Mental Preparedness – Mind Games

Often players that play in the evening are spend most of their day filled with business decisions, heading off disasters, and trying to herd kittens!  By the time they are headed to the gym to play, their minds are full of noise from a busy day.

This lesson is “How to Switch Gears From Work To Play” (or from real life to your racquetball escape or competitive challenge)

  • The List —>  First, go through the list of things you’ll need to play. For example …
1. Shoes
2. Socks
3. Shorts
4. Shirt
5. Goggles
6. Gloves
7. Racquet
8. Balls
9. Bands (sweat & head)
10. Bumpers (braces)
11. Brains
12. Brawn
•  Reset your mind — develop a routine of breathing and visualizing serving, their receiving your serves, tactical shotmaking, movement, positioning and court coverage.
•  Use imagery — close your eyes and watch on the HD screen in your mind while seeing yourself serve your favorite drive Z to their backhand or drive serve or jam serve. See yourself shooting a tight sidewall/front wall pinch; or slicing up a deep ceiling; feather a corkscrewing pinch; flow thru contact of your trickle splat glancing off the sidewall; cranking a DTL pass that wallpapers the sidewall with inside out sidespin; mashing a run-um high Z; howitzering a 3-wall killshot; short hopping and rekilling with a short flick and using the corner to place your winner; hammering an overhead return off a lob or lob Z to your forehand side placing your return in the opposite, rear corner.
•  Self Pep Talk — Tell yourself you’re always in the mood to compete, hustle and give best effort and have an optimistic attitude that promotes action and a behavior that allows you to stay motivated and tolerant of calls both good and bad, other’s tactics, and lucky and unlucky breaks. Convince yourself you’re resilient, unflappable.
•  Game plan — identify strengths and weaknesses of your competitor. Then predict their tendencies and mentally run points in prep and live to exploit the tendencies, while also leveraging your strengths. Prepare adjustments. If this, then A; else B; or C. Therefore you’re prepping adjustments. Pay special attention to how you play at winning time. Create the scenario in your mind both offensively and defensively. Also be unpredictable. Surprises win games. Trust your wrinkle, sneak attack, angle change. Understand your plan. Understand your role as a singles player or as the doubles partner who is going to make your partner better by communicating and boosting your partner’s effort and belief. Body language rules. Walk like a champion.
Ask Why — why do I play? Why do I play only a small group of players? Why don’t I compete in open events? Why do I like to win? Why does losing motivate me? What weaknesses do I have physically, skillfully, emotionally that I can make into strengths or less weak?
•  Warmup — Ideally get yourself moving from the waist down with lunges, squats or stationary machines for just a short period of time to elevate your inner body temperature before you stretch or work your upper body, again, briefly. If you lift, lift light. Tightening up too much could create tighter joints that they get over stretched in play.
–  On-court — Ideally take 5 minutes or more to practice your strokes, move and shoot, and stroke a few serves. However, in today’s crush of limited court availability and the pandemic mentality is to, “Let’s play!” or that you’ll somehow you’ll amazingly warmup as you play your first game. Instead use the invaluable 10 to 15 minutes before you play that you put into warming up which could make all the difference in whether you strain a calf muscles, your back, your hamstring or your un-warm shoulder, wrist, neck or even your core muscles. Have a routine that you develop, which works for you and is there every time you go to the courts. Simply put no professional would lift a few weights and walk on the court and play, soft.
•  Stretch — have a regimen of stretches that you routinely do to elongate your key muscle groups after you’re warmed up your inner body temperature and your extremities. Minimally stretch your calves, your hamstrings, your shoulder, your wrist, your neck and your back. You need only hold the stretch very briefly and then slowly release. Also, avoid too quick, bouncy stretches.
