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Removing Pressure from Your Game

Jerry Albrikes and Jelena Jankovic
by Jerry Albrikes
 
As a coach I try to make my practices and matches light-hearted. Tennis is just a game for 99.99% of the people that play it, so why the pressure? Even if your goal is a college scholarship, very rarely will one match determine if you receive or don't receive a college scholarship. It's your cumulative body of work that is important. That being said, keeping it enjoyable every time players come out is my main goal in helping them learn to deal with pressure.
 
I encourage players to realize that you can have fun by working hard and giving great effort. If tennis were only about hard work and drudgery, no one would want to play. But if becoming the best is your goal, needless to say, there has to be effort. Without that effort I don't think anyone has any fun, including the coach. But effort means hard work, not pressure. 
 
Before tournament matches, I like to keep it light with my students, since this is a normal time for pressure to materialize. I try to use humor and jokes to keep them loose. Every player deals with pressure differently and the coach often is the best person to determine how to keep pressure to a minimum, allowing each player to perform at their highest level.
 
Some players internalize pressure, for others, it has more to do with the people surrounding the player. Pressure can come from parents, peers, or the player themselves. For younger players, often the main pressure is from peers. I hear it all the time at the younger age levels. "You lost to Mike?" " I killed him last week, he's not very good." The response is often that they played the worst match of their life or that they got cheated.
 
Just this past weekend I heard a girl in three straight matches say that it was the worst she has ever played.  This statement was to let everyone listening, including her opponent, know that she is normally so much better. I tell my students that today will be your best because it’s what you brought today and that is what we have to go by. Today was your best and worst. Tomorrow will have its own best and worst.
 
I didn't mention pressure from coaches because I feel the coaches have usually played the game and have a better understanding of what the player is going through. Coaches are normally less concerned with individual results and more concerned with the process of developing as a player, executing a game plan or giving the effort needed to develop.
 
Parents can put pressure on the player, sometimes without even knowing it: by their actions on the sideline, the way they talk or cheer during a match, or the way they sit, stand and walk. You can watch a player and see the pressure they feel by how often they look over at their parents during that match. 
 
Players quickly discern approval or disappointment and both can have dramatic affects on their level of play. Not only does the player have to play the match on the court, but also they are often being judged from the sidelines and will have to answer for their performance after the match. If you’re supporting a player from the sidelines during a match, it’s important to realize how the player is impacted by your body language. As a parent, the best thing you can do from the sidelines is to make sure you provide a sense of calm and confidence to your player or some type of positive energy.
 
Instead of spending time and energy looking to the sidelines, I encourage players to focus on their on-court rituals and think about how to handle their opponent. The best players in the world look at their strings or go to the towel. How players keep their focus between points can have a major impact on the outcome of their matches, often just as important as how they execute their shots.
 
On the tour and at the junior level, a player’s pressure to succeed affects many people.  Tennis players and their support teams (parents and coaches) are usually, as Colin Cowherd says, prisoners of the moment. This means they make quick judgments based on a single match.  You don't want to know how many times players and parents look for new coaches or new clubs following a bad tournament performance. That ultimately led to my ending with Jelena Jankovic.
 
Success in tennis is a long-term process. There will be wins and there will be losses. When you step out on the court for a match, 50% of the participants–one out of two–will lose. As a young player, or a player of any age, it’s not reasonable to expect that you won’t have your share of losses, particularly as you advance to higher levels of play. Unless you are the 1/10th of 1% who actually earn a living from playing tennis, remember that tennis is a game, a game that you can play your entire life. Embrace the challenge, enjoy the competition, focus on the game and not the sidelines and the pressure becomes much less of an issue.

 
Jerry has been teaching for over 20 years and during his coaching career, he has worked with professional, college and nationally ranked players, including Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic at the Bollettieri Tennis Academy.  Jerry has coached USTA adult leagues of all levels, including a 3.0 team that progressed to the national championships.  Jerry has been named USPTA Rookie Coach of the year and was the 2010 National Platform Tennis Champion.  He played #1 Singles and Doubles throughout his college career at Central Connecticut State University and was named Athlete of the Year his senior year in college.  Jerry achieved the number #1 ranking in New England while competing there in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.  

While writing a diary of his recent coaching experience with Jelena Jankovic, Jerry discovered how much he enjoyed writing about the many challenges of tennis.  When he was asked to write about some of the main issues confronting junior and adult tennis players today, Jerry enthusiastically agreed.  Here are Jerry's first thoughts about pressure in tennis.  Please use our Facebook page to tell us about how you deal with pressure in important matches.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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