Jeff Greenwald is an acclaimed sports psychologist, author, and two-time world champion in platform tennis. He is a renowned expert in sports psychology, helping athletes of all levels reach their goals and reach their full potential. Jeff has written several books, including the best-selling Fearless Tennis: How to Conquer the Mental Game. He is a sought-after speaker and coach, giving talks and workshops at top tennis academies and coaching professional players. His methods have helped recreational players to world champions gain a mental edge over their opponents.
When choking in big moments, it's important to accept it in the moment, not overreact, and use tools such as breathing and focusing on what's relevant in the task at hand to refocus. Transcript: "Great question. How do you avoid choking in big moments? The problem with choking is that most players, most athletes, when this happens, they get overly conscious, self-conscious, thinking too much, overthinking technique, and what we call "get in their heads." So the problem is just overreacting. You feel nervous. You're having negative thoughts. And it's really easy to get swept away in that. And of course, yeah, the brain gets activated. Adrenaline kicks in, and it feels really overwhelming sometimes. But really, it's so important to expect that occasionally, you're going to get nervous. You're going to have negative thoughts. So when it does happen, you can accept it. You can accept it in the moment, not overreact, and use your tools, use some of the things that I'll be discussing in some of these questions, whether it be breathing or shifting your focus to something that's relevant, the task at hand. You really need to be disciplined in this regard. But of course, the feeling when you're, quote, "choking" and overthinking is so inconsistent with how you feel when you're playing well. So there's this sort of tendency to evaluate subconsciously how different it feels, and so there's that overreaction and panic. So it's so important to accept what's happening, as hard as that is. And then you are-- it's really important to shift your attention away from yourself and onto the target and what's relevant at the moment."
To keep poor performances from affecting your confidence, become more aware of what affects your game, practice tactics that will help you win points in matches, and get clarity on your identity as a player by asking yourself how you like to play and staying true to yourself. Transcript: "The question is, "How do I keep poor performances from affecting my confidence?" Well. So this really is an opportunity to become more aware of your tendencies, the things that tend to affect your game, and often it is about fear of missing, being too tight, not really being decisive. So there is the mental and emotional aspect, of course, that you need to become more aware of, and when you are able then to make better adjustments and identify those things that are affecting your game, your first-serve percentage, your ability to release, your forehand, using your strengths, are you really targeting their weakness? So there's tactic as well. So all of these factors make this game so interesting, and it's a constant project to just keep chipping away at the most important aspects of your game, particularly as it relates to match play. So awareness is really important to help you actually fix some of those things. And practice them. So practicing the things that are actually going to win you points with your matches. I'd also just like to say that after a string of poor performances, if you haven't effectively adjusted, you could start to lose confidence, but remember that you have an identity as a player. And I think this is a really important idea. Who are you as a player? You're an aggressive baseliner. You attack the net. You're solid, consistent. You build the points well. How do you how do you like to play? What does it mean to play on your terms? Because if you can continue to stay true to yourself in terms of your identity as a player, I think you'll be less vulnerable to the performances that kind of go up and down. So getting clarity on that. Who are you as a player? How are you going to play, and being in the driver's seat, as I like to say. So I think these are some important ideas related to your performance and making them more consistent."
To determine your ideal emotional state and energy level in competition, journaling can be helpful to reflect on performances. You can also use three dials- focus, loose, and intensity- to measure your performance on a scale of one to ten. It is also important to be aware of how these qualities affect each other and to try to embody the physical feeling of a successful shot or match. Visualizing yourself as confident can also help you replicate a successful mental state. Transcript: "Question is, how do you determine your ideal emotional state and energy level in competition becoming aware? This is really the challenge. It's common to just play and you play well and it's sort of random Monday's. You play well and days that you don't feel as good. Obviously, we all have moods and things can affect that from from the outside. The way you're thinking about your off-court life or the upcoming match or event that you're playing. And so, Fairness is really important here, journaling can help, you know, really reflecting on good performances. How did you feel? What were the qualities really sort of internally scanning your body? In fact, and your mind, what were you thinking in those moments? Usually you won't be thinking very much you know you're full, what's your focus like how loose are you how much intensity do you have? I use three dials, Focus loose and intensity. Those are three that if your antennas in particular if you're if you're able to really focus narrowly on the Target, on the task at hand, be loose in your upper body, you know, feel free for your and your legs, and your lower body, have good intensity and your you have these dials that you're playing with. You get better at that, you get better. I use a scale one to 10 here. So when I'm practicing or playing or reflecting on the match, I can I can get clarity on. What number was I had that's just at the beginning to get a sense. Well, the lower number for example, being loose is about a four or five. That's loose, you know, pretty loose at 67. You're definitely muscling the ball a bit more, controlling it too much. They the dials affect each other intensity will affect your focus and so getting clear clear on these dials and these qualities, you know sometimes it may be acting as if you are confident visualizing what it feels like when you're playing really well. But honing in on this becoming more self-aware. Journaling is really helpful freezing. The moment on the court when you hit a good shot in practice, really sort of embodying that physical feeling will help you, then replicate it, and match it. So you can sort of quote, call it up when you need it. This becomes a muscle sort of Ro memory in your in your body that you can, you can train over time with awareness."