•  Mentally rehearse — As you’re sitting at the red light on the way there, dressing out, warming up and stretching go thru the serves you plan to use, the returns that work against the competition you expect to face. Plan your positioning during rallies, during your returns, after you serve and even in the box up against the wall as the playing partner who is ready to take a quick crossover step to clear the back line and get off the jammer sidewall. Mentally prepare your strokes and swing cues or swing thoughts that serve as the principles of your tracking, approaching (pre-swing), backswing, downswing, impact zone, follow-through, and recovery movement. Play thru in your mind the simplistic, but unreplaceable, “Move your feet”; “Keep your eye on the ball” (focusing all they way until you see the ball thru the back of the strings at contact); “Keep your spacing”; “Bend your knees”; “Set up behind and move into the ball”; “Get the racquet up”, as you set the back of your stance”; “Let the ball drop”; “Step into the ball”; “Keep the ball off the back wall; “Extend and swing smoothly”; “Always follow-through” (aiding stroke fluidity, swing punch and shot accuracy); “Hit and move” (or avoid being a statue player, hinder player or passing come). Of course, if you’ve practiced something new you want to test run, review it mentally and plan when and where to unveil it, and don’t be either too judgmental or impatient. Don’t me afraid to fail. Game-raisers must be tested, tweaked, and improved upon.
•  Make Game 2 Adjustments — After game one honestly, kindly assess your play and consider first your successes and how they could be even better by repeating them or improving upon them slightly. Also, pay particular attention to your unforced errors and what caused them and how to eliminate those errors with just minor mods. Some technique, tactics, angles, positioning and mindsets may be easily modded and the improvement will be realized immediately. Be easy and hard on yourself. You’re stretching the envelope by doing difficult things under pressure. At the same time, your executing a skill you’ve practiced VS just winging it, right?
•  Review Arsenal — is there something you’ve yet to attempt that’ll be effective … here?  Are there untried serves, putaway shots, positioning, or coverage feetwork? They can’t be blamed for not being effective. Be courageous, try!
•  Post Match Review, Plan — every time you play you’re going to see something that could be improved, tweaked, learned or shelved. Make a list and that as the starter for your practice go-plan or action plan for your drilling or your study or tactics for next time you play. Use the Internet and also take as advantage of strong players or others who are facing your same challenges.
•  Stretch Out — after you play, perform just simple, gentle stretches of your still warm legs, shoulders, arm, wrist and back and you’ll find them all beneficial.
•  Plan ahead — what will make the next competition, practice or tournament better just by how you approach the activity? What would get you better ready? What do you need to strengthen physically, mentally, skill-wise, tactically, spiritually, emotionally? What’s the overall purpose of this?
•  Did you flow? — were you in the zone for parts of your play? Did you tree in that one run of points? Did you lose yourself in the effort? Was your concentration peaked at certain points? Did you experience immersion or being lost in the effort, the struggle, the patterns of play you recognized and auto-responded to? Did you feel a sense of calm and ease of thought and motion? Did you enjoy yourself? Were you you in the flow?
Tap to the top — have a little physical act that centers you or gets you in the now or allows you to get rid of malodorous stuff and focuses you strictly on the task at hand. Switch gears to play-mode. Players tap their thighs, squeeze their ear lobes, touch their Dan tien spot, or they take a long, deep breath. I tap my breast plate which clears my head and gets both my left and right brain firing allowing me to be logical as well as innovative. I cover one nostril at a time and breath in and hold it for a few counts and out breath longer than the in or the hold.
•  Totally Visualize – close your eyes and see yourself go thru your whole service motion and place the ball accurately in the court after you strike it. Do imagery to stroke your backhand and make the shot taking in all the sights, sounds, feelings, smells and emotional reactions of making your shot. Like a basketball player who off court mentally practices his free throws, you’ll shoot better forehands, carve better ceilings, change speeds on your shots and serves throw off the competitor’s timing, and you’ll be better prepared to hit the ground running and play each day you come to the court to do battle, compete, challenge, workout, recreate, release, exert and grow. Have one thought when you serve like, “Ace!”, shoot wide angle pass (WAP) shot, be aggressive in return, position to shrink the court, take a good first step, use crossover steps, move after you shoot, and freeze while they set up to shoot and then take off when they flow their elbow forward.
•  Be proactive — make corrections to your pre-workout prep, form, mentality, even post skill acceptance and your overall theme is to be FORWARD-LOOKING.
Coach Ken