If you play tennis to win, there is not a level of play that does not involve pressure. In tennis, someone will win and someone will lose. As a player, I felt my best when something was on the line. Money, trophies … pride! I liked playing tons of sets and if that was not an option, then tons of game-based drills.
Victory was just the best feeling in the world and that amazing feeling justified all of the hard work I needed to dedicate towards improvement. Losing was just devastating. Looking back, I remember more of the tough losses than the wins. The losses stung deeper and lasted longer the higher I climbed the rankings. The tougher the loss, the more time I dedicated to development and I trained even harder. A simple formula is hard work = success, and the harder you work, the more success you will have. It was what I based my entire playing career on, and I approach coaching my players at Syracuse University the same way.
But, my ability to work hard was not as important as my ability to play my best when the most pressure was on. It is THE most important area for any competitor. There are practice players and then there are BIG match players. This is a skill like any other skill that is learned. The emotional and mental toughness required to win defining points in every match at every level requires emotional discipline. This is not easy and winning is not easy. The ability to overcome the fear of losing will point your game in the right direction towards being a big point player.
To overcome this fear, I use a pen to paper approach to make a fear inventory. After your matches, both in practice, tournaments or league play, take some time right after the competition while your feelings are still strong and write down all of the fears you had during the match. Allow yourself to start at the beginning of your match and recall any negative thought you had at the time. Write it down and allow yourself to let the emotions pour out. You
should find that the there is an anxiety boulder you are probably playing with on your shoulders that is preventing you from being your best when you need your best the most.
This exercise has been very important towards the development of my team. Remember … to be a student of the game in all areas and how you handle emotions is choice. You can choose to be a master of them or your emotions will master YOU!
Go for the lines!
Raised in Ludington, Mich., Luke Jensen’s resume includes 10 ATP Tour doubles titles. He was also a member of the U.S. Davis Cup teams that reached the finals in 1991 and won in 1992. His ambidextrous play, including his ability to serve the ball with either hand at 130 mph, earned him the nickname “Dual Hand Luke.” Luke is currently director of racket sports at West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, N.Y. He may be reached by phone at (315) 403-0752 or e-mail LukeJensen84@yahoo.com.