Conscious and Subconscious Tennis Roles
(Tennis article by Randy Lynn Rutledge - a former USPTA tennis teaching professional)
This article uses analogy to describe the roles of the conscious and subconscious mind in tennis.
Do you remember the first time you had the responsibility of being the operator of a moving motor vehicle?
There are similarities between a first driving experience and learning to play tennis, where the conscious and subconscious parts of the mind are concerned.
My First Driving Lesson
I can remember that at 16 years of age, I struggled with the steering wheel of a 1956 Ford station wagon in an attempt to keep the car within the bounds of a winding road just outside of Tehachapi, a mountain community in California. My oldest brother was in the passenger seat as I focused my eyes on the roadway immediately in front of the car. I kept moving the steering wheel back and forth trying to stay centered within the bounds on my half of the roadway.
I was a totally inexperienced driver, so I was relying only on my conscious mind to control the car. No driving experience meant that the subconscious portion of my central nervous system contained no stored muscle memory for any of the many individual tasks or motor skills that are involved in driving a car. My first driving lesson ended when I failed to maneuver a sharp left turn and drove my brother’s car into a dirt embankment. The car was moving slowly, so there was no damage. The experience gave me valuable feedback which helped me to understand what I should have done to get the car to turn.
My Second Driving Lesson
My conscious mind, after plenty of reflection about the first driving lesson, had formulated a plan about what I needed to fix during the second lesson. Of course, my brother offered a few suggestions. Armed with feedback from the first driving lesson, a small amount of muscle memory from the experience of my first driving lesson, and a plan of action to correct the mistakes of the first driving experience, my second lesson was more successful. My subconscious mind took care of the already familiar driving skills while my conscious mind paid attention to making the corrections for the mistakes of the first driving experience.
Being an Experienced Driver
Today as an experienced driver, I can rely on my subconscious mind, the central nervous system, and muscle memory to maneuver the tasks or motor skills that are required for me to drive a car. Now, my conscious mind can simply enjoy the ride, as long as the vehicle and the route are familiar and my eyes are sending reliable visual input to my brain.
Trust Your Subconscious Mind
The conscious mind is more involved during the learning of new tasks related to strokes, hits, strategies, and any other unfamiliar tennis behaviors. We gain confidence as we learn to trust the subconscious mind to perform the already programmed tennis skills according to our present level of playing ability; then, against an opponent of similar ability, we might experience being in the zone, or tennis flow. The conscious mind takes care of planning and sending accurate visual information to the brain for processing, while we must trust the subconscious mind to perform the pre-programmed tennis tasks, as the conscious mind pays attention.