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Since winning the U.S Open, Emma has been in the firing line for many lower ranked tour players who it would seem have turned up believing: ‘I’ve got nothing to lose here’ and, who have then unleashed their ‘A’ game on her. Having just won a slam, playing possibly the best tennis of your life, and then expected to keep on winning, is likely to load anyone in this situation with a significant amount of stress, especially, if they haven't trained how to play with relaxed concentration on court. Relaxed concentration simply means being relaxed in your body, playing without any extra physical tension and playing with a mind which is quiet and yet focused. It is often seen in very young children at play, and it was the state Emma appeared to be in last year at the US open. She was enjoying her experience, immersed in the moment, and focused with ease on what she was attempting to achieve. I would like to offer some solutions based on the Inner Game of Tennis which I believe could help Emma get back to that place where she was able to focus with ease, enjoy her experience, and play her best tennis! Firstly, it requires an understanding of how we go about improving performance of any kind and Tim Gallwey, author of the Inner Game series, summed it up very nicely when he said that ‘as humans we all have a lot more potential than we realise, but equally we all interfere with that potential more than we would like to admit’. The Inner Game formula is; Performance = potential – interference. Part of the reason that we get in our own way and interfere with our potential is related to how we go about learning and attempting to change things in order to achieve our goals. Two very obvious interferences are over-thinking things and trying too hard. While an over-emphasis on teaching can lead to this result, so can a mind that has been conditioned to believe that this is the way to do things, i.e., people show up with this mindset already in a learning and performing environment. So how do we find that joy, that desire to want to play, where focus is natural and not forced?, And, how can we learn precise, fluid, accurate and powerful ball striking? The inner game offers 3 principles that when attended to, can lead to higher levels of performance, learning and enjoyment. The first principle is non-judgemental awareness of ‘what is’. This helps the student to let go of trying too hard as they come to experience things as they are. Let me give you an example. Suppose a student believes for whatever reason that racket head speed through contact and after will give them the power they need. Instead of trying hard to do this – ‘trying’ being the default mode, ask them to just have a go at each shot and notice afterwards how fast the racket travelled through contact. Maybe rate it on a scale of 1-10 or just notice it. This can be applied to almost anything and it is a much more natural way of learning as the student trusts in their own inner resources and develops their potential from inside- out, that is, from their experience. Time and again, when students have been able to let go and focus with non-judgemental awareness, I have not only seen more natural and effective change but a real joy in the learning process as the student explores what feels good and what works best for them. Aligning these two factors gives a sure path to success! The second principle is ‘Choice’. Helping a player to become more aware of their own experience will also help them to become more responsible for where they place their attention (choice). If a player is noticing that they are off-centre with their hits or mis-timing their shots, they can then choose whether or not focus their attention on ‘noticing’ where the ball is hitting on their strings. As the player learns to let go and trust in the power of awareness, they learn to develop greater self-trust, the third principle of the Inner Game. Trust in the natural learning process will go a long way to bringing back the joy and peace that Emma so desperately needs at the moment. Yes, there will be moments of joy as she wins a match here and there but for consistency, long term happiness and peace, gaining mastery of her ‘Inner Game’ will give her so much more! There are so many thing to pay attention to that can accelerate a players game and enjoyment. The bridge to all of this is learning how and where to focus attention. I have been helping coaches and players learn how to apply the ‘Inner Game’ for over 20 years and I have enjoyed every moment of it! If you would like to know more about how the Inner Game can help you or your players, please get in touch with Mindful Winners. Andy Knibbs LTA Coach Mentor (Inner Game of Tennis) Inner Game Global Facilitator. 07715327312.

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