Momentum shifts occur often in tennis matches and most other sports for many reasons. How you react to momentum shifts will determine if you are able to maintain the momentum when it’s positive or change it when it is negative. First, let’s examine some of the causes of momentum shifts.
One of the common causes of momentum shifts is winning or losing a few consecutive points. When you start winning a few points, you become more confident. If you were tense earlier on you might feel more relaxed and start to play better. If you were behind a game or two and playing less intense, you might suddenly increase your focus and intensity. Perhaps you start going for every ball and get a few more back drawing a few extra errors from your opponent.
Another cause of momentum shifts is a perception that your opponent is letting down, missing shots or becoming negative with himself. When this occurs you see it as an opportunity to dig in and take advantage of the situation. The shift here might be you start playing more aggressively and take control of the point earlier.
Momentum shifts can easily occur when you or your opponent appear fatigued, injured or hurt. The drop shots you were running down and putting away in the first set, you can’t seem to get to in the second set. By the third set, you may not even bother to go after them!
Momentum shifts also frequently occur at times in the match like 5-3. Rather than closing out the set, you may start to let down, prematurely thinking it’s over, only to find yourself making an easy error or two or your opponent making a last ditch effort to recover.
Finally, a bad call, lucky shot or delay of game for any reason can also trigger momentum changes.
It’s important to accept the fact that momentum changes will occur in most matches for any number of reasons. By recognizing when they tend to occur and their causes, you can begin to develop an effective coping strategy to deal with it.
Momentum can be controlled and used to your advantage once you know what triggers a momentum shift in you. Momentum shifts really take place between your ears! How do you react when you double fault or when your opponent serves an ace or hits a ball that clips the top of the net and dribbles over for a winner?
What do you think or tell yourself when adversity hits in your sport?
Your perception and reaction to these and countless other on court circumstances often contributes to how you will play for the next several points, games or even the rest of the match.
When you are ahead with a descent lead, avoid interruptions. Keep the “pedal to the metal”. You can usually recoup from a bad call or an error here and there. It’s just not worth the risk of disrupting your flow.
For some players, momentum shifts occur when they are ahead and on the brink of closing out the set or match. Rather than maintain the strategy and intensity of play that lead to their lead in the first place, they may try to protect that lead and play to avoid losing rather than playing to win.
Here is a strategy Andre Agassi used successfully: Next time you are ahead and close to closing out the match or game, reverse the score in your mind and “imagine” you are actually the one who is behind. In this way you will keep your focus and intensity high and make each point count.
Sometimes, for unknown reasons, an opponent comes out of the starting gate hot! Rather than let up or give up, try this strategy: Think to yourself that they are playing “out of their minds” and will likely cool off soon. Tell yourself that you need to hang tough and stay positive so when they come back down to earth, the score is close enough that your solid play can turn the tide.
Dr. Robert Heller, Sport Psychologist www.thewinningedge.usptapro.com.