by Angelo A. Rossetti, USPTA Elite/PTR Professional, USTA HP & Mental Skills Certified & 2x Guinness World Records™ holder
I find that most tennis players try to accomplish more than one thing at a time when playing a match. They try to focus on winning but also hitting a more consistent serve or having a positive attitude and being more assertive or taking more risks but improving consistency. The problem is that the mind can only focus on one thing at a time. We loosely say that we want to multitask in today’s society but multitasking isn’t what people think it is. Multitasking originally from a computer dealing with several different processes but the key is that it was only one at a time, contrary to what most people think. The phrase is misleading because it has been misused. Even computers can only deal with one item at a time.
Although our bodies can physically do two things at once (i.e. walking and chewing gum), we cannot FOCUS on more than one thing at a time with our minds. Our attention shifts from one task to another. We “think” we can so therefore we think we “should.” Recovering from your distractions in a tennis match can take several points. Case in point is when you see a professional tennis player complain about a bad line call. More often than not they are distracted by their emotional outburst that they lose the next point. John McEnroe was probably the only player that I know of who was able to get fired up and play better under circumstances where negative emotions surface. Considering that we average as many as 12,000 to 50,000 thoughts per day according to the National Science Foundation, and that they can change every few seconds, we would have hundreds of things to focus on in a full tennis match with many opportunities to shift thoughts and become distracted from our ONE thing.
If your intention is to do many things with mediocrity then multitasking is for you. But if you want to do ONE thing really well, then you need to have the self-discipline to focus on only ONE thing. Now the most important part of this concept is selecting the “right” thing for you to focus on. The right thing would be the thing that would lead you to victory the most often or the one thing that you need to improve the most. It’s more about selecting the right thing to do right, rather than doing everything right.
When I competed in the past I would carry an index card in my tennis bag of the 10 things that I was working on improving going into tournaments. Some of them were Positive Attitude, Relax, Be Aggressive and Have Fun/Be Happy. Then, before each match, I would narrow them down by circling the top 3 that were most important or most timely. After the warmup, I would narrow that down even further to just ONE thing. Now the trick is to convince yourself that only one thing would be good to propel you to play your best. Some estimate that upwards of 70% of our daily thoughts are negative, so having a positive mental attitude is critical for positive results in athletics.
Playing one particular nationally ranked opponent I had to focus on “letting go” any anger from poor line calls, bullying and out-right cheating. I learned from the past that if I lost my composure, I lost my game and I lost the match. Focusing on this one thing worked as I defeated him the finals in straight sets without being broken once I committed to focusing on ONE thing.
Your mind is like your eyes. If you place two items in front of you and try to focus on both at the same time it’s not possible. But if you focus on one item you can still be “aware” of the other item. That means that when you are playing a tennis match you should have one primary factor to focus on and several factors in your peripheral vision like the opponent’s weakness, what direction the wind is blowing, if the opponent has a one-handed or two-handed backhand, and so on. But if you try to focus on all of those things at the same time you won’t be able to focus on your primary game plan.
As a practical matter, what you select to focus on can be counterintuitive. There are three types of tennis players: players at your level, players above your level and players lower than your level. When playing an opponent at your level you need to focus on patience or playing smart. When playing an opponent above your level you need to play aggressive or take risks. Finally, when playing an opponent lower than you level you need to play consistently or counter punch.
Focusing on more than one thing is like texting and driving at the same time. You become comfortable with the driving part of it but the texting distraction can have hazardous results. With the new technology upon us of cars driving themselves it is projected to reduced car accidents by 80%. This is because the car’s computer will only focus on one thing at a time and won’t get distracted like us human beings do.
Look at it this way: have you ever seen a tennis play win a match and hold up the #2 sign or #3 sign when winning? I’ve just seen #1! Remember to focus on ONE thing and you will be holding up #1.
Additional reading: The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, Gary W. Keller, Jay Papasan
I always welcome feedback at angeloarossetti @ gmail .com.
You can learn more about a couple of tennis GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ that I have been a part of:
FOX News Story
Inspirational Tennis Story: Tennis Begins with Love
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