The best way to control anxiety and tension is through proper breathing. The pressure of a tennis match changes the way you normally breath making your breath short, shallow, and irregular, instead of smooth, deep and rhythmical.
Many tennis players hold their breath while stroking the ball, which adds to the muscle tension and interferes with smooth stroke production.
Many tennis players also take breaths that are too shallow – their chest expands, their shoulders rise, and their gut remains sucked in. It’s not effective breathing.
To practice breath control you need to focus on the following:
- Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose and as you do, notice how your body seems to lift up. Breathe from your stomach and diaphragm and then let the air taken in fill and expand the central and upper chest. Your stomach should be pushed fully outward, as the breath is taken in. This inhalation phase should last approximately 4 to 5 seconds
- Exhale slowly through your mouth in a very relaxed manner. You should feel the muscles in your arms and shoulders relax. As you breathe out and relax, you should begin to feel centered and anchored to the ground. The entire exhalation process should last 8-10 seconds. It is important that the exhalation be done slowly, but at a steady rate, with 1:2 ration of inhalation to exhalation. If your inhalation is 3 seconds, your exhalation should be about 6 seconds.
Breath control can be practiced outside the court. It can also be employed on the court during your strokes, between points, and during changeovers. It will help you get into the rhythm.
You could breath out when the ball bounces until you make contact. In essence, it’s one long exhalation. This exhalation will help you to focus on all your energy on hitting the ball.
You can really help maitain your composure and control your anxiety during point by using breath control. Focusing on your breathing means you are not focusing on irrelevant cues such as the spectators. Many players like to use breathing as a way to calm themselves just prior to serving. This helps relax the shoulder and neck muscles, slow things down a bit, especially after a tough point, and keep you focused on the next point.
Breathing can also be used during changeover when you have more time to “gather yourself” and get ready for the next game. At this time, proper breathing can help focus and energize you while taking a brief mental break from the match.