Winning Body Language in Matches
Nadal and Federer have had a fabulous rivalry, however the mental side was particularly evident in their French Open finals.
A big part of Nadal's claycourt "aura of invincibility" he established came from his powerful, positive body language - that is, the way he walks, acts and behaves on the court during matches - which has a massive psychological effect on both himself and his opponents. We are going to discuss winning - and losing - body language today.
Body language was one of the key factors that I believe affected Federer when these two players faced each other on clay.
Federer was very much used to most players being already scared of him before they even walk onto court - but Nadal was completely different. Instead, Nadal's powerful body language - such as running all over the court on his way back to the baseline before he begins the hit-up, and his total appearance at all times that he believes he will win - powerfully emphasizes that he is not willing to give that kind of respect to anyone.
Sure - off the court he is highly respectful at all times, but he (quite correctly) refuses to give this advantage to Roger while they are on the court.
All the top players have their own different types of body language, which speaks volumes to their opponent without even having to say a word. Serena and Venus Williams had very powerful and physically intimidating body language, like Andy Roddick. Roger Federer and Justine Henin had quieter and more subtle body language, but which is just as powerful.
The important thing to know is that body language not only intimidates and affects the play of your opponent (which some players seek to do, and others are not focused upon at all), it also has a powerful effect upon the way you play as well.
Let's discuss some of the body language aspects that will help to boost your performance, and also the ones to avoid.
1. Winners generally walk faster than losers on the court. Always keep your pace in between points and games fast and confident - with your head and shoulders up, never slumped.
Andre Agassi used to be a great example of this, while Roddick was another. Moving confidently between points and games has a powerful effect over your own mental attitude and performance, and shows to your opponent that you mean business.
Avoid slow walking unless you are deliberately slowing down the quick pace of your opponent. Players who losing a match tend to walk slower and slower as the match wears on, and their heads and shoulders begin to drop lower and lower with each game - avoid this at all costs!
It will have a negative affect upon your performance and boost the morale of your opponent.
Every time you change ends and pass your opponent at the net, walk confidently and quickly, and also do not show any exertion - breathe normally, not heavily - and show them that you have heaps of energy left (even if you don't!) - as this might start to bother them if they start getting tired themselves.
So, even if you are not winning the match, act like you are. This really confuses your opponent. Basically you need to become - right now - the winning player you wish to be in the future - and you do this by behaving the way this future player would behave, walking the way they this future players would walk, and playing the way this future player would play, etc etc.
2. Become "the machine" in your opponent's eyes. Never show your frustration or annoyance to them in any way whatsoever - hide it in any way possible.
Never show your opponent that their game is "getting to you" even if you are not winning the match - and eventually they will begin to wonder just what it takes to get you down.
Let's face it - no-one wants to play "a machine"! By demonstrating a relentless 'Terminator' type of attitude on court, along the lines of "I do not stop until I achieve my goal" - it can psychologically and mentally wear down your opponent, and cause them to make crucial unforced errors at important times in the match. Lleyton Hewitt won many matches from this attitude.
Of course, it's fine to show positive emotions any time - just keep the negative ones to yourself, or they will boost your opponent's morale, and their game - which is the last thing you want to do.
3. Create a winning feeling inside yourself during your matches, to boost your performance. When you hit a fabulous shot or win a big point, briefly squeeze your hand into a fist and say to yourself "yes!". (You do this purely to yourself, not towards your opponent). This reinforces the winning feeling and help deliver optimum performance.
This is a great little habit to cultivate in your matches, to boost your performance. While some players like to use this as an intimidation tactic towards their opponents (which can sometimes backfire, as it can make the opponent angry and more determined), I am actually talking about using this method purely to strengthen your own performance.
This uses your great shots to help to create a stronger "winning feeling" within your mind and body - which helps to deliver a stronger performance from you as the match wears on.
Remember, no-one even needs to know that you are doing this - this is purely something that you quietly do, and say, to yourself - in order to strengthen your winning mood.
4. Everyone gets nervousness, angry or frustration at times - even the champions. The key is to use it positively by channeling these emotions into your shots rather than using them for self-sabotage purposes, such as verbal self abuse, racket-throwing etc.
This is also along the lines of "not showing any weakness" to your opponent - and something the elite champions seem to have over their lesser opponents - emotional control. This is not to say they don't get angry, frustrated or down - they do - it's just that they know what to do with these feelings, when they occur.
So whenever you are feeling negative, nervous or frustrated in any way, channel this valuable emotion into your shots, rather than using it for self-destruction - leave that to your opponents instead! Emotional energy is very powerful and champions always seem to know how to use it - the right way.
So that's it - bringing these four principles into your game will make a huge difference to your results, and will even allow you to win some matches that you might have otherwise lost, because the "slight edge" they create is often all you need to close out those tight matches. Try it and see!
"The Mind controls the body, and the Mind is Unlimited"
The best of success, Craig Townsend
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