Concentration in tennis means not merely looking at the ball, but focusing your complete attention on it so that neither eye nor mind are distracted by outside pressures.
This can sometimes be difficult in match play, where tension and anxiety tend to distract your mind at an important moment.
There are ways of improving concentration.
Concentrating during rallies
One method of counteracting the tendency to get distracted when rallying, is to count.
Counting keeps the conscious mind occupied and will aid your rhythm and timing as well as your concentration. When practising your baseline rallying with a partner, count ”one” when he hits the ball, ”two” when the ball bounces on your side and ”three” when you hit the ball.
In practise your coach or a friend should count for you, but do practise counting to yourself as you rally; it will help you to prepare early, move rhythmically and time the ball perfectly.
Another way of using this basic method of improving concentration would be to say ”hit-bounce-hit”.
There is a danger, if using the ”1-2-3” method that you may start to count automatically instead of consciously, and become distracted.
One way to overcome this may be to count ”3-2-1” instead.
Concentrating during the change-over
The change-over is a definite time for relaxing physically and mentally priming yourself for the task ahead.
Plan consciously exactly what tactics you are going to pursue to fulfil your overall strategy for the successful outcome of the match.
Then, when it’s time to go out again, fix your eye and mind on the ball and let yourself get on with the job. In this way you do your thinking about what you are going to do before you do it, not while you are doing it.
This leaves your mind free to initiate different tactics and patterns of play as automatically as you play your strokes.
Conserving mental energy
When in general match play you feel mentally fatigued, you are either genuinely tired, or only think you are tired.
More often than not, your lethargy will be due to your imagination taking over – conjuring up visions of tiredness because your attention has been diverted on to how badly you are playing.
You are probably also imagining how super-fit your opponent seems to be compared with how you feel. If you allow this situation to continue, your fatigue will grow, you may get angry about decisions, and your mental energy supply will soon be drained.
Mentally, as well as physically, you have what is called ”second wind”.
We have all known the feeling of being really tired and then, when given a new task or somebody suggests doing something different, becoming filled with a new surge of energy.
It is quite similar in match play – you need to re-focus your concentration and gain fresh motivation for victory.
Do not wait for an external circumstance such as a superb passing shot to revitalize you – this may never happen – but concentrate on bringing your mind back to the present. Winning the next point is always the task which you must apply yourself to.
The key factor to bear in mind is that far more mental energy is used up when you allow your mind to wander aimlessly into the past and future.
Concentrate your mind totally on something in the here and now – namely, the ball.
You can train your mind to resist distraction by deepening your ability to concentrate on one thing at a time. Studying the seem of a tennis ball as well is helpful. Playing chess is an excellent off-court concentration exercise.
There are several exercises you can practise to focus your attention and improve your eyesight.
Examples are trying to read car number plates, road signs and notices from further and further away. Even when the numbers and words are only a blur try to see them clearly through concentration of eye and mind.