One of the hardest mental game issues that players need to learn to reach their potential is the ability to analyze what is happening to them in a match, and then turn off the "analyzer" and just react when starting the point.
Best selling author Daniel Coyle on his talent code blog shared what professional golfer Annika Sorenstam does to quiet her mind and just swing the club.
I think this column creates several great discussion points for players and coaches. First, you don't want to overthink things when you are performing. Second, you do want to analyze things at times; you have to play smart and adapt to the changing situation in a match. Third, players need a strategy for switching from analyzing to reacting and back to analyzing.
The practice and performance zones are a great way of thinking about this abstract concept. Coaches must teach players how to think in both situations. While performing thinking simple thoughts that are task-focused, motivational, and tactical allow players to play their game. In the practice thinking zone the player is analyzing, strategizing, and planning. This is very important for learning the game.
Coaches must teach players when to be in each thinking mode - in tennis obviously during the point you want the player reacting. But, what about between points? How much analysis do you want? I think the answer is based on how good the player is at switching back to the simple, performance-type thinking.
An issue here is that I don't think many young players are good at switching from analyzing to reacting. This is certainly the case when they are nervous, under pressure, feeling panicked... So, I recommend three things:
1. Have players keep it simple between points and use the changeover for more analysis. Players should think simply what happened on the last point, and what they will do on the current point.
2. Many players are visual so have them visualize what happened and then replace it with visualization of how they will start the next point (usually the first two shots).
3. Teach players how to trigger an external focus (reacting). Where to focus the eyes, maybe bouncing on their toes and committing to their plan, and taking a deep breath and exhaling.
How do you teach players to analyze in the practice zone? Ask them questions when you have them in practice situations. Also, ask what the options are and the consequences for each.
How do you teach players to quiet their mind and just react, and at the same time play smart and follow a game plan? Much repetition! Automate the patterns and styles of play you want. Once the plan is mastered the player can focus on just hitting versus overthinking things.