One of the most important things an athlete must master is being aware of and controlling the physical and mental state from which they are playing. The human mind is directly affected by the way we use our body.  As players we need to be more aware of how we use our bodies when practicing and competing as well as our internal dialogue during a match. It is easy to talk positively to yourself when you are winning; it is not so easy when you are losing or playing poorly. As coaches, we need to draw more awareness to these important factors.

Most athletes are unaware of how poor and fluctuating their self-talk and body language actually is. Most athletes are unconscious about this and thus have very limited control over it. I see poor body language and negative self-talk affect athletes in almost every single lesson, practice, drill, and match I observe or coach. Worse than that, very few athletes or coaches regularly talk about it and draw awareness to it. Physical coaching without mental coaching is useless. If you are physically great but sabotage yourself mentally when you compete and do not know how to take control of your thoughts or nerves, you will not play to your physical potential. The good news is, like anything else, developing positive body language and self-talk is a habit that can be taught and learned.

Here are four solutions you can use:

  1. A quick way to get yourself more positive, is to bounce your feet and bring strong movement into your body. Stand up tall, open up your chest, and get your body in a strong, balanced ready position. Move on the court in a more confident manner by walking to balls in between points quicker and more direct. Your opponent can always “feel” the energy you are putting out.
  2. Before every serve and every service return, you should be “checking in” with your body and mind. How are you talking to yourself before you start this new point? How tense or relaxed is your body before you play this point? Get your body and mind right before you play each new point.
  3. Talk to yourself inside your head and pump yourself up. You need to be your own biggest cheerleader and block any other voice
  4. Change the tempo in how you move, breathe, even use your voice. Doing this literally, changes the biochemistry in your body. Have you ever seen anyone with positive body language talking to themselves negatively? Nope, because it cannot happen like that. Start with your body and then your mind will follow

The physical and mental state you are in can dramatically improve or worsen your play more than any single other factor. Just by reading this article, you will get a little better just by having an increased level of awareness. Without changing any strategy or technique, you can create massive shifts in your level of play by using your body and mind better. Use the tips above, rinse, and repeat until you build better habits!

– Coach Amy