Franklin D. Roosevelt said it best, “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.” This can be applied to our tennis matches. We have heard countless times that tennis matches should be fun and “it’s not a big deal” but that’s hardly what we feel on the tennis court. The rational brain seems to shut off as we get more engulfed in our “win at all costs” mentality that often plagues us and keeps us from reaching our potential as a competitor. If this is something you have struggled with, I may have found a way to get around it.
Other than injury, the worst outcome of our tennis match is a loss. If we can distill a loss down to its core, you may see that it’s not something to fear as you once did. Most of us play matches where the outcome does not play a role in the future. Meaning, there is no trophy or huge reward/accomplishment you achieve from the win. What the win gives is a feeling. Feelings are our response to external conditions around us. Someone praises us, we feel good while if we receive criticism, we may feel angry or defensive. This means that we have control of our feelings and that a win or loss can be associated with the same response. The top players of the world figured this out. When they finish their match, regardless of the outcome they embrace (pre-COVID times). They understand the true feeling they were after was being in the moment. They were able to feel competitive and challenge one another throughout the match. The ultimate struggle of that moment was what makes them happy, not the outcome of winning or losing. Sure, winning is a great accomplishment and all the pros strive for that (it pays the bills after all!), but to play their best it’s not what they focus on. I remember this every time one of my players finishes his/her match. They touch racquets and leave the court with either a feeling of accomplishment or disappointment. The fact that nothing else changes in their life doesn’t seem to click as one is having a wonderful day and the other feels awful.
It takes a lot of experienced and maturity to associate a win or loss with an outcome that they did not have control over in the first place. Circling back to the beginning of the theme of this blog, it’s time to look back at our fear of losing. The next time you lose, consider what really hurts after the loss. Is it your ego? Did your expectations not align with the outcome of the match? Once you let go of these feelings (try reading Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday) you will realize that there’s nothing to fear about losing. It can be handled the same way as a win; with humbleness and gratitude to compete. This can be done with practice, especially with more loses. Next time you’re on the court, remember why you’re there. To be challenged and feel competitive. Hang on to that feeling throughout the match and you’ll start forgetting about the win or loss and see how much more fun competing can be.