Last week, three of the most promising tennis players freaked out during their matches at the ATP Cup in Australia:
Russian rising star Daniil Medvedev had a verbal confrontation with his opponent Diego Schwartzman before bashing the umpire's chair.
Alexander Zverev threw his racket and got into a heated exchange with his father Alexander Zverev Sr. after losing the first set against his archrival Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Stefanos Tsitsipas suffered his own mid-match meltdown in his match against Nick Kyrgios when he lost his cool, swiping his racket at his chair and inadvertently hitting his dad, Apostolos Tsitsipas, in the process.
So why are these young prodigies so restless and angry so early in the new tennis year?
After a long offseason, everyone wants to start well.
Medvedev, Zverev, and Tsitsipas have the skills to challenge the likes of Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer for the top spots on the ranking.
Expectations are high that at least one of them will really step up this year and win one of the Slams...
So it is natural that they are desperate to start the year well.
The last thing they want is for people to doubt how good they are, and doubt that they can ever compete with the current elite.
But here is the thing.
With high expectations by the tennis world and by themselves also comes a lot of pressure.
Think about it like this.
As a tennis player, you probably know that you should be focused and concentrated during your matches regardless of what happens on the court.
At the same time, it feels natural to start feeling upset when you make an unforced error or when you get a poor call in a crucial moment of your match.
This is even more so when you train really hard and you play in front of a big crowd that might include potential sponsors and scouts.
Like a small kid, you might suddenly explode into major tantrums when you miss an easy backhand down the line shot, especially if it means you failed to convert another breakpoint!
This is exactly what also happens to young contenders on the ATP Tour who work so hard to play flawless tennis but rarely get good advice on how to manage their emotions.
A common pattern might look like this:
- They ake a small mistake which triggers some anger.
- They lose a few more critical points due to their lack of concentration.
- This triggers even more anger.
At this stage, a tennis player might become so hypersensitive that disturbs him, that a poor call by the umpire or a wrong gesture from a coach can make him freak out.
As a result, he might lose matches that he would normally win.
So how does this happen?
Why do tennis players often get so angry?
Just take a moment and think about a time where you completely lost your temper on the tennis court and felt really angry.
Chances are you were expressing that things were not working according to your plans and according to your desires.
This is especially frustrating when you worked extremely hard, play well in practice but then underperform during an important match.
You look for causes to help justify the mismatch between how you can play, and how you are actually performing in this pressure-filled situation.
You judge and blame the umpire, a cheating opponent or an unhelpful coach.
Or you blame yourself for playing below your ordinary level.
But if you think about it, what you are really saying when you constantly get angry is this:
It might seem like you are getting upset because you don’t want to lose a match that you are expected to win.
However, it is usually the thoughts about the consequences of losing that makes really mad- more so than the actual loss.
You might drop ranking points or miss out on prize money and barely have money to get to the next tournament
This can be troubling.
Or you might worry about the response of your coach, or even your parents.
You want to know the scariest thought for any tennis player, and especially future stars?
The fear that people will think you are not that good when seeing you perform poorly.
This is why it becomes so easy to get angry about stupid mistakes.
Now here's the thing:
It's not their fault to get angry, and it's also not your fault when you get angry on the tennis court.
It’s a natural response that can make us more competitive by increasing our arousal and fighting spirit. This is especially so if our anger is short-lived can quickly shift back into a more focused state.
Unfortunately, this outcome is the exception and not the rule.
More commonly, anger becomes a longer-lasting coping mechanism to combat a threat- and it comes at a cost.
- While anger might help you protect your own self-image by letting everyone know you simply are having a bad day- it will also prevent you from unconditionally giving your best fight and learning from legitimate losses.
- Anger can demonstrate how much you care about your tennis and that your avoidable mistakes are the result of having a poor day, but it can trigger you to over-hit your shots and make more frustrating mistakes.
- Anger might even help you reduce pressure when you tell yourself negative things, like how stupid you are, but what you are really doing is to shrink down your expectations - which will not make you a better player.
Physiologically, anger overtime will make your body tense.
Your strokes might lose fluidity and quality.
And you will probably start feeling impatient and make poor decisions based on emotions (instead of on strategy).
When this happens it is likely that you miss more easy shots that you would normally win, especially during key moments of a match.
You will get distracted easily by silly things like a poor line call or a gesture of one of your supporters.
And you will encourage your opponent to play his best tennis and build the kind of momentum that can determine a match.
In other words, getting angry and not knowing how to recover swiftly back into your best performance state can be the real difference between winning and losing an important match.
So what can you do to prevent yourself from getting angry on the tennis court?
The first step is to appreciate that your anger is a coping mechanism that serves to protect you from the consequences of poor performance, which comes at the price of playing below your potential and losing matches you should normally win.
Once you realize this, you can address the way you respond when making silly mistakes or feeling irritated and annoyed.
