“Love the ball, nothing but the ball”: Managing the Multitasking Mind

Do you have moments on the court, when your mind is bombarded with all things that need to be done, and you miss that easy shot? How about when the coach is explaining the mechanics of your easy miss and you tune him out, his words sounding like the adults on Charlie Brown cartoons “Whaa, whaa, whaa, whaa!” He may be frustrated thinking, “Why can’t you just do what we practiced a million times?” while you may be thinking, “I know what I’m supposed to do, but I just can’t focus on it. Can’t you understand I have a lot on my mind?” It may be helpful to put aside mechanics and consider the multitasking mind.

Here are some perspectives from Coach Bill Patton:

An understanding of how men and women differ in learning style and brain function enhanced my coaching methods. Both men and women multitask but it is something I noticed they approach differently. Although, multitasking may seem like a good idea, studies now show that it often leaves us less present and too quickly moving on to the next thing with mediocre results. It’s like a car radio with bad reception; you can hear several stations at once but not very clearly.

In a talk by sports psychologist Dr. Cheryl McLaughlin, she spoke to a group of tennis professionals about multitasking in men and women. She conducted a study showing that women’s brains fire in more locations of the brain than men’s while engaged in similar activities. In a broad sense, men tend to be more linear and logical in their approach, while women bring more intuition and feeling into their thinking, moving quickly from thought to thought. Both ways of thinking have their advantages, but it is the balance of the two that would yield the greatest results.

Tennis truly rewards the ability to concentrate on a singular purpose for a certain length of time.

But how does understanding all this help your tennis? Tennis truly rewards the ability to concentrate on a singular purpose for a certain length of time. When we come to a match bringing multiple unrelated thoughts in mind, the kids, work, relatives, chores…the ability to place all of our attention on the ball is diminished. Loses on the court could lead to frustration, self-blame and inner-conflict, creating a high-energy force field of resistance against multitasking.

A much better alternative is to accept multitasking as part of whom we are, identify the thought that is bothersome at the time and speak to it, “I don’t need to think about you right now. I will think about you again after the match”. (Yes, it’s ok to talk to yourself as long as you don’t interrupt). Turn off the distractions in your mind, one by one. Of course, they may attempt to pop back in, at which time you could warmly accept them, and give a gentle reminder “I told you that I would think about you after the match”. Just like tennis, this is something that requires practice and will get easier with time. Billie Jean King was known to have a ritual whereby she placed a tennis ball on a table before her match, and repeatedly said, “I love the ball, nothing but the ball”.

We can gently tune in to one radio station in our minds. When we do, not only will be concentrating better in a match, but may also be healthier and happier.

Bill Patton
(510) 909-3662
Tennis and Creative Coaching
(Castro Valley, Hayward, Berkeley, Oakland)