Mental toughness, use it to your advantage.

He has nerves of steel. Ice water runs through his veins. He is clutch. This is what is said to describe an athlete when he excels under pressure.

He choked. He has the yips. He was wide open and dropped the ball. This is said of someone who lets the pressure of the moment get to him.

I love the title of the book “Pressure is a Privilege,” the autobiography by tennis great Billy Jean King.

She wanted to feel pressure. This is why she trained so hard. Walking onto center court for the final at the U.S. Open or Wimbledon was a privilege she earned, and she wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

I have found you can achieve mental toughness through discipline and goal setting. You must be committed to doing what is necessary to achieve your goals.

You have to look at the demands of the competition, develop a training program and make the proper lifestyle adjustments. You have to be mindful of what you eat and drink. This is the fuel you need to run your body. No junk food.

You must remain calm under pressure and try to maintain your breathing and heart rate. You will see athletes slow down and become more deliberate as the pressure mounts.

They will take a deep breath to get oxygen to the heart and brain. This will relax them. A relaxed muscle is a stronger muscle and will respond more efficiently than a tense muscle.

A patient had been struggling with tennis elbow for seven months. His father referred him to my office.

My examination found tenderness in the elbow but he showed some muscle weakness in his grip. This indicated an irritation to a nerve in his cervical spine.

Our treatment included adjusting his elbow, wrist and upper spine, including his neck. The motor strength returned quickly and his elbow pain started to resolve.

Then I worked on his confidence. I discussed his training with him. I told him not to try and make up for lost time.

His father is an excellent player and hired a local coach. He has made some changes to his swing mechanics.

I tell him it is OK to lose a match to a much more skilled player. You should never lose to someone at your level or below. If you do, it is all mental.

One of my patients asked me to hit tennis balls with her son. He had an excellent game but he had trouble winning matches even against players he should beat easily.

In one game when he was serving, he hit two hard serves to my backhand that I could not return. The rest of the game he hit his serve to my forehand and I won the game. He was just playing, not playing to win.

I spoke to his mother and coach. They worked with him. The young man can now blow me off the court.

I have seen many athletes return to play too soon when they are injured. They end up aggravating the injury.

If you are injured, take care of your injury first. Rest and recovery are part of training. 

Dr. Robert Lynch is a former president of the Maine Chiropractic Association and head of the Lynch Chiropractic Center in South Portland. “Staying in the Game” appears every other Thursday in the Press Herald. Contact him at:

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