How to Refocus When Distracted

Tennis Psychology

Tsonga’s Mental Game Strategies To Stay Focused

Crowds in tennis are, most of the time courteous and respectful to the players engaged in the match. Unfortunately, most of the time does not mean all of the time.

At some point in your tennis play, you will have to deal with crowd outbursts, excessive cheering and rude interruptions from fans.

While all this noise can be distracting, it is the mental noise (your internal reaction to your external circumstances) that has a more damaging effect to your game.

There are two problems that occur when you allow crowd noise to dominate your attention:

First, your focus is limited. It is impossible to focus on two different things at the same time. That is, you can’t be focused on crowd noise and your strategy for your next serve. It is one or the other.

Focusing on crowd noise does nothing to benefit your tennis game. You need to learn to stay in your performance cocoon, that place where outside distractions have minimal effect on your game.

Second, when you are focused on the annoying crowd noise, it triggers negative emotions.

Think of when you have been annoyed in a match… You probably experienced a variety of negative emotions such as; anger, frustration, worry, or agitation.

Negative emotions alter your physiology and move you out of that zone where you play your best tennis. When you are highly agitated, your muscles become tight, your heart pounds fast, your breathing speeds up and your game falls apart.

It wasn’t the crowd noise that affected your game. The noise may have been annoying but it didn’t directly affect your game.

It was the amount of attention you dedicated to the noise. You allowed the noise to dominate your attention and pull your focus away from how you wanted to play your game.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had to play through a noisy crowd when he faced crowd favorite Marcos Baghdatis in the first round of the 2016 Australian Open.

Melbourne’s large Greek community was very vocal in its support of Baghdatis to the point that Tsonga was visibly agitated. Even though Tsonga won 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, he was highly distracted through most of the match.

During a change of ends, Tsonga got into a heated debate with chair umpire Jake Garner about the loud distracting crowd.

Tsonga suggested that the umpire should have given code violations to his opponent for the excessive noise.

The following is part of the exchange between Tsonga and Garner, the chair umpire:

TSONGA: “It’s tennis man. It’s tennis, so you have to say something. If you do the warning, then it stops.”

GARNER: “There is no warning to give in this situation Jo. There’s nothing I can do warning-wise. Who do you want me to give a warning to?”

TSONGA: “Him!” (pointing to Baghdatis)

You always have the choice where you place your focus.

You can get wrapped up in what the crowd is doing or you can pay attention to what you need to do… but you can’t do both simultaneously.

Tip for maintaining focus despite noisy crowds:

  1. Define your objectives when in a match and what you should attend to during a point. What are the performance cues you should focus on?
  2. Immerse yourself in those cues during the point.
  3. When you notice a distraction taking you away from the match, refocus on your performance objectives or cues.

You have the ability to choose what you focus on. The moment you give mental energy to the crow, you are not making the right choice.

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