Sports News

Our weekly tennis column: Using self-talk to improve tennis




Nick Kyrgios lost the first set and was 0-3 down in the second, yet went onto win his 2018 US Open second-round match against France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-0 after successfully executing self-talk that was instigated by the umpire of the match


If the Sri Lankan players practise this diligently, especially on the practice court first, this could the difference between winning and losing!

Elite players have to use every little advantage that they can get, to make sure that they get the right result in a match. Therefore, they make sure that they make the maximum out of all of the four aspects of tennis: Technical, tactical, physical, and mental.

It has been well established that the one aspect that the Sri Lankan tennis players lag most is in the mental aspects. This subject has been covered from time to time in this column targeting various specific subjects. As such, this week, it is hoped to cover the importance of self-talk in tennis.

What is meant by self-talk?

Self-talk is defined as the verbalisation or statements athletes repeat to themselves prior to or during skill execution.

Performing these techniques can improve focus and slow the brain down, giving it the ability to devote more “power” to the specific task at hand.

Self-talk is your internal dialogue. It is influenced by your subconscious mind, and it reveals your thoughts, beliefs, questions, and ideas. If you believe that your self-talk is too negative, or if you want to emphasise positive self-talk, you can learn to shift that inner dialogue.

Given below are some examples of positive self-talk:

1. I have the power to change my mind.

2. I have permission to change my mind.

3. Attempting to do this took courage and I’m proud of myself for trying.

4. I love myself for who I am.

5. Fear is only a feeling, it cannot hold me back.

6. I forgive myself for any past mistakes.

Types of self-talk

There are actually three types of self-talk. They are Positive, Negative, and Instructional.

Self-talk is something you do naturally throughout your waking hours. People are becoming more aware that positive self-talk is a powerful tool for increasing your self-confidence and curbing negative emotions.

People who can master positive self-talk are thought to be more confident, motivated, and productive. Some of your self-talk comes from logic and reason. Other self-talk may arise from misconceptions that you create because of lack of information.

If the thoughts that run through your head are mostly negative, your outlook on life is more likely pessimistic. Therefore, it is important for the players to understand that during any situation when playing tennis, be it in practice or in a match, that they are always engaging in positive self-talk.

‘Next point is the most important point’

Players need to use self-talk to make sure that they are always pushing themselves to get out of their “comfort zone” and to push themselves to achieve higher targets. This they can do in practice as well as in matches.

In fact, if they can do so in practice, it will very well be easier to do it in a match. For example, players will always have “breaks” in between playing. It might be the break in between the points or it might be the break in between the games.

This is the time that the players need to engage in self-talk and to keep their spirits up. Whilst it is not easy to give specific examples of self-talk — since it will vary from player to player — one simple example of such self-talk could be to make sure that the player is always engaging in the self-talk that the next point is the most important point. This would make sure that the player always stays focused on the matter in hand.

Nick Kyrgios’ 2018 example

A case in point would be the Nick Kyrgios’ second-round match at the 2018 US Open.

Kyrgios, who lost the first set and was down 0-3 in the second set, let two serves pass him and reportedly threatened to quit the match.

He later said, “I know what I was doing wasn’t good. Look! I wasn’t feeling good. I know what I was doing out there wasn’t good.”

Curiously enough and without getting into the ethics of the situation, the umpire gave Kyrgios a bit of a pep talk that may have helped him turn things around and win the match 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-0.

The umpire’s words of encouragement are something that may have affected Kyrgios’ self-talk and level of effort. Those word by the umpire had been: “I’ve seen your matches: you’re great for tennis. Nick, I know this is not you.”

Whether the UMPIRE should have done it or not is an argument for another day, but without thinking, the umpire seems to have given Kyrgios the necessary points he needed for the self-talk so that he could get out of the mindset that he was in, and to pull him out of this situation.

Two simple strategies

There are various strategies to follow in self-talk. But two simple examples are given below for the players.

Give yourself a positive pep talk. “Let’s go! Get this point. I’ve comeback before. It’s time to take charge!”

The message you send to yourself can keep your motivation, energy, and effort at high levels.

Secondly, ‘reboot’ your mental computer. Hit the reset button. Take a few deep breaths, bounce on the balls at your feet, hit your racquet strings a couple of times then say, “Focus on this point.”

By changing your focus to what is important, you won’t get dragged down by negativity.

These are but two simple examples of the self-talk that the players can engage in. if it is good enough for elite players, it certainly should be good enough for Sri Lankan players.

Therefore, if the Sri Lankan players practise this diligently, especially on the practice court first, this could the difference between winning and losing!