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Forgetting the Bad Play: A Mindfulness Lesson from a Tennis Great


Martina Navratilova is without question one of the best female tennis players of all time.

In 2005, Tennis magazine name her the greatest female tennis player for the years 1965 – 2005.  She holds the records for most singles titles (167) and for most doubles titles (177) in the open era.  Her record as No.1 in singles (1982–86) is the most dominant in professional tennis.

What makes an athlete truly exceptional is what they are doing off the court (or off the field) to prepare mentally for the game.  For better, or worse, we are with ourselves—and our minds—all the time.

Whether you are a professional athlete or not, we all self-talk.  We can get “in our heads” or down on ourselves if things are not going as planned or when nothing in our game plan is working.

What Mindfulness helps people do is reign in the negative talk, forget the bad play(s), and return back to the present moment–without a clouded vision of what it may (or may not) become.

Taking a moment to connect with our breath is the simplest way to do this.

What Martina did that was so exceptional is practice hitting balls into the net. She would do this OVER and OVER again.  One ball, after the other—into the net.  Each time she would consciously forget the last play, pretending that each new shot was a brand new moment.  As an added feature to this mental reset, she added a physical component to it as well.  Once she hit the ball into the net, she would turn and pretend to look at her coach in the stands.  Then, back at it.  A new moment, a new play.

Why is this so important?

Martina’s ability to practice not having a good experience and then quickly shifting to forgetting it happened is the sweet nectar of a consistent mindfulness practice.

In Martina’s case, she combined two qualities (the mental and the physical) into her reset.  This coupling feature allowed her to really solidify the act of forgetting the bad play.

The main take-away I get from Martina’s example is that SHE PRACTICED THIS.  No one can expect to be able to implement this consistently and at such a high level when you are down two sets and losing the match.  That is not the time to start.  The time, of course, is in practice.

Let’s make no mistake about it–this practice is not easy.  It takes a commitment and a clear purposeful determination.  Martina shows us with her extraordinary talents that we can also strive for greatness too. We may not all be professional athletes, but we can learn a thing or two from how they operate.  Martina is a shining example of how to forget the bad play and learn to live fully in the moment.  After all, wouldn’t it be nice to be as prepared as she was for our Wimbledon moment?




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Melissa Marks Garner is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Yoga Teacher and has over 13 years experience.