Nerves are an integral part of competition. We feel nervous when stepping on the court. The difference is that the best players have learned how to channel their nervous energy to help them perform better. Here are a few things you can do to help you manage your nerves:
1) Develop and focus on your rituals. Rituals will help you control your thoughts and help you stay focused and relaxed in competition. Cultivate routines that you can use before the match such as specific ways to warm up or to get mentally ready. Also, establish clear routines between points and during changeovers. Staying focused on your routines will make it much easier for you to maintain a constructive state of mind under pressure.
2) Use your warm up wisely. The warm up is a great time to start dealing with your nervous energy. Set a good base from the start by focusing on the ball all the way to contact, work on your footwork and focus on swinging relaxed. Many times, you will start relaxing just by getting yourself engaged on your game.
3) Watch the ball. One of the first symptoms of tightness is to start shanking balls. When a player not feeling totally confident one of the first things he/she will do is to look up too early and therefore miss contact points. When nervous, focus on watching the ball the whole time – all the way from your opponent’s point to your contact point. Pay special attention to the path between the bounce and the hit.
4) Relax your grip. Nervous players will tend to tighten their muscles too much. One easy way to make sure you are not overly tight is to focus on holding your racquet loosely when swinging. If your grip is loose the rest of your muscles will follow.
5) Make sure you are swinging your racquet head. When you are tight, you will tend to push the racquet instead of swinging it. Focus on letting the racquet head swing. Make sure you continue to accelerate. This does not necessarily mean hitting harder. It just means swinging not pushing.
6) Use movement to vary your activation level. Players react different to nerves. Some tend to slow down and need to move more to get going. Others tend to speed up and need to slow down their movements to relax. Experiment and find out what type of player you are. Use movement to fight your nerves.
7) Move towards the ball. A nervous player will play tentatively and this will be reflected on his/her movement. Tentative players tend to wait for the ball while confident players will continually seek the ball. Moving towards the ball will help you develop and maintain an aggressive and confident mentality.
8) Control your breath. Conscious, deep and slow breathing will help you relax. In addition, focusing on your breathing will keep your mind away from unnecessary or toxic thoughts.
9) Play conservatively for a while. When you are nervous you will not be as precise. Increase your topspin and choose larger targets. Hit with more margin for error until you feel better. Also, hit more spin on your first serve and aim your returns to the middle of the court. This will minimize your mistakes and will also give you a chance to hit more balls and find your grove.
10) Keep your head still. Nervous player will tighten up and pull from their shots. Keeping your head still through contact will help you stay balanced throughout the shot and will help you minimize mistakes.