Play Awake Philosophy

Have you ever played tennis and felt like the game was played the mode of fast forward? Or have you felt so rushed and confused on what shot to play during a point?  Well, you are not alone…I felt like this during my 3rd round match at the Australian Open!

On the other hand, have you had matches where you were on fire, untouchable, playing with ease, and couldn't miss a shot; where you were playing out of your mind or inside the zone!  Reaching this level of perfomance IS the Play Awake philosophy!

Tennis, as with many sports, takes multiple physical skills in order enjoy the game and play at a competent level.  Some of these skills include flexibility, coordination, balance, aerobic health, and strength to name a few.  However, even if you begin to master some or all of the above physical skills on the court, you still might be missing the crucial element of the mind-body connection. 

Therefore, at Healey Tennis we not only teach our students the physical skills we also place attention on the mental side of the game.  I like to think of this concept of connecting the mind and body as the key that unlocks the hours spent on the practice court and in the gym – A.K.A your true potential and the ability to play inside your personal zone!  

Play Awake not only assists high performance players master their craft, but will unlimately enhance all players (beginner to advanced, kids to adults) to be calm and present which will help on the court, but more importanly in LIFE outside the court!

Play Awake Welcome Video


How do I Play Awake?

Realize what doesn’t work!

How often do you find yourself rushing to the court with the mobile phone in one hand and your racquet bag in the other?  Or realised you forgot to eat before taking to the court, so you devour a sandwich on your way out to practice or play a match? Or you get on the court and you realize both racquets have broken strings?

How did you practice or play on those days?  I’m betting you were a little below your best ;)

Why do you play Tennis?

In order to Play Awake (or reach your peak performance) you need to remember WHY you play the game.  If your reason for playing the sport is centered around winning, becoming famous, or gaining fortune, then regardless of the outcome you will always feel a sense of emptiness or a craving for more. This approach will never work and you will always leave the court feeling unsatisfied. 

Therefore, part of the secret to Play Awake is remembering the reason you play the game, which in my experience is for fun, to get exercise or both!  You need to fill yourself with the pleasure of connecting your racquet to the fuzzy yellow ball, your movements on the court, the creative element of tennis or the even better, perceiving the sport as a moving meditation.   If you can lean into this kind of joy and relish how the body feels when it plays the game, then you are on the right track!  

Notice and manage your thinking and emotions? 

Have you felt fearful about losing a match because of what others (especially your parents) would think? Or have you noticed your hands become more sweaty before you attempt to serve for a match?  Or shortness in your breathing if you are worried about your ranking slipping and what that would mean?  Then, you were probably experiencing what most humans feel from time to time, which is known as CER or conditioned emotional response

To put it simply we are emotional beings, and if we feel threatened, worried, or frustrated our body will show us those emotions by producing chemical reactions.  And what creates these emotions and chemical reactions? Our thoughts of course!  Therefore, once we accept an emotion as a natural arising due to our thinking, we can turn our attention to thoughts that are condusive to a good performance; which is basically visualizualizing our personal highlight reel.  Generally, our highlight reel creates positive thoughts which in-turn provides pleasurable emotions eventuating in a confidence boost, allowing us to feel assertive, courageous and sure of ourselves and our actions. 

*more on emotions and mind-body connection in articles atached below.


Connecting the Mind & Body & Igniton of Play Awake!

3 step process: Analyze - Visualize - Presence

Step 1:  Analyze

On the Court

Asking questions or analyzing on the court is an important part of the process in order to create a game plan and get clear on what you are looking to accomplish.  There were many times on the ATP pro tour that I lacked the ability to create and ultimately adjust game plans when things weren't working.  Consequently, I ended up confused with my shot selection and at times played well below my level of ability.  My solution would be to TRY HARDER and hit through my opponents, playing with a lack of clarity and direction, which unltimately ended in losing matches that I 'should' have won. 

Analysis on the court points directly to questioning what's happening within a game or match.  Below are some questions that can help in providing a game plan and direction on the court: Whats working well? Am I playing my opponents weaknesses? How can I utilize my strengths to exploit these weaknesses?  Or maybe one of your shots isn't working that day? So a question might be, how can I avoid playing or protect this shot today? 


Off the Court

Analysis off the court points directly to your thoughts about your life in general; essentially, what you are thinking and what you are beliving in any given situation.  A good idea is to ask yourself the question, are my thoughts creating stress and or dis-ease inside my body at the moment?  If the answer is yes, then the only way to relieve the discomfort and/or confusion is to QUESTION these thoughts!  

In my experience, the best way to question your thoughts is through a process called, The WorkThe Work is a simple yet powerful process of inquiry that teaches you to identify and question your thoughts.  In its most basic form, The Work consists of four questions and the turnarounds.  If you would like to experience more freedom from your mind and live a more peaceful, contented life, feel free to click HERE to be directed to my wife Marnie, who is a certifed facilitator in this process. 


Step 2: Visualize

Visualization provides a road map for your body to follow; I like to think of visualization as downloading software into your nervous system.  Visualization is basically playing a movie in your “mind's eye” of how you want your match or practice to unfold.   I recommend watching your practice or match like it’s your favorite cartoon, by making the images as vivid and graphic as possible.  Watch yourself executing the necessary movements and shots to win points and eventually the match, competition and/or tournament.  You mentally create a blueprint of your game plan: visualize the actions and allow your body to simply follow.  This is an enjoyable process, so have fun with it!

Visualization is the other key ingredient in allowing your true potential to come to fruition!


Step 3: Presence

Presence is ultimately meditation. Meditation is one of the main ingredients that links the mind to the body.  In my experience, once the connection of body and mind is made the game slows down, and you become clearer on when and where to hit the ball and more connected to your actions and movements on the court – you begin to feel the game and Play Awake!

What is Meditation?

"Meditation acts as a bridge to the present moment, the only place true power exists" as stated by maestro, Eckhart Tolle.

As a beginner, guided meditations are a great way to start your journey within and give you a sense of connecting the mind and body.  Practicing these meditations will slow your mind, and bring your attention into the moment.  They will also provide you with powerful perspective shifts away from future thinking, winning or focusing on finish line, or past thinking, dwelling on mistakes or missed opportunities. 

Awakening your senses or being mindful as you drive to practice, match or tournament is another meditation method; it’s an alternative way of quieting your mind and nervous system.  A basic, yet disciplined example, is to switch your phone off and just notice your surroundings.  Then begin to experience the inhale and exhale of your breath, noticing the air as it moves in and out through your nostrils.  Now move your attention to your feet, feel your feet in your shoes and the floor beneath your feet.  Now notice the pressure of your back on the seat or the texture of your clothes on your skin.  Observe if your mind wanders and follows a thought train, and if so gently shift your attention back to the sense you were focusing on. The art of shifting your attention to how you are feeling is extremely powerful and will most certainly help you set the stage for peak performance on the court and outside it! 

I recommend practicing the above meditaion and visualization exercises for 20 minutes each day and 30 minutes before your match or practice.  This repetition will prepare you for competition by limiting your emotional attachment to results, and the ability to play the game pressure free! 

For me however, the main motivation to adding mindful Play Awake practices to my daily routine is that life becomes slower, more peaceful and I begin to appreciate the simple things.  

If you are interested in more mental coaching and the art of Play Awake, please click HERE!

Mental resources:

David Lawrence Preston, and Deb and Ed Shapiro.

Basic guided meditation:

******TBA - Nathan Healey Guided Visualization *****




Nathan practicing PlayAwake  during the US Open with partner Ashley Fisher