The good news is that in the same way that you learned to be angry in certain situations, you can also learn how to respond to mistakes in a more effective manner, reduce the length of your anger and stay calm in key moments of your match.
Let me share with you three ideas that can help you improve your emotional response in match situations.
I call them the 3 C’s of anger management.
Mental drill #1: Challenge-response vs Threat response
The main reason you get angry on the tennis court is because you feel threatened.
I call this the threat response.
People might think you aren’t great tennis players since they can only judge you from what they see in this specific moment.
But obviously this is not true.
Your tennis is not based on how you play in one specific match.
To avoid getting so angry, you need to replace feeling threatened with seeing difficult moments in a match as the kind of challenges that can help you become a tougher tennis player.
I call this the challenge-response.
Rather than looking at your match as something that will make or break your career, you want to see it as an opportunity to demonstrate your skills and get feedback as to what you need to work on, so you evolve as a tennis player.
In other words, you want to embrace challenging moments.
You do this by accepting that in tennis, we have better days and weaker days and that it is impossible to play a flawless match.
Therefore, you want to keep any bursts of anger as short as possible, so that they do not steal major chunks of a match. So for example, when you hit an easy unforced error that makes you lose your temper, you want to do quickly remind yourself that this is just a tennis match and that pushing through these moments of frustration and training yourself to respond in a more effective manner is what will make you a better and mentally tougher tennis player.
It is also critical that your support team embrace this idea, and give you the safety to make avoidable mistakes and lose matches without feeling threatened.
Mental drill #2 Intra Point Ritual:
One of the key skills that will help you perform better is the ability to regain control in moments that you feel angry, especially after making a stupid mistake or feeling distracted by something out of your control.
In order to do this, you want to use the 20 seconds between each point to transform negative moments into more positive moments.
Here is how you can do this:
Step 1: React and Release
Use the first few seconds to digest the last point and accept the emotions you experience. If you have a natural anger outburst, that is fine, provided it is not directed at anyone else, including yourself. When this happens, make it an intention to notice and acknowledge your anger.
Step 2: Reset
You quickly want to focus on the next point.
If you still feel angry, say something like ‘’ stop’’ to yourself, and then scan your body, acknowledge the tension and then release it with a few deep breaths. This will help loosen your body and slow down your thoughts and calm down.
With regards to breathing, I recommend you try the following:
Count to four while you breath in, and to seven while you breath out.
Repeat this a few times, until you feel that you have calmed down.
You can do this while walking to the baseline.
If you still feel tense, you want to create a habit of saying things to yourself while looking at your racket that will help you feel confident, inspired and ready to give your very best.
Examples of such affirmations are:
- I know I can figure this out.
- I’m going to give my best.
- I’m tough.
- I’m going to fight every point.
- I love competing!
Step 3: Re-focus
Wipe your face with a towel if needed, and get ready for the next point.
If you still feel distracted from the last point, you can create a trigger that will help you regain your concentration.
For example, you could look at the racket, and play with the strings.
In addition, I suggest you use your body language to help yourself feel more confident even when you are tired or frustrated.
You can do this by watching your posture, standing straight, using positive gestures and moving yourself in a manner that helps you feel energized and pumped up.
Mental Drill # 3: Stay Curious:
Most players think that once they lost a match, it is best to forget what happened and move on. Sadly, they miss an opportunity to learn and become a better competitor.
Instead, you want to have a post-match routine in which you analyze the match in a compassionate and efficient manner.
The goal is not to put yourself down but rather learn what you could do better in a future match.
This might mean watching a video of the match or discussing key moments with your coach.
In addition, you want to reflect on moments during the match when you felt angry, and think about what purpose your anger was serving, what being angry meant for your match, how you can address any unmet needs that are troubling you, and how you could better control and even transform your anger in the future.
What you can do immediately
In order to reduce unnecessary anger in future matches, start using these three mental drills in your practice sessions and while playing practice matches. It is through frequent repetition that you will develop new habits that you will then be able to use during tense matches so that you can finally compete without being interrupted by angry emotional outbursts.
If you have any questions about how to stop being angry during tennis matches (or any of the drills I shared with you in this post), just comment down below.
If you want more Mental Drills to upgrade the way you play your matches, you will love the Ultimate Guide to becoming a Mentally Tougher Tennis Player.
In this Guide, you will learn:
- 13 mental toughness drills that will give you the confidence to fight hard and give your best regardless of the score.
- How to constantly improve your game, love the thrill of competition and become a world class player by practicing less not more!
- What you need to do in those pressure filled moments that make feel so tense you can barely hold your racket!
You can download the guide below.
Get your free PDF copy of my 25,430 words long epic Ultimate Guide To Becoming A Mentally Tough Tennis Player and learn:
13 mental toughness drills that will give you the confidence to fight hard and give your best regardless of the score.
How to constantly improve your game, love the thrill of competition and become a world-class player by practicing less not more!
What you need to do in those pressure-filled moments that make feel so tense you can barely hold your racket!