We play our best tennis when we are not distracted … I think we can all agree on that. When our mind is quiet, our muscle memory is able to operate freely. Decisions are made effortlessly and creative solutions to shots and strategies seem to appear out of nowhere.
What most people don’t realize is that they are actually distracting themselves and critiquing. Especially those with a Type A personality who seem to have a hard time shaking this habit. I know it feels like the right thing to do to self-correct. It feels like you are helping yourself. I would like to suggest the opposite. I do not expect you to take my word for it, but after reading my next story, I hope I have made you curious enough to give it a try.
After one of my drills recently, I had the following conversation with a habitual self-critic …
“May I offer you my opinion on your self-talk during your play?” I asked.
“Please do,” she replied.
“Often, I sense that you are suffering through these sessions,” I answered. “I see your tremendous effort and work ethic, but then I feel that you beat yourself up with your critical self-talk. Besides, most of the time, I disagree with your critique. In my opinion, your self-corrections are usually wrong, superficial and definitely not helpful.”
With this last statement, I got her full attention.
“Could you give me an example please?” she replied.
“Sure,” I continued, as I actually could have given her 10 examples.
“Today, I heard you say at one point that you missed a shot because you were lazy,” I said. “That was wrong, and definitely not helpful. I would never ever call you lazy. I have seen you run into the side wall to return a shot! You were momentarily frozen because of a misjudgment you made on your opponent’s shot. It was an error in anticipation. By yelling at your feet or calling yourself lazy, your eyes will not improve and help you better anticipate.”
A week later, at our next drill lesson, this woman showed up a new person. She decided to forego the self-talk and see how she liked it. After the drill was over, the feedback was tremendously positive. She was much more relaxed during her play, and seemed especially creative with the variety of shots and the strategies she used. I think it makes sense to leave some space available for creativity, one of our great human powers.
So, when you find yourself being judgmental of your poor play, there is a good chance your poor play is a result of your own critiquing, not the other way around.
Tonny van de Pieterman
Tonny van de Pieterman is a tennis professional at Point Set Indoor Racquet Club in Oceanside, N.Y.. He was recently named USTA Tennis Professional of the Year for the USTA/Eastern-Long Island Region and helped the Eastern Section win this year’s Talbert Cup. He may be reached by phone at (516) 536-2323 or e-mail Tonny@PointSetTennis.com.