How Choking Affects a Tennis Player’s Strokes

Most of us think of choking as something that is purely mental – – when we get into a clutch situation, we get tight and end up “blowing” easy points.

But did you know there are physical aspects to choking that cause you to miss points?

One area of your physical game that breaks down when you get nervous is groundstrokes. Typically, a choker begins to hit more slice than topspin.

Why? Because it’s easier to hit backspin than to hit topspin.

After a ball bounces, it spins toward you. In order to return the ball with topspin, you must change the rotation of the ball so that it is spinning away from you (topspin). This takes more power and precision. To return a ball with slice (backspin), all you have to do is send the ball back with the same spin it had when it came at you!

While it may be easier to hit slice, a slice is a more defensive shot than topspin, and gives your opponent an advantage, especially since many recreational players slice across their bodies instead of through the stroke, which produces sidespin, curving balls out of the court.

You also tend to hit with less pace when you start to choke.

If you ease up on your groundstrokes, balls that you previously hit down the line with success will land in the alley, because the decrease in racquet head speed changes the angle of your shot if you make contact in the same place you did when you were swinging faster. If you’re going to ease up, aim more to the center of the court.

Another stroke that changes with nerves is the serve.

When you’re feeling good, you toss the ball with confidence, reach up for it, and move forward. When you’re nervous, you begin to toss the ball much lower, stay down and keep your weight static or back. This gives you less pace on your serve, and allows your opponent to put more pressure on you with aggressive returns.

The next time you’re starting to choke, check to see if you’ve changed your strokes. Are you slicing more? Are you easing up on shots and missing wide? Are you staying down and tossing the ball into your racquet on your serve?

If you don’t know how to control your nervousness, you can at least try to control your strokes.

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