One Point at a Time: One Breath at a Time
While tennis is certainly an exciting and rewarding sport, the tennis court can also be a place of unwanted anxiety and tension. It's all too easy for a player's mind to wander from the present moment and become fixated on past mistakes. It is common practice for people to regulate their breathing in their daily lives as a means to manage stress and promote a focused and relaxed state of mind. It's time you applied that same philosophy to your tennis game.
Many players hold their breath upon contact with the ball without realizing it, and as a result, their strokes become rigid and tentative. Holding your breath and playing with tense muscles can also lead to erratic timing and poor body coordination. Any pressure one may feel during crucial moments in a match will only increase if the body and mind are not relaxed and in the zone. Proper breathing slows your heart rate down and keeps you focused and energized on the task at hand. Your strokes will feel more fluid & loose, and you'll be less prone to having a negative internal dialogue with yourself.
Like any other aspect of your tennis game, keep practicing your breathing technique until it becomes second nature. Practice taking a deep inhalation through your nose as your opponent makes contact with the ball, then a deep exhalation through your mouth just as you're about to make contact with the ball. Draw out the exhale all the way through to the end of your shot. Make sure your breaths are not shallow, and remember to breathe from your diaphragm instead of your chest. Practice this deliberate breathing when serving as well. Take a deep, relaxed breath before beginning your service motion. Then focus on exhaling as you swing up and contact the ball. Your breathing should be steady, controlled, and rhythmic, just like your tennis strokes. Regulate your breathing during changeovers and in-between points as well to help achieve a state of relaxed, mental clarity.
Avoid letting self-criticism hinder your performance by keeping your attention focused on your breathing patterns. Use proper breathing as a way to heighten your concentration and awareness on the court, maximize your recovery time, and remove any unnecessary tension in your body. You need to relax your body in order to relax your mind.