5 Steps To Master The Vital 7th Game

This guest post is by Don Macpherson the Mindbender.

If you are a golfer you don’t know how you are doing in competition unless you look at the scoreboards as you walk around the course. You can choose to ignore them, and play each shot as it comes, and simply let the final score be whatever it is.

A Formula One racing driver on a hot qualifying lap, can choose to ignore the data on his steering wheel, just drive flat out, and find out later where he is on the grid for the race.

In tennis you have no such choice thanks to the Umpire, , and at least two large electronic scoreboards at either end of the court. If you are a tennis player I wonder how you would play if you did not know the score? Knowing point by point exactly what the score is, and how you are doing, brings extra mental pressure which some players deal with better than others.

Being ‘scored’ means you are being judged, and this always cranks up the pressure. How do you deal with it, and how can you do a better than job your opponent?

This mental challenge is all about managing the voice in your head, the monkey mind, so he does not overreact whatever the score, winning or losing. How well you deal with him, can have a serious effect on how you play the next point and game, negatively or positively.

“Being scored means you are being judged, and this always cranks up the pressure”

Coaches and commentators, often speak about the ‘vital 7th’ game, because they believe it is mentally the most important of the set. At the very least they argue it will ‘set you up’ to win the set! Are they right, or are they bigging it up too much? Does this impact on you negatively, tempt you to ‘try even harder’, and maybe tighten up a bit? Lets have a closer look at this scoring phenomenon…….

Imagine this scenario. You are leading 5-1, so the pressure has gone up a notch, but all you have to do is close out the set, and you have at least four chances to do so. Just keep on doing what you were doing, and all should be well. Job done?

How about 3-3 and it’s your serve? Better not drop it now and give your opponent the chance to serve for 5-3, and then you will have to break back immediately, or the set has gone.

Feeling a bit more pressure now, just because of the score? Will you play safe, slow your serve down, go for it even more, or can you stay calm and maintain your natural rhythm? Can you keep on doing, what you have been doing?

“Being up rather that down in a match brings more pressure because there is more to lose”

The final permutation is you are 4-2 up and serving for 5-2, and this is when your monkey mind will need managing, because he knows how important this game is. Suddenly he is awake, tempted to interfere and make sure you don’t mess it up. ‘Come on now, what a great chance, we need this game, must win the first point, got to get my first serve in, can’t make any unforced errors…….must try even harder etc….’. Can you hear him chattering away?

Being up rather that down in a match brings more pressure because there is more to lose, your expectation level is higher, and your monkey mind is more worried you might blow it. The pressure is less if you are losing.

I think this is proved by what I call the ‘sod it’ mode of playing tennis. How many times have you suddenly started playing great stuff when the match looks completely lost and you are staring at a heavy defeat? You have just gone into sod it mode. The monkey has stopped interfering with your best game because he expects you to lose. Now you can return to playing at your very best, free from worrying about the score.

The only time the 7th game isn’t so vital is when it is the 1st of the next set, because you have just won the previous set 6-0!

So what to do?

The 5 Steps To Being Master Of The Vital 7th

  • Before the match, visualise what the score might be, and see yourself reacting to it in a positive appropriate way. If the score is this, I do that, if the score is that, I do this…

  • Use the changeover prior to the 7th game more profitably. Keep your monkey mind in check by using your Zen breathing, and updating your visualising.

  • Check your speed. Are you moving too quickly? This is a sign of anxiety. Slow down. Take your time.

  • Fix your brain only on the process of playing each shot as it comes. This will keep the monkey out of the what-ifs…

  • Connect to the ‘sod it’ mode. Reverse psychology. Trick your monkey mind!

There is, of course, one game even more vital than the infamous 7th…..the last game of the whole match. How to close a match is an interesting mental challenge and a big test of your monkey mind control. More of this in another blog…:) In the meantime, please make sure you subscribe, follow and share bellow.

Don Macpherson is a UK based mind coach who has been involved with sports personalities for more than 22 years. He has appeared on television and radio several times for the BBC, and has been a regular contributor to various UK national newspapers such as the Sunday Times. Over the years Don has worked with all sorts of athletes including Tennis Grand Slam winners, Ryder Cup Golfers, Premier League soccer players and Formula One Champions. Visit his website to learn more.