mental training is that it can be done anywhere at any time. Spend a few minutes at the end of your workouts in a quiet space. Settle your mind and reflect on the workout, on the day as a whole. Think about what went well, and also about what did not. Allow your mind to go through everything and evaluate everything. Think about what you have learned. Do not forget, that we can often learn more from our failure than we can learn from our success.

The art of Zen is all about finding that mental balance, that oneness with the world around you.

In fact, when practiced correctly, the principles can be extended into everyday life, and even become something spiritual; something truly Zen. In an article published by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago concluded that there were several characteristics that he identified which transcended gender, race, and cultural influences. These were deep concentration abilities, a good emotional balance and significantly reduced levels of self-consciousness.

While the result of this paper was published at the same time as Michael Jordan was dominating the Chicago basketball courts, under the careful tutelage of Bill Jackson, it was published as the result of over 25 years of study. It was not called Zen, it did not have a name. Mihalyi called it ´flow´, but to many athletes it is ´the zone’.

 Zen Stones

How Can This Improve my Game?

As I have already alluded to, tennis is very much a mental game. You need to be aware of everything that is going on around you. Your mind must be clear, your focus needs to be sharp. By ensuring that your mind is clear, and ready, you will be in the prime position to allow your natural reflexes to take over. You will not over think the play, you will not consider what comes next, because you will be ready for it.

The visualization techniques, and the meditation sessions are key to this approach to the game.

I have been practicing meditation for a number of years, and have found that my game has improved greatly as a result. I am able to put aside my fears. Not fears of losing, but fears of not living up to my own expectations. I can visualize the play, the game, before it even starts. I feel confident in my game, and I feel strong. I am ready to react, and if you introduce the ways of Zen to your training sessions, you will be also.

 Meditation Class

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