Control Your Excitation Level for Better Match Play

A player's optimum level of excitation will differ from player to player, with some needing to boost themselves up, and others to cool themselves down in order to play their best.

You must learn what your own optimum excitation level is through experience.

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Do you play better when you are highly excited or when you are mildly so? At extremely low levels, all players are sluggish, slow to react and suffer from poor performance.

On the other hand, at excessively high levels, players are also likely to play poorly because they will be out of control, over-reactive and defective in their decision making.

All of us play best somewhere between the extremes. The trick is to figure out what level you need and to make sure you invariably attain it before the next point starts.

For example, Jimmy Connors was a high excitation-level player, needing to be wired-up to perform at his best.

He was also quite a crowd pleaser. Connors would make a shot, shake his fist or gesture at the crowd, and the crowd would scream and yell in response. They enjoyed getting in on the wave of emotion with Jimmy.

Connors may be a nice enough guy, but let's face it, he didn't give two hoots about the crowd. He was only interested in winning the tennis match, not in helping the promoters sell tickets. He wanted to involve the crowd in his match because their yelling got him riled up. It gave him a shot of adrenaline and made him feel courageous and strong. And Connors knew that when he felt this way he played better.

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He was simply expert at using the crowd (and anything else) to give himself a shot of adrenalin and create the emotions he needed to make his game function at its highest level.

Chris Evert was also a crowd favorite, but she was a lower excitation-level player. She needed to remain cool to best manage her machine-like ground game--to stay deadly accurate, make virtually no errors and rake the lines with consistency.

Evert was a paragon of lady-like class, walking unflappably around the court, head erect, back straight and measured tread. She wouldn't dream of lowering herself to squabble about a dubious call.

What crowd could resist taking her to heart?

But, of course, Evert was every bit as ferocious a competitor as Jimmy Connors. Like Connors, she knew exactly what excitation-level best suited her game. And like anyone else, she would have loved to reverse a bad call. But she didn't argue about them because getting rattled in an unwinnable argument over a call would have raised her excitation-level too high and hurt her game.

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Most players, under pressure, get too excited and need to lower their levels. McEnroe, Nadal, Connors and Sharapova are the exceptions.

Arthur Ashe, who looked like the coolest, most relaxed player in the world on court, was subject to nerves and over-stimulation, so he used to meditate between games to lower his excitation-level. He was cool, but only because he disciplined himself to be so.

Roger Federer was an admitted "hothead" in his early years, but also learned that he played better when he amped down his excitation level. Now he looks like Ashe on court--cool and above the fray.

If you have a tendency to get too high in big situations (which most people do) you will have to tamp your excitation level down by taking a few deep breaths and slowly exhaling, slowing down and ridding yourself of thoughts about winning or losing by focusing narrowly on what you are doing.

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On the other hand, if you find that you are below your optimum excitation level, you must raise it before the next point starts. You do this in much the same way as you call up an adrenaline response.

This is by bouncing up and down on your toes a time or two and conjuring up feelings of aggression, power, dominance and courage. You can add to this by verbally exhorting yourself under your breath and/or slapping yourself on the side.

Although attaining your optimum excitation level before points does not guarantee good performance, it does make it more likely. And since nothing is certain in competitive tennis matches, improving your odds is certainly better than reducing them.

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