Humor is serious business
"YOU IDIOT!" screamed 16-year-old Susan after missing a high mid-court forehand, which she normally would have knocked off for an easy winner. Then she stormed toward the baseline, furious at herself.
As her opponent prepared to serve the next point, Susan glanced at her coach, who was seated next to me. With his forefinger and thumb, he grabbed onto his nose, looked at Susan and smiled. Half-reluctantly, she smiled back. Then, he began tugging his nose in small, circular motions. She laughed, then backed away from the baseline to compose herself. Two games later, Susan had won the match. "What was that all about?" I asked her coach later.
"This," he said, grasping his nose and grinning as he'd done before, "means smile." Then, rotating his nose, he said, "And this means laugh. Technically, the no-coaching rules don't permit it. But it works."
It certainly does. The smile and laugh helped Susan step back emotionally and regain perspective. When Susan stepped forward again to play the next point, she was in much greater control of her emotions.
Smiling and laughing are underrated weapons for tennis players who need to relieve stress. Sport often is perceived as an arena for the serious, a place to be intensely competitive. This attitude brings players a certain amount of success, but always serious players usually lack the emotional flexibility to achieve their full potential.
Nearly every champion uses fun and humor to relieve the pressure, even in the heat of battle. Just think how Jimmy Connors clowns with the linespersons, or how Martina Navratilova makes self-deprecating jokes after missed shots. And, the partners in all the top doubles teams often laugh with each other.
Being able to maintain a sense of humor is a sign that you are still in control emotionally. Humor also can triggerwhatyou most desperately need in stressful situations: calmness and clarity. It reduces tension and frustration. Your mind becomes calmer and more attentive. Your body becomes more relaxed and responsive.
But without a sense of humor, the competitive stress takes its toll and can overwhelm you. Your mood sours. You become irritated easily and are unable to bounce back from mistakes and setbacks. Anxiety and frustration take over.
To improve your ability to inject humor into heated matches, try these tips:
• Have a funny thought, word or movement that always makes you laugh, and use it to trigger a smile when you feel stress during a match.
• Try to see the humor in every situation. Laugh off your mistakes; that's about all you can do after you've made them. You'll be amazed at how quickly negative emotions such as fear and anger fade.
• Set goals before the match, such as to smile at least twice a set during stress.
• Evaluate your performance after the match. How often did you smile or laugh? What kind of an effect did it have? Did your trigger work, or should you try a different one? Should you use humor even more often, or did you overdo it?
• Don't worry that smiling and laughing mean you're not taking the match seriously. Rather, these are serious strategies to relieve stress.
Source: Loehr, J. E. (1992). Humor is serious business. Tennis, 27(12), 61.
Last edited by Ganglion; 08-29-2007 at 04:12 PM.