: Jennifer Barretta
One of the toughest things to master in any sport is the art of closing a match. Some say this is a skill that people are born with, but I don't agree. In my own career I have been through ups and downs of closing matches, and I've noticed some distinct patterns. The following are a few of the ways I've learned to deal with the pressure when the heat is on.
Take a break: if I'm feeling particularly stressed, I will take a bathroom break. Just the act of walking away from the table is calming. I do this frequently when I get on the hill to remind myself of what I need to do. Always take your break immediately when your feel your focus, and the match, slipping away. Don't come back until you get your head right.
Breathe: Part of surviving at the end of a match is the ability to stay calm and loose when every muscle in your body is firing and trying to tighten up. One of the best ways to achieve a calm state is by breathing deeply and slowly into your belly, and exhaling through your mouth. What you don't want to do is breathe rapidly with your chest. Chances are, the pressure already has you doing that, which adds to the anxiety and tension.
Eliminate negative thoughts: When you start coming to the close of a match, funny things can happen inside your head. Sometimes self doubt can creep in and your brain suddenly asks, "Am I really good enough to beat this person?", or "What if I start dogging it?", or even worse, "I can't do this." It happens to everyone, and I've found the best way to deal with it is to allow yourself to feel the thought, and then just let it pass. Don't waste energy trying to fight it off. Negative thoughts are like a riptide. If you just tread water until it passes, you will be fine. If you fight the current, you will expend all of your energy and drown.
Stay in the moment: Throughout the match most players just relax and play. Sometimes they build up a big lead, and suddenly, instead of focusing on what they're doing, they start focusing on winning. Usually this transition is not a conscious decision so you have to continually monitor your thought process and nip it in the bud. Make your mind stay on the present task, which is aligning properly over the ball and executing your shot.
Don't change your gameplan: It's very easy to start changing your gameplan when you feel a match going south. You may find yourself going for low percentage shots to try to make something happen, or you may go into protection mode, and start playing safe on high percentage shots. Other times you may take loose shots and just wait for your opponent to hand it to you. Whatever strategy you entered the match with is the one you should stick to at the end, especially if it put you in a position to win.
Compete often: Part of becoming a clutch player is putting yourself in competition as frequently as possible. The less you put yourself in competition, the more dismal your results will be at double hill. The old adage practice makes perfect certainly applies in this case.
All of these things require practice to master, and there will be times when you do everything right and still lose. As long as you keep your cool and fight until the very end you should be proud of your performance, regardless of the outcome.