| By Tonny van de Pieterman

The way we talk to ourselves greatly influences the way we feel about ourselves. Negative self-talk on the tennis court can be a big drain on your energy level. It can also be improved quickly with some awareness. As a tennis coach, I can shine a light on some of these issues and have a major impact on someone’s progress and fun. I would like to share two recent examples of my experiences with students.

In one of my junior development groups, I was working with seven-year-old girls. Near the end of the class, I announced that we were going to spend some time on our serves.

“I am horrible at serving,” one of the girls said, and as she dragged herself to pick up a ball to start serving, her facial expression said it all. It was a cross between smelling something foul and the look of horror. Half-heartedly, she made a few attempt and continued, “You see, I am horrible.”

She went from being horrible at serving to being horrible. I had heard her mumbling and decided to intervene with some confusion.

“Actually, you are a very nice girl. You are not horrible at all. I enjoy having you in the group,” I said.

The three other girls who had been serving quietly all turned around.

“I am bad at it,” she tried to explain.

“Oh,” I said. “I thought I heard you say that you were horrible. Like a horrible person. And I think you are very nice. Isn’t she nice, girls?”

Of course, everyone agreed.

“But I know what you are trying to say,” I added. “I just don’t like the words you choose. Perhaps we can find some better words?”

“I am not so good at serving?” one of the other girls said.

And then, with a phony British accent, my wise seven-year-old negative self-talker uttered, “Serving is quite a challenge for me at this stage in my career”

“Indeed,” I responded.

We all chuckled. From this moment on, the energy has always been great around practicing serves. Challenges can be fun!

The second example comes from a ladies drill. One of the ladies in the group always seems to find a way to talk herself into a funk. On this particular day, halfway through the lesson, she missed a few shots in succession and uttered language that was way too strong for the occasion.

“Oh that’s disgusting,” she stated, followed by, “This is so embarrassing.”

I immediately called for a huddle for some group therapy.

Missing shots in tennis is never a disgusting act or behavior since you’re intent is pure and good. When you are doing the best that you can, embarrassment is too strong of an emotion. Have fun with friends, have fun experimenting like a child, and give yourself permission to experience this challenging wonderful game.

Next time out on the court, watch the language!

Tonny van de Pieterman

<p>Tonny van de Pieterman is director of tennis at Point Set Indoor Racquet Club. 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&rsquo;s Talbert Cup. He may be reached by phone at (516) 536-2323 or e-mail <a href="mailto:tonny@pointsettennis.com">tonny@pointsettennis.com</a>.</p>