It’s important to understand that one’s mental attitude affects not only their tennis performance, but every aspect of their lives. The challenge in both tennis and life is to have the skills and strategies to turn a losing situation into a winning one—which may or may not actually mean winning the match.
Considering that tennis is really just a game, we want it to be fun. How many times have you walked off the court feeling badly about yourself, when you have played (in your own mind) poorly? We frequently have our identity as worthy people wrapped up in our tennis performance. In order to separate these two very distinct elements, let’s look at what constitutes a player who has a “winning attitude.”
This means that the player’s mind can adapt to change very quickly. Whatever occurred during the last point is over and the outcome of the match is in the future. So the only moment he or she has any control over is the one they are executing at the present time. As you watch the professional players, you can often see how they manage this mental challenge. In the 2013 Australian Open, you might have seen and heard how Victoria Azarenka talked about the pressure of almost losing to Sloane Stephens. She mentioned that she realized she might be sabotaging her chance of advancing into the finals and that the pressure was overwhelming. We’ll never know exactly why she took the 10 minute hiatus, but her words were quite revealing. How successful are you at letting go of past mistakes and keeping your focus off of “having to win?”
The ability to be flexible on the court shows up in other ways as well. Imagine you have been matched with someone who clearly is a stronger player than you. How quickly can you adjust to the situation so that you end up feeling like a winner, even though the score might not reflect it?
I heard a very experienced coach tell his young high school player to “Go out and play with confidence and be aggressive.” He was giving him exactly the right advice, but the young man, most likely, had no idea how to do it. A confident player knows his game and plays it. He is realistic about his level of skill and has practiced not only the technical and tactical part of their game, but has put time and effort in becoming skillful with the mental aspect of their game. With this type of overall training, he has an arsenal of options to deal with the pressure of competition that most other recreational and more experienced competitive players do not.
“It’s not always easy to do on our own, but the more knowledge we have of our own emotional patterns that show up on the court, the more power we have to control the outcome of game.”
Tennis is a social game and with that comes our characteristic ways of dealing with social relationships. A coach once said to me, “The way we do something is the way we do everything.” That means we take our attitude towards others and how we relate to them on to the court with us. I’ve heard many stories from players, whether playing singles or doubles, about how they are affected by their tennis partners. There’s the one who wants to give their doubles partner a good game, and when they cannot maintain a quality level of play, they start feeling badly, and consequently, start playing worse. Then there’s the player who didn’t like being beaten by older players when he was younger, so when he became the older player, felt sorry for the younger player and began to give away the match. Still another example is the spouse who cannot stop correcting their partner’s technique because they think it’s helpful … and any other number of variations on the theme. Most of these scenarios are carried out with the best of intentions, but without real awareness as to how to correct the errors. It’s important that we take the time to become conscious of our behavior and the underlying causes that influence us. It’s not always easy to do on our own, but the more knowledge we have of our own emotional patterns that show up on the court, the more power we have to control the outcome of game.
This is not really a separate element, but one that encompasses all that is described above. Tennis is a game that is designed to have a winner and a loser of every point—which happens very quickly. We are being challenged at every level to respond quickly and accurately. The more we accept the reality of our own abilities at the present time, and the parameters of the game itself, the more we will enjoy the game we love to hate!
Tina Greenbaum, LCSW
<p>Tina Greenbaum, LCSW is a sport psychology consultant and a holistic psychotherapist. She works with tennis players of all levels in learning how to manage their emotions on the court. She shares this passion with her partner, Fred Sperber, a professional tennis instructor of 28 years in a six-week program called Tennis to the Max where they combine mental skills training with on court execution. She may be reached by e-mail at <a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a> or visit <a href="http://www.tennistothemax.com" onclick="window.open(this.href,'wwwtennistothemaxcom','resizable=no,location=no,menubar=no,scrollbars=no,status=no,toolbar=no,fullscreen=no,dependent=no,status'); return false">www.tennistothemax.com</a>.</p>