Why do we sometimes feel ashamed of the way we played?
I recently congratulated one of our club players for winning two tournament events. She thanked me, but immediately said that she desperately needed a lesson. I was surprised by her expression of desperation, even more so after I found out she had won a third tournament! In addition to the two doubles events, she had won a singles tournament at her beach club.
“In the B-category,” she said to quickly minimize the accomplishment. “I am not playing well, and I only won because I ran around all day waiting for people to miss. The only nice shots I hit were when my opponent hit her serve long, and I just returned it perfectly.”
She was apologetic about her strategy, and she was visibly uncomfortable that I had sought her out to congratulate her on her success.
Here are some remarks on what happens during a match and how to prepare for success.
I like comparing a tennis match to a conversation. Through the way we play, we express ourselves to our opponent. To make sure we are satisfied with the way we represent our self, we need our focus to be on the process and not on the result. This choice lies in your preparation. When our focus is linked to the result, every shot we hit, every decision we make, gets judged as either good or bad, or right or wrong. This will inhibit our ability to act spontaneously. The inability to play spontaneously is at the root of our feeling of dissatisfaction! After a regretful match, we feel weak; we feel we let ourselves down. By not being our best self we let our emotions run the show. Whether or not we are aware of it, there is nothing of which we are more ashamed than of not being ourselves.
My old college coach used to say: “Junior, just play within yourself and everything will be just dandy.” Now if you imagine that statement with a thick Texan accent you get a more accurate picture. As an 18-year-old, new to this country and with English being my second language, I thought about this statement for a long time. It was probably the best coaching advice I ever received. For me, answering the following questions before a match helped me to play within myself. Perhaps it can help your match preparation as well.
Goal: I want to win! … Or better: ‘I want to be successful, and feel like a winner.’
►Question: What do I have to do in order to win?
►Answer: I need to play well
►Question: What does it mean for me to play well?
►Answer: I want to feel free, be creative and be courageous.
These three desires became my drivers. It is very hard not to be affected by the score of the match, but with good mental preparation it can be done. By satisfying your desire to feel free when you play, to display creativity with your shots and your strategy, and by nudging yourself to be courageous, you will always feel like a winner!
Remember, everyone has the desire to win, but only the elite have the desire to prepare to win!
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.