When My Partner Tells Me to Play One Point at a Time
As often happens, I recently played a match where my partner and I had an on-court, mid-match exchange that really stuck with me. We were on the losing end of a game and she said, “Let's just play one point at a time.” “Right,” I responded, “one point at a time.” And then she said, “I don't even know what that means but people say it all the time and it sounds good.”
Now, you may be surprised to learn, I did not stop right there and try to talk out just what the tennis line “play one point at a time” means. We kept right on playing. But I thought that people say “play one point at a time” but how many of those people really know what that phrase means? Or how many people have thought about it enough to attach there own meaning to that phrase?
What Does “Play One Point at a Time” Mean?
To me, the phrase “play one point at a time” is a way of articulating a simple but important concept in tennis. And that is mindfulness. Mindfulness during tennis play. Another way to say that is playing tennis in the present moment.
To play your best tennis, you need to find a way to let go of the negative and judgmental thoughts and emotions that all of us can experience on court. You don't fight these thoughts and feelings. You don't avoid them. But, instead, you acknowledge them and let them go. You focus your thoughts on what will help you play the best tennis you can in the present moment.
The Dangers of On-Court Negativity
If this all sounds sort of “woo woo” to you, let me assure you – I am not a “woo woo” person. As far as my tennis is concerned, I'm only interested in learning about things that will truly make a positive impact on my game. But, like a lot of players, I am well aware that I can, at times, waste my mental energy dwelling on un-productive and negative thoughts on court. I have had reactions like,
- getting mad when I think my opponent is making bad line calls,
- being nervous if I think other players are watching me,
- wondering what other people, including my partner, think about how I play tennis,
- trying to get my opponents to like me when I call one of their balls out,
- trying to make sure my partner to still likes me when I miss a poach,
- worrying that no one on my team wants to partner with me because I am so terrible, and
- worrying if the captain wants to kick me off the team because I am so terrible.
I've had all of those thoughts at one time or another during a match and I'm pretty sure I've had matches where I've thought all of those things multiple times throughout a single match. And sometimes I let these thoughts get to me to the point where I will lose the next point or even the next game because I just can't let these thoughts go. I wouldn't be surprised if every tennis player, no matter what their level, has had a similar experience.
The sad thing is all of those thoughts are completely unproductive and distracting. They are a waste of mental energy and don't so a single, solitary thing to help me play better tennis.
How to Play One Point at a Time in Tennis
A better use of my mental energy is to play with mindfulness. This idea of bringing mindfulness into your match play is, fortunately, something you can learn and practice and gradually make an important part of your game. It's not something that's going to work for you right off the bat. You will continue to have negative thoughts and emotions out on court. I certainly do. But, with practice and over time, you will find that you're able to brush off your mistakes, move past them, and get on with your job on court.
So how do you apply mindfulness to your tennis game? It's pretty simple. Just do these things when you play:
- Notice your negative thoughts and emotions.
- Put them aside for now.
- Focus on the present moment on court by playing one point at a time.
That's it. And your trigger for this is the phrase, “play one point at a time.” When you hear that phrase, you want that to remind yourself to be present in the moment that is happening on the tennis court right now.
So the phrase “play one point at a time” becomes your cue to be mindful of what is happening on the tennis court at that moment, in that point. Thinking about the mistakes you've made in the past doesn't help you. Thinking about what the effects the outcome of this game or this match will have doesn't help you. The only thing that can help you play this point well is to concentrate on just this one point that is happening in the present moment.
It's Like Playing a Tiebreaker
I think a good example of playing one point at a time that a lot of us may have experienced is when we play a tiebreaker. Think about it – each point in a tiebreaker is so important. Each point carries the weight of a game. And yet you move through the tiebreaker quickly, certainly compared to the speed at which a game moves. You don't have time to dwell on whether your backhand form was terrible or how you should have put more topspin on the serve. Because the next point is upon you and its critical that you focus on it, right now. That's pretty close to what playing with mindfulness, playing one point at a time, is like.
The Negative Thoughts Don't Go Away
Just know – playing this way doesn't stop these negative thoughts and emotions from happening. It just gives you a way to refocus your thoughts to what is helpful and productive on court. I know when I play this way, I'm free to spend as much time as I want later, after my match, thinking and agonizing over what a terrible player I am. And while I try not to do that, when I am on court, I certainly don't do it. I focus on the point I am playing right now. Ultimately, this helps me to be more calm, more confident and certainly more happy when I play tennis.
There's Even More to Mindfulness
Now, let me assure you, mindfulness is a much deeper topic and more important tool than I am making it out to be here. I'm really just scratching the surface of the practice of mindfulness and I am certainly no professional in telling you all of the best ways to learn it and apply it in life. But again, it is not something that is complicated and it is not an “either you have it or you don't” skill. You can learn it. You can practice it. You can start using it right now in the very next tennis match you play.
RESOURCES AND LINKS FROM THIS EPISODE:
I always put together several gift guides to help you pick out the funnest, cutest, most useful gifts for your favorite tennis players. If you're looking for my best holiday gift ideas, just check out these 2015 Tennis Fixation Holiday Gift Guides:
- Best Holiday Gifts for Tennis Players – 2015 Women's Edition
- Best Holiday Gifts for Tennis Players – 2015 Fitness Edition
- Best Holiday Gifts for Tennis Players – 2015 Stocking Stuffers
Happy Holidays and (as always) –
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