Twice in the closing days of Wimbledon 2013, we have witnessed players losing their cool at crucial stages of their games. At the end of the fourth set in his semi-final against Jerzy Janowicz, Andy Murray reacted angrily when the umpire decided to close the roof even though play could have continued without this measure being taken. Murray was remonstrating because he felt that the decision had been unfairly influenced by his opponent to break his impressive momentum.
In the women's final, Marion Bartoli wasted three match points against Sabine Lisicki after dominating the game up to that point. With the big end near, maybe she took her eye of her racket and ball.
In both of these cases, the players were able to recompose themselves, pick their performance levels back up and go on to win. Murray showered, chatted a little with his coaches before coming out and resuming without a drop in performance. Bartoli took a little longer. From 5-1 up, the game came back to 5-4 before she played excellently in her final winning game.
We have all lost our composure in all sorts of contexts for all sorts of reasons with a wide variety of consequences. Do you have a set of processes in place to help you get back on track?
Where as I have not yet came across a magic button that we can flip to get our cool back, I have came across processes that are surefire ways to go in your desired direction. With time and patient practise, they can work so well that it almost seem like you've flipped a switch. They are exceedingly simple and incredibly effective. You will probably have heard of them before. Hearing about them alone makes no difference to your ability to do them in pressure situations. I recommend you practise them lots if you really want them to become an option you can effortlessly turn to when you want their benefits.
Here are three of them for your to practise:
Breathe differently. When you recognise you are focusing unproductively, simply change your breathing pattern. Go slower, faster, deeper, shallower, hold it, whatever...just change it. The act of focusing on your breathing will shift your focus away from whatever you were thinking about into the moment where it is best placed if you want to do the task at hand well. Breathe and feel how you move as you do, any changes in weight, temperature and muscular contraction/relaxation you feel. As well as putting you more in the moment, the changes in blood oxygen levels, posture and all sorts of other physiological processes will do you wonders.
Remove yourself. If the opportunity is there for you, take a break and move away from the location in which you are playing. If you can't leave, imagine that you have left and are able to watch and listen to your previous play from a distance as if a fan or a coach. Given this new vantage point, what advice would you give to that player you are watching and listening to (your past self) that may give them useful info for their next passage of play?
Change how you are using your body. Has your chin dropped? Are you frowning? Are you moving at a different speed? Do it differently. I recommend three ways you can change yourself up: do the opposite (eg raise your chin), exaggerate what your are doing (drop you chin even further) or do something completely different (wobble your head anti-surveillance style like they do at 1:34 in video below). Do something different until you are out of your funk.
These simple methods underpin many of the recomposures you will see. The magic is not in the complexity of the methods but in how well you master them so take the time to play with them and maybe you too will be able to get yourself back on track more often in those game-defining moments.