I want to win so badly…why can’t I?By Anca Dumitrescu, Miami (OH) Head Coach
Over the past few years I have embarked on a journey of researching the power of the mind over the body. At times, the brain can be a great attribute while at other times it can be a great obstacle in one’s journey for success on the tennis court. I have worked with several extremely talented players with a lot of potential. They were hard workers, hungry to get better and always expecting the very best from themselves. At times, such players set such high expectations on themselves that in achieving these expectations there is simply no room left for error. In a way such expectations only set one for failure as we all know that it is human to make mistakes and that throughout the length of a tennis match one is bound to make several errors sometimes back to back.
Why is it that such talented young individuals with such great work ethic sometimes fall short of achieving their highest potential?
Believe it or not, wanting to win so badly can often have a negative effect on a player’s performance. To those players, the alternative of loosing becomes totally unacceptable. As such, players forget that in the end tennis is just a game where they are bound to both win and lose some. Instead they allow the result of the match to be a testament of their character, a flaw in their personality that makes them be less than they really are.
Some of the feelings you may experience as a result of the pressure that you put on yourself include: tightness, fear of making mistakes, frustration at making mistakes, lack of patience with yourself and eventually loss of emotional control and poor shot selection on the court. If you have ever felt like that after losing a tennis match you are most likely putting too much emphasis on the winning and losing aspects of it. That extreme focus on the end result is never healthy and honestly it will lead you to losing a lot more matches which could be won with less thought about the end result and more focus on the things that you can personally control on the court.
So what are some things you can do to have a healthy balance between the desire to win and a holistic approach to the match and your on court performance:
1. Keep things in perspective.
Sometimes, in the heat of the battle we forget that in the end tennis is just a game and that most likely we are involved with it because it is fun. Whenever you feel yourself overwhelmed with thoughts of winning and losing remind yourself that in the grand scheme of life, tennis, while important to you, is not everything. Moreover, you have the opportunity to compete in a sport which many people will never have access too because of health or financial reasons. So embrace its challenges and enjoy the process of competing in a sport you enjoy and which you are fortunate to be able to practice.
2. Focus on the things that you can control as opposed to the end result of the match.
Even when you play your best tennis and do everything right you can still loose a tennis match because your opponent may be doing everything a little better. You never have full control of the end result no matter how hard you try so there is no reason to spend too much time thinking about something you cannot control. Rather focus on the things that you can control as those things will allow you to have a more solid and consistent performance. Accept that you will make mistakes and that your opponent will hit great shots and stay composed and positive on the court.
3. Follow a sound tactical strategy based on your strengths.
Understand that no matter how good your opponent is, most of the times there is one area of play where you are better than your opponent. Whether it is the return, the backhand cross court or the heavy forehand down the line, find a pattern of play in which you are stronger than your opponent. You only need one and you need to stay with it for an extended period of time until your opponent becomes frustrated and starts showing weaknesses in other areas of their game.
4. Always and always keep your feet moving.
If you have ever been exposed to a pressure situation you have likely felt heavy footed on the court and slow to react. It is a normal body reaction to a certain amount of stress and it is normal to feel this sort of stress in certain key moments of the match such as a tiebreaker or when you are about to close out a set or a match. Recognize that your legs are likely to feel heavy in those moments and make an effort to keep them moving. In between points make sure to bounce around as opposed to just standing still and during points remind yourself to stay low and in an athletic position so you can make the necessary adjustments for proper ball timing.
The next time you may feel overwhelmed by the desire to win, rather than trying to fight it, accept it and instead of focusing on it, replace those thoughts with some of the areas of focus mentioned above. The brain can only process one thought at a time and as long as that thought is focused on something you can control, the winning part will come naturally at the right time.