Playing Freely and Enjoying the Process

Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Herald Sun

by Angelo A. Rossetti, USPTA Elite/PTR Professional, USTA HP & Mental Skills Certified & 2x Guinness World Records™ holder 

The thing about competitive tennis  and all sports is just that – it is “competitive.” And where there is competition there is the dreaded score keeping. Score keeping by definition means there will be a “winner” and a “loser.” This adds to the pressure and therefore the nerves. The issue with the complex score keeping of tennis is the fact that each game has a beginning and an ending. The score is not cumulative like soccer, football or basketball. You win points in an effort to try to win games. The cumulative count of games helps you close out a set but the match isn’t over. It doesn’t matter how even or lopsided the score is after the first set – if you won it you are up a set, if you lost it you are down a set. The margin of victory or defeat by set is irrelevant in regards to the score. Learning how to play freely, without being paralyzed by the score is so important to success in tennis. What holds tennis players back is thinking about the past score or the future score rather than focusing on the moment at hand. If you just lost the first set 6-0 or you lost it 7-6 you are only down a set. The score of that set is irrelevant to the point at hand. Playing freely may mean assertively or aggressively to some and consistently or patiently to others. It means to lose yourself in the moment, relaxing, having confidence to know that you can hit your shots to the best of your ability while enjoying every moment. It sounds easy to say but it can be difficult to do.

How can you play freely? Care enough not to care. The match is important but not that important. You will have other opportunities. It’s really not as important as you think. Those who shrug off the importance too much are just escaping the pressure. Find your rhythm – find your flow – find your zone. Once you do, play don’t think. Hit don’t overthink. Just do what you know how to do and let the result handle itself. The thing is that once we get closer to the end we tend to dwell on the end without finishing each point. The human mind is unable to think about more than one thing at a time. So if you are thinking about holding the trophy if you are ahead at the end of the match or what your friends, coach or teammates will think if you lose if you are behind in a match, then you are unable to focus effectively on the task at hand, which is the ball and each shot within each point.
There have been some moments in professional tennis (i.e. Venus Williams against Karolina Sprem at the 2004 Wimbledon and Roger Federer in 2014 at Halle on grass against Kei Nishikori) where a player has actually forgotten the score. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? My contention is that although on the surface it means the player isn’t engaged or focused enough because the player was unable to remember the score it actually means that the player is so absorbed in finding the flow or zone that the score becomes less critical and the process becomes more top of mind. Does this mean that the score doesn’t matter? No. The score is an important factor in selecting tactics. If you are up you may play percentage tennis or in basketball terms “trade baskets” and if you are down you may play more assertively to change momentum. With that said, a general awareness of the score is important but it shouldn’t be a “paralysis of analysis”. Think between the points and take action during them. Your mind sets the game plan for each point and your body executes it.

In regards to enjoying the process, statistically speaking if you play an opponent who is at your level then you can expect to win 50% of the time. With that said, it means that if you pin your enjoyment to only receiving a “W” with the outcome then you will be disappointed half of the time. If however, you play YOUR game, focusing on “controlling the controllables” you are more apt to enjoy the process, play better tennis and ultimately achieve much more favorable results. Holding your enjoyment of tennis hostage unless you win is a good way to hold back your tennis potential and enjoyment of the game.


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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Playing Freely and Enjoying the Process

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