Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Concentration Now Begins - Keep The Rhythm Going

So apparently it's news that Roger Federer is 'not Robocop' and that his mind wanders sometimes during matches. Anyone who has been a Federer fan for any amount of time will probably tell you of the unspeakable fear they experience in the moment (usually in the second set) when Roger seems to start wondering whether he left the oven on, so I have to admit that I laughed a little bit when reading this article.

But let's put our serious faces on here for a second. Of course tennis players' minds wander. They are, after all, not machinery - much as Rafa Nadal might try to convince you that he is, in fact, a cyborg. A tennis match can go for a really long time - ask Isner and Mahut. I just don't think it's physically possible to remain in that space of intense concentration for so long.

I am a university student (or will be again in a couple of months when I start my doctorate). I'm one of the lucky few that actually love what I study. But can I sit down for five hours (let alone eleven) and focus on it 100%? Absolutely not. Can I do it for one hour without my mind wandering? Not a chance. And that's without distractions like 'ow, my leg hurts', 'why did they play that song in the changeover?', 'why did that dude sitting behind the umpire decide to wear that horrible lime green shirt?', 'HawkEye is the devil', and 'I hope the twins aren't destroying anything'.

Some players are better at concentration than others. Rafa Nadal is the king of it. His mind is a steel trap. His 'not concentrating' probably looks like 'concentrating' for most players. But not even he can keep up 100% pure intense focus for five hours. No one can do that.

And then there's the added dimension that tennis is a tennis player's job. They might love the game, but it's still work. How many of us get through a workday with 100% concentration?

We've heard the term 'on autopilot', and there's a lot of people out there that claim that they or various other tennis players play better when they don't think. Concentration seems to be a function of thought, so maybe it's not the be-all and end-all. Muscle memory seems to have something to do with it - Federer talks in the article of serving down the T in his match today and barely being aware of doing it. When you hit as many tennis balls as these dudes do, then sometimes the auto switch is going to flick. And maybe that's better.

Though I would say that's more transcending concentration than not concentrating. But I am not a sports psychologist. This probably means you should disregard everything I've said in this post.

So, um, yeah, I think my point was that tennis players not only don't, but can't concentrate all the time. Like Roger said. Roger's on my side. Yep. When he's thinking about it, that is.

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