Mind Over Matter
For the Cameron University Women’s Tennis team, tennis is a game of mind over matter.
Women’s tennis player Jordan Clauson was down six to one in her match at the Midwestern State Invitational in Wichita Falls, Texas.
“My mind was gone,” Clauson said.
It wasn’t until Graduate Assistant Coach of Women’s Tennis Eva Castiglioni told Clauson to change her mindset that things finally clicked for her.
“I won nine to seven,” Clauson said. “It’s definitely a mental game.”
Castiglioni knows the importance of mindset in tennis. That’s why in the coming season the women’s tennis team is focusing on more than just physical technique. During practice Castiglioni is making a point to emphasize mental toughness on the court. She knows that during a match the pressure can difficult to deal with, and that inability to adjust can lead a player to crack.
“During practice you don’t have the same pressure as competition,” Castiglioni said. “So we’re going to make sure that we have it in our mind all the time. We’re going to make sure we’re working in more pressured situations.”
Though Castiglioni recognizes the importance of practice, she believes that a winning mindset starts off the court. That’s why she attempts build strong relationships with her players outside of practice. She wants them to be able to come to her with any problem that they have, so that she can help them fix it.
“We focus on practice and try to do our best,” Castiglioni said. “And after practice we focus on the problem and try to fix the problem.”
Castiglioni wants her players to be comfortable enough with her to remain open and honest. According to Castiglioni, those bonds affect performance on the court.
“I always try to show them that I care about them and that I love them,” Castiglioni said. “Because they’re like my daughters. I know how important it is for a coach to show their players how much they mean to them because that brings so much more to practice.”
Head Tennis Coach Josh Cobble also plays a key role in helping his players focus their mindsets on and off the court.
“Josh Cobble, my boss, is very good at that,” Castiglioni said, “So he leads us. He knows how to talk to us.”
For Clauson, as a player, the effort that her coaches put into supporting her makes a big difference.
“It’s amazing,” Clauson said. “They’re people that we can just go and talk to. We can go to their office anytime. They still have the coach status, but it’s like a mentorship too.”
Clauson said it’s not only her relationship with her coaches that matters, but also her relationships with her teammates. Her network of teammates offers her friendship and a support system, but most importantly, they hold her accountable.
“You need that bonding to want to fight for your teammate while you’re on the court,” Clauson said. “Because you’re like ‘that’s my friend too.’”
Women’s tennis player Zhenia Shviadok also understands the importance of mindset, but for her keeping centered is more of an internal process.
Even though it can be difficult, she attempts to put everything but tennis out of her head when she steps onto the court.
“It’s hard to just block everything out that’s not going well that day,” Shviadok said. “You just try to stay present and just focus on one point at a time. You just have to think about coming back and making it right.”
Shviadok finds the the process stress-reliving.
“Sometimes it can just be a good method to relieve everything,” Shviadok said. “If the day isn’t going that well now, I’m like ‘I’m going to come out on the court and kick some a–.’”
For women’s tennis player Sara Petric, being in the proper state of mind is more about adaptation than anything else. She knows factors that affect her game vary from day to day.
“It really depends on how I wake up that day,” Petric said. “It also depends on who’s your opponent.”
Petric feels that fluidity on the court is the key to a successful match.
“You really have to adapt that day,” Petric said. “If something is not working, you have to find a way to win even without that shot.”
Player Rebeka Velasova stays focused on the court by giving and receiving good energy. Velasova feels that energy is what binds her to her coaches and teammates and what gives her extra drive during a match.
“You are responsible for yourself, but you’re also responsible for your teammates,” Velasova said. “If you come out here and have bad energy that’s going to affect them. You want to be this positive energy. So I’m very focused, but I’m also spreading my happiness.”
Velasova can feel this energy best when she’s on the court and her teammates are cheering for her.
She loves the feeling of walking off the court knowing that her teammates are happy for her and proud of her.
“In college tennis it doesn’t matter if a point is played or not,” Velasova said. “You just scream. It’s much wilder and much louder than I thought. And that’s only possible at college tennis. But it makes it so beautiful. That’s what makes it so special.”
Clauson also believes that energy is an integral part of staying on top of her game. It helps her stay in the right state of mind. But for her, energy is more of an abstract concept, something that she feels rather than something concrete.
“When I first went out there I was trying to give energy,” Clauson said. “But it’s something you feel more than you can describe. When your whole team is cheering for you while you’re struggling through a match it brings up your energy level and your team’s energy level.”
Shviadok, on the other hand, gets her energy from a mutual sense of trust between her and her teammates. For her, it’s not about cheering or positivity, it’s about a shared understanding that everyone is going to do their best as individuals.
“It’s more about my internal thing,” Shviadok said. “I like to feel that the team doesn’t need to support me because they trust me.”
No matter how players find their center, Castiglioni knows that it’s important for them to find it. She understands that players can’t be at one hundred percent every day, so she attempts to cultivate an environment where she can adapt to their needs.
“It’s a very difficult sport,” Castiglioni said. “There are days that mentally you are not there and physically you are not there either. So we try drills and sometimes they don’t work. We stop and sometimes we try something else. We are very flexible.”
Even on days when players aren’t fully there, she hopes that they can each find that energy, focus and mental clarity for themselves. That way, they can bring their best game in each match.
“Tennis is eighty-five percent mental and twenty-five percent talent,” Castiglioni said, “If you are the most talented person in the word but your brain doesn’t work it’s impossible to succeed. You have to battle yourself first in order to battle your opponent.”
For both players and coaches, the important thing is not how they find their focus and mental clarity on the court, but that they’re able to find it.
Because for the Cameron University Women’s tennis team, tennis is a game of mind over matter.