We had an e-mail from a coach who was unsure that relaxation could actually be trained so thought it would be good to paint a picture of just how simple it can be to add this key ingredient into almost any on-court drill.
Imagine you’re a player and your coach has just asked the group to warm up in the service box. You’re playing with the best player in the group and don’t want to make a mistake and you feel your coach is watching you to see what you’re doing wrong. You begin to feel a little tense and try to hard to get your footwork, contact point, follow-through and recovery just right. The ball goes in the net and you look up to see if you’ve been noticed, try to joke about it apologetically and then try harder not to hit it in the net again. A couple of shots later the self-fulfilling prophecy comes true and as you pick the ball up from the net you let everyone know you’re just not feeling it today.
Your coach tells the group to find a new partner and continue to warm up at half the pace that you were hitting before so you can get an even more comfortable feel for the ball. This almost feels too easy and it’s interesting to notice the feel improve. The rallies are longer.
‘Is everyone breathing?’ says the coach, which gets a smile or two. ‘I was listening to a podcast interview with Mark Lauren the ex-special forces fitness instructor and he said that if you look at our best athletes, they’re the ones that are the most relaxed.’
You hit some more balls and find that you are playing with more of an easy feeling. The rallies are longer. ‘So just before we continue to take this relaxation into the drills we’ll be doing, I want you to monitor your breathing or your level of relaxation for a little bit longer and notice how when you put your attention on something this simple, everything else takes care of itself. If it helps, you can notice how long your out-breath is when you finish your shots or ask yourself what’s the least amount you can do with your racket to get the ball where you want it to go.’
Now, not only are the rallies longer, but the group feels different – more interested and absorbed in the activity. Now you feel comfortable, you’ve realised that you’ve found your feel and you’re looking forward to the rest of the session.
So keeping relaxation in mind is possible with a few simple reminders from the coach during a session. The repetition throughout the session highlights the importance of the skill and begins to train the ability so that it can become second nature.
By Peter Farthing.