To reduce the amount of tension in matches, it is important to cultivate a Mastery mindset and interpret the nerves as positive. This can be done by playing with intention and being present, trusting your body and not worrying about the outcome. Transcript: "The question is, how do I reduce the amount of tension? I feel in matches, if I had a nickel for every time somebody asked me this question, I would definitely be moved. Probably hitting a cruise right now, perhaps but it is certainly the most commonly asked question and challenge, you know, to how do you deal with tension? And then there's, of course, how do you deal with it and how do you reduce tension in the first place? So there's a You Pathways here that I'd like to share one is what I teach is really learning to cultivate a mindset of Mastery as opposed to the other mindset. That is so pervasive which is outcome. We all know that the outcome mindset being in the future and hoping and playing tentatively under pressure and protecting against mistakes. This is all related to how come you don't know what's going to happen and you worry and it actually hurts your game, the Mastery mindset. It is one that you have control over one hundred percent, which is better than the outcome because you don't have 100% control over that only partial control, right? So developing a Mastery mindset is key. How you do that, of course, is more than I can fit in here, but but it is understanding that that and I'll send it. I'll put a link in here as well for this because I think it could be helpful for you but it's really getting clear on, you know, playing with intention and playing. More aggressively in assertively under pressure and and what does it mean to be present? So you cultivate the qualities relative to this Mastery mindset? I was playing a tournament recently, in Seattle, I was in the finals and I was up 6151 and I got broken and in 52 and I started thinking a little bit about the outcome in the future a little bit. And I pictured, my document that I'm going to link here to being in the green zone, which you'll see is the Mastery mindset and And so that's a really, really helpful to just cultivate those qualities, their trust in your body, Etc. The the other thing in terms of tension that I like to say is to reduce it is to interpret the nerves as positive is not - that's really important, you still can play well you can still work through that and manage nerves everybody gets nervous. So interpreting the feelings in your body as positive and not negative. These should help you"
The key to balancing between playing too tight and too loose in a match is to practice in training by using a scale of 1-10 to recognize the feeling of being loose (at 4-5). Commit to this feeling during matches, focus on your tactics, and don't get caught up in the tension. Transcript: "This is a very common question. How do you balance between playing too tight and too loose in a match? This is probably the number one presenting issue I get because players want to play freely, you want to play loose and free and that's just such a important feeling, right? And of course, you win more when you do the, when you're tight on the court, you know, you're feeling that feeling in your legs or your arms, and you're probably Up on the score and you and you don't want to miss, right? Giving away a free point. And so it's really important to train yourself in practice to be loose and become aware of that feeling. Again, I use a scale, one to 10, 45 on, the dial is pretty loose in a match, you know, once we get 6 or above it starts to become tighter controlling the ball too much. The concept that I think is really useful. Here is controlled aggression building the point. I ain't playing, you know having margin going to Big targets but you are really sort of replicating this feeling of looseness releasing through the ball, not guiding and Contracting, your muscles as you hit. So when you get more clarity and do this in matches practice hitting at at a four and then go to a 77 is tight, kind of controlling the ball. 74 you could do two balls at each 2 and a 4 2 & a 7. Get familiar. With what loose feels like freeze it, let it sort of become aware of that physical feeling and that becomes something you're able to call up in matches. So the oftentimes, it's the willingness to be loose when you're tight especially because your body doesn't want to let go. So it's remembering that feeling being willing to be loose exaggerating that that feeling a little bit committing to it, which it takes time, it's a process but The commitment to being loose and free is something that you can really sort of move the needle on right? And lastly make sure that you're not too focused on the tension and you get your focus on to something productive tactic the target it. So you're not really internally, getting caught up in the tension. But replicate that feeling of being loose, get closer to a four or five and and really commit to this. And I think it'll work well for you."
To increase the probability of entering a flow state, one should become more mindful of their body and sensations without judging them. Additionally, they should put their attention on external things such as the ball and target to help create the conditions to be in the flow. Transcript: "Question is, how can I increase my probability of entering a flow State? Yeah everybody would love to be in this state right? When you and more often and it is actually achievable. You can create the internal climate to to experience this more often or get closer to this. And there's two things I want to suggest in this in this clip here one is to become more mindful off the court to become More present. What is mindful mean? It means your present in your body, but you're not judging yourself. You're not judging things. You're accepting whatever's happening, but your your present in your body, for example, feel your feet on the ground. Walking a lot of players love this. This experience right? 43 seconds between points or off the court. You can just put your mind into your feet Furthest Thing from your head, right? Feel the shower, the water on your back and You can, you know, just be more in than what we say, sensation, you're feeling it and you can't have a thought. At the same time in, that is really a revelation, you know, and Rafa takes a really cold shower when he, when he went before he plays because it just gets you. So present, you cannot be having thoughts when you're feeling all right, feeling your grip on the court. So there's this mindfulness aspect that can help you cultivate This experience of flow right now. The key Point here though, is you're not judging anything right? Because when we're present and and sort of focused on our Sensations, it eliminates thoughts, but we're not judging key. The second thing is which is sort of maybe the opposite of that, you know, because you can toggle between these twos, in terms of these two things is to put your attention on things. External to you, you want to be less self focused on yourself and focused on. Other things. So you're ordering food at the deli, looking at the menu. Look at car plates, as you drive, you know, external a tree outside the court. So the more external you can put your attention and and often on relevant, things like the ball and the target to, but this mindfulness internally and being able to toggle to an external focus, and being less self-focused will help create the conditions to be in the flow."