John W. DenBoer, Ph.D., U.S.P.T.A.
After a great match, you often hear players say “I was in the zone!” What is the zone? Although there have been many different definitions, the most commonly accepted definition of the zone is a state of optimum physical and mental performance. Many competitive tennis players describe that their emotions during this time are very stable and their play appears effortless. Everything appears to be in flow and, in the end, everything appears to be “going their way.”
In reality, the zone is something that takes a lot of hard work to achieve. It is typically achieved through a combination of psychological techniques in combination with dedicated physical training. Psychological techniques include both off and on-court techniques, including (but not limited to) deep breathing, visualization, and mantra use. One needs to practice these off-court techniques before utilizing them in on court.
An additional off-court technique that greatly helps players achieve the zone more often is journaling. Daily journaling keeps your tennis and non-tennis mental goals at the forefront of your mind, and motivates you to do serious daily work towards these goals. As an example, I typically have my students write out three things they did well mentally, as well as three areas of mental improvement. I typically have them do this after each tournament. I have found these exercises extremely important, and many of my students refer to them daily.
An additional and important aspect about zone training includes identifying your optimum arousal level. You may want to work to achieve this optimum arousal level prior to match play. Given that tennis is a complex sport which requires both gross and fine motor coordination, most tennis players do well with a mild-moderate level of physical and mental arousal. It is important, however, that players figure out their own optimum level of excitement. This can be done through experience, insight, and asking trusted friends/competitors and/or coaches.
By actively working on the foundational techniques presented above, the competitive tennis player can find their own “tennis zone.”
For more information about zone training, please see the following video: http://www.mentaledgetennis.com/shop/video.php?c=2390134