"I can't believe I lost to him." ......... "I should be so much better by now." ......." GOD do I stink!!!!!"
Comparisons, expectations and self-evaluations. At one time or another, we all fall victim to, and in many cases, allow them to dominate our thinking.
We crave achievement, want instant improvement and, as a result, constantly put ourselves under a human microscope, usually comparing ourselves with others as a measure of our progress.
While the learning process and a desire to improve are certainly healthy aspects of life, today's tennis players have become so obsessed with instant improvement and "measuring up" that they are crippling their enjoyment of the game.
After over thirty years in tennis I can say, unfortunately, that a large number of people playing tennis today do not actually enjoy their time on the court and many of those that do are enjoying it for the wrong reasons.
Take a walk around any tennis facility in your area and notice the expression on the faces of the players. Count how many smiles you see and compare that to the number of faces that express stress, anger, and even (believe it or not), the potential for violence.
I have, on several occasions at many different venues, done such a study and the results are consistent and rather disturbing. For every smile and look of pure enjoyment that I witnessed, I saw approximately 10-15 expressions of anger, frustration and self-abuse (usually verbal, occasionally physical).
Interestingly, the vast majority of players who truly seemed to be enjoying themselves on the court were at the beginning level while it was the intermediate and advanced players who tended to put themselves through the most stress. Why?
Beginning players almost always enjoy their tennis because they take the court with no expectations. They realize that they are new to the game and have basically no idea what they are doing. Thus, they tend to be more receptive to learning, and most important, are able to laugh at themselves. There is no "ego" involved------ yet.
Unfortunately, this wonderful, wide-eyed approach to the game usually disappears when the player begins to show some improvement. It seems that one's climb up the tennis ladder often ignites their descent into tennis misery.
The smiles are replaced by expressions of serious, serious concentration and stress. The laughter is replaced with self-deprecating remarks and the pure enjoyment of attempting to execute a proper stroke is replaced by a crippling fear of failure.
So the obvious question arises: "Why, when a player begins to get a bit better, does the game all of a sudden becomes so serious?"
Simply, because we begin to expect more from ourselves. We get a taste of improvement and become intoxicated with the feeling.
Many of us feel that we've invested in the game, not only with our time, but also from a financial standpoint and we expect to see a return on our investment. To a certain extent this is healthy.
What is not healthy, and in fact counter-productive, is our habit of measuring our progress by comparing ourselves to others.
More often than not, this comparison not only presents us with a totally inaccurate picture of our progress, but also gets in the way of our enjoyment and appreciation of whatever improvement we may have made.
If we beat Sally six months ago and lost to her yesterday, something's wrong, we must be getting worse. The fact that Sally may have been taking three lessons a week and improved her level 75% while over the same amount of time, we've improved our game only 50% (only?) is irrelevant.
We don't allow ourselves to see, and be proud of, our improvement, or Sally's. We only judge the results of our hard work as it is reflected in the score of a match.
A MONSTER EMERGES
As we ascend the tennis ladder, our tennis egos begins to surface. Suddenly, how we "look" on the court is of the utmost importance and who we beat or lose to defines our place in the club hierarchy. Pride and ego are now on the line and God forbid we make a mistake and look silly in front of someone else.
In addition to increasing our stress level, this mind set greatly inhibits our ability learn. Where we were once open, even eager, to learn new techniques, we now become afraid to try something new because we might not be able to do it and may look stupid trying.
A pro may suggest a grip change or encourage us to develop a new shot that we'll need at the next level, but we become hesitant. We may try the grip or new stroke once or twice, but find that when it doesn't come to us immediately (which it never will because it is new) we get frustrated, and will often say to the pro "this doesn't work."
To develop any new technique takes time and invariably a player will take a step or two backwards while trying to perfect the new technique. They may even lose to some players that they usually beat when trying their "new" backhand.
Unfortunately, most of us aren't willing to suffer through this learning process. We may try the new technique for a short time, conclude that "it doesn't work" and then go back to doing exactly what we were doing before and thus become stuck in an improvement rut.
When a player says "this doesn't work," what they are really saying is "I am not patient, or secure enough to put the time into developing this shot. I might look foolish on the court trying this shot or I might lose to Jane and I NEVER lose to Jane."
Comparisons!!! FORGET THEM. The only person's tennis game you should compare yourself to is your own. Ask yourself these questions: Did you hit the ball well in your last match or practice session? Is your new topspin backhand coming along? How about that slice serve the pro has you working on? Are you playing at a higher level than you were six months ago?
Do not let the outcome of a match cloud your evaluation of your performance because, quite often, whether you won or lost has absolutely nothing to do with how well you played.
I can't tell you how many times I've seen a player come off the court, having played hideously below their level, with a big smile on their faces, because they won the match.
They played horribly, it just so happened that their opponent played worse, yet because the scoreboard said that they had won, they were thrilled.
Perhaps you played great, hit all your new shots cleanly and your opponent had a career day. Because she played great and won, and you played well and lost does that mean you should walk off the court miserable? Of course not!!
Be happy that you played well. Excited that your new shots are coming along and congratulate your opponent for being "too good" on that particular day.
BE HONEST NOW
Take a moment, close your eyes and ask yourself the following question: "Would you rather play well and lose or play poorly and win?" It's just you and your mind in the room so be honest.
Everyone knows the politically correct answer to this question, but if they are truly honest with themselves, I believe a vast majority of players would find that they would rather win then play well and lose. This needs to change.
Our emphasis on "winning" is merely our way of comparing ourselves to other players and it is neither accurate nor healthy.
Judge each performance, if you must, from a selfish standpoint. How are YOU playing that particular day? Your level of play is something that you have some control over. You cannot control how your opponent plays, so to compare yourself to something you have no control over is pointless, counter-productive and unnecessarily stressful.
Focus on how YOU hit the ball and you'll remove the roadblock to improvement that trying to "measure up" creates. Once you are able to do this, you'll find that you fall in love with the game all over again, this time for the right reasons!!!