‘They only get emotional because they are so competitive’
These are the type of words and sentiment I hear often from parents when describing why their child folds under pressure. If someone loses emotional control it does not mean they are ‘more’ competitive than a person who maintains control.
True competitiveness begins from within. Tennis is a tough game to have a PB (personal best) climate due to the nature of the competition. You either win or you lose. Very few really gauge their performance levels during a match or tournament.
Any sports psychologist will tell you it is vital to ‘stick to task’ and ‘keep things in perspective’. In my opinion it is a very fine line between remaining determined to compete vs becoming desperate to win. As soon as you go into desperation your mind wanders back to what has happened or forward to what could happen. When this occurs your mind goes into a state of anxiety and this has a direct influence on your decision making, reactions, coordination, muscle relaxation and breathing. The consequences are simple, you will not perform anywhere near your optimum levels.
Of course, this is all very easy for me to write but what do you need to do to help develop this mind set?
Ask yourself these questions:
1. Does tennis define me as a person?
2. Would I rather win and perform badly or lose and perform my best?
3. Do I genuinely evaluate my performance as I compete?
1. If the answer is yes then you need to re-evaluate why you play the game. Your ability to win or lose a tennis match should not be related to your feeling of self worth. Your parents will love you the same whether you win or lose. You are defined by the way you are with yourself and others and most definitely NOT on how well you strike a small yellow fluffy sphere.
2. How much do you wish to compete & perform versus win? If you simply want to win and that consumes you then you will not be focused on your performance. The old adage of ‘you can only play one point at a time’ is not a cliche, it is 100% true as far as your focus is concerned. Wish the best for your opponents. Hope they bring their best tennis to you and you will truly receive the best test of your competitiveness.
3. If the answer is no then you are missing out on the opportunity to turn around losing situations and see out winning positions. Some have the feeling of not wanting to think during a match. They like to be free from decision making and not having to get bogged down with plans and how things are going. It doesn’t take a lot of energy to evaluate if you have a simple thought process. Play about with these ideas:
Coach by trajectory – the last thing you want to be thinking of on a tennis court is ‘how’ you hit the ball. Stay away from detailed technical thoughts. Use the trajectory of the ball to self correct. If you hit long quickly correct the height or spin in your mind. Be careful of thinking you have hit the ball too hard when you hit long. The thought of ‘hit slower’ often leads to muscle tension and deceleration. This is not going to bring you to a peak performance state. Your body has enough experience to know how to adapt a technique based on trajectory. Think trajectory!
Have DO thoughts – Your internal voice is way more powerful than any external voice can be. Fill your head with determined DO thoughts. Be your own best supporter. Constantly encourage yourself to DO things about the situation whether you are behind, level or ahead in the match.
File or Recycle – Any time you perform well in a point file it away for future use. Any time you perform badly, learn from it then stick it straight in the recycle bin. This way you learn from your mistakes and build on your successes. Fill your head with thoughts of you playing your best points.
Realise why you’re so good – More good means less bad! A match can be decided by one or two points. If you are aware of what you are best at then you bring this to the court at the most crucial times. Know what your favourite serve is on each diagonal. Play your ‘A’ patterns when the opportunity arises and above all play with no regrets.
Remember, tennis does not define you as a person, you are way more value as a person than you can ever be on a tennis court. Be competitive with yourself and then bring this to your opponent. Wish your opponent the best and hope they bring their absolute best to the match court. Keep simple trajectory thoughts in your head, tell yourself you are going to DO things and know your best patterns under pressure.
Let me know how you get on during this most difficult of journeys. The rewards are right around the corner