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Mental Equipment
February 1997 Article

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Mental Equipment Archive

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Deriving Personal Growth From Tennis

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Dr. John Murray

In this fast paced world of athletic achievement and endless pursuits it is often overlooked that tennis is just a sport. As a sport, tennis should neither threaten self-esteem nor invoke hostility. Tennis should be fun, challenging and fulfilling! Unfortunately many players lose sight of this simple truth and turn a potentially rewarding activity into a game of Russian Roulette, awaiting destruction from self-imposed pressure and fear.

Sport has often been called a metaphor for life, simulating the ups and downs, positives and negatives, courage and fear. By competing regularly, we expose our weaknesses and stretch our physical and mental capacities to the limit. This is greatly satisfying, in my opinion, for challenges make us stronger and force us to adapt better in the future. What is really neat is that the benefits of playing tennis can also spill over into real life.

The outcome in tennis is determined only by what happens during the match. As such, it is pointless to obsess over the final score. Although the match result gauges progress, it is vastly overrated. Since society values success, the first question often heard following a match is, "Did you win or lose?" What a dull and abrupt inquiry! What about the fun, the challenge, the growth, the experience?

Don't misread me. Some weirdos might like to eliminate the score and change the rules so that the player who grows most as a person receives the trophy. This might be acceptable to Stewart Smiley, but would eliminate my interest in tennis immediately! Competition is natural and healthy and we should strive vigorously to win. However, the important word is "strive." Once the match is won there are hundreds more to play and our thirst is never really quenched. Although winning is the obvious goal, it is really just a label for all the activity preceding it, and focusing on "winning" actually impairs performance (See May, 1996 Article).

The message this month will lead to personal growth on and off the court, because you'll be rid of the fear of failure and only focused on being the best you can be.

Here are some areas where regular competitive tennis can lead to personal growth:

  • Problem Solving Enhancement - Problems on the court begin to be viewed as exciting puzzles rather than threatening sources of future failure.

  • Renewal of Energies - A good heated battle distracts you from the real problems in life, renews your batteries, and increases your level of fitness.

  • Self-Confidence Building - Handling adversity on the court may help boost confidence in dealing with real life problems.

  • Self-Esteem Enhancement - When self-esteem is measured by factors under your control (e.g., trying hard, defeating the inner fears) rather than outcome (e.g., winning or losing) you are no longer at risk for self-depreciation following a loss.

Here are some tips which will also enhance personal growth:

  1. Don't get too serious - Give your absolute best in battle, but reinterpret a loss as simply an excellent lesson for the next match.

  2. Have fun - Enjoyment helps you learn faster and perform better.

  3. Never give up - Even when down 6-0, 5-0, the match is not yet finished. Staying positive in these situations reinforces the values of consistency and perseverance, and builds confidence.

  4. Believe in yourself - On and off the court, self-belief improves performance and builds character.

Few individuals thrive on negativity or pressure. The key is to remove pressure with healthy positive thoughts. Keep in mind that tennis is just a sport and that sports should be fun, rewarding, challenging and growth enhancing. With these principles intact you'll be ready to hunt even the largest tigers with renewed enthusiasm, and further down the road toward personal fulfillment. Have fun and I'll see you next month...

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This column is copyrighted by Dr. John Murray, all rights reserved.

Dr. John F. Murray is currently a licensed clinical psychologist and sport psychologist in Florida. In addition, he is a tennis professional (having taught tennis internationally in North America, Hawaii, Europe, Middle East), formerly certified with both USPTA and USPTR. He has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and masters degrees both in Clinical Psychology and Exercise & Sport Sciences from the University of Florida. He maintains a personal web site at http://www.johnfmurray.com/.

Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to John by using this form.


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