Breathe Deep!!!

By Bob Maison

During recent training and playing situations we have used Heart Rate monitors to check on how hard players are training and to also try to link playing performances to Heart rate. For training we were obviously looking to monitor how hard the player was working and then to try to develop it over time. However, when monitoring practice and serious games it was interesting to see that the best performances often came when the player’s heart rate was up to 85% of maximum or even higher. Max heart rate is often described as 220- age. So for a 20yr old Max heart rate would be 200. For older players who are fit then the measure could be taken as 220-resting heart rate. During recent interval training on a treadmill I work at a rate to get my HR at 85-90% of maximum. The intervals are 40 seconds on and 20 sec rest and I will keep go for 20 repetitions. Anyway, what I have found is that after jumping off at 40 seconds my heart rate still continues to rise and my only thought is that “it’s too tough” and I will feel like stopping (and often do). However, if, as soon as I jump off I tell myself to breathe deeply and exhale slowly then the heart rate will come down and my mind will tell me that I can keep going. Then, for approximately 10 secs of the next run my heart rate will continue to drop and the run is reasonably comfortable. This has been a very practical understanding for me, of why the re-set/re-focus ritual is so important When you are under pressure and running hard your heart rate will rise, you will get a short break in between rallies and then it starts again. During that interval our minds race, and unless you have specific training then I can guarantee that you are thinking about the wrong things - “its too hard”, “I’m playing rubbish”, “I’m 2-0 up- I’m going to win this”; “I’m 2-0 down-I’m going to lose this” These are typical thoughts when you have lost your focus, almost certainly because your thinking is out of control because your heart is racing. We referred to the importance of this “re-set/ re-focus” action in the last post and we spoke about the deep breathing. But what can happen in a game? Heart rate goes up, thinking gets scrambled, we play the next rally poorly, are under even more pressure and so the vicious circle goes on and players will often go into “melt down” - shouting, throwing racket; verbally abusing themselves (been there done that and have several T-Shirts) - fortunately this can and does happen to the best players in the world even when they’ve had the mental training. So this stuff is not easy!!! Nick Matthew is regarded as arguably the strongest player on tour mentally and it is also well documented that whilst he was out of action for 12 months following shoulder surgery, some years ago, he spent a lot of time on the mental training aspect of his game and he is well known for his rituals in between points. Johanna Konta, the tennis player, who has risen from 150 in the world to 9 in a little over a year, follows similar rituals. At the end of a rally they immediately engage in long slow deep breaths in order to reduce their heart rate so that they can think clearly - Nick will do this by having hand high up on the wall. He’s not wiping a sweaty hand; he’s opening his diaphragm in order to breathe slowly. This probably takes 10-15 seconds. He will then buy himself a few more seconds by bouncing the ball 10-11 times prior to serving. His heart rate will still be high but its dropping and his mind is under control. During this time he is re-setting/re-focussing on the next rally AND ONLY THE NEXT RALLY. In fact the focus is on the next 2-3 shots- “Can I put my opponent under pressure from service? Can I capitalise on a weak return” His heart rate will still continue to slow, even in those first 2-3 shots (5seconds of play) which may be all it takes to win that rally. So, end of rally, your first thought should be “breath deep and slow” , reduce your heart rate and start to think more clearly, don’t focus on the score- focus on the next couple of shots. It would be unrealistic to think that you will remember to do this for every rally. But let’s say you did it for an extra 4 rallies in a PAR game? With the correct focus you’d probably win 3 out of those 4 rallies. - Those 3 points are the difference between you winning or losing 11-9!!! Breathe deep! Bob M


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