Developing a Sense of Mastery
Dr. John Murray
How much have you invested in self-knowledge? The February, 1996
Mental Equipment "Increasing
Self-Awareness" highlights the importance of monitoring
your thoughts, feelings, and actions
to identify those states coinciding with your best performances.
Indeed, this information supplies a target
for future performances. Unfortunately, knowledge alone is rarely
sufficient. Having an additional sense
of mastery, or perceived competence in your ability to perform and
improve, greatly enhances your
chances for success. This month, we explore the ideas of skill level,
improvement, and the powerful
boost that a sense of mastery will contribute to your quest for
A Thousand Skill Levels
What is your current skill level in tennis? Don't be shy! Some
players rate themselves on a three-level
scale (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced), while others use the 7
point scale derived by the NTRP. In
my view, there are actually a thousand levels in tennis. So, while a
beginner might love to climb from
level 21 to 22, Pete Sampras is likely shooting for level 997. A
thousand levels puts things in
perspective, but even Pete would never trick himself into believing
he had "arrived." Such an attitude
might only sabotage his next performance as a result of
overconfidence (See January, 1996, "The Art of
Real improvement comes from learning new techniques which are
adaptive in competition, and then
applying them consistently. Progress is noted in many ways, such as
winning for the first time against a
common opponent, advancing further in tournaments, or moving up in
ranking. Remember to focus on
performance rather than outcome, however, as thoughts of winning and
losing are irrelevant distractions
(See May, 1996 article on Goal Setting). Also keep in
mind that outcomes are determined by
the relative contributions of each competitor, so don't gloat too
long after a win or kill the cat following a
loss. Your peak performance might occur during an agonizing loss,
and your most hideous production
ever could win you prize money! Take a breath, step back, and look
at improvement as a never ending
and exciting journey.
Regardless of your actual performance level or rate of improvement,
how competent and effective do you
feel as a player? How does this attitude of mastery vary across
different situations and against different
opponents? There is much research to support the value of a strong
sense of mastery in meeting
challenges. Seeing oneself as competent and effective in sport might
also extend benefits far beyond
athletics. A perceived sense of mastery, or feeling of control, has
been shown to generalize to many
other areas including stress reactions, achievement strivings, career
pursuits, and even health and survival!
How do you increase your sense of mastery? Here are 4 tips to guide
you in developing an approach to
problems on and off the court:
Keep on striving for your personal summit! I'll see you next month...
- Explain poor performance and negative events as being within
rather than outside of your control.
- Take full responsibility for the changes you desire. Believe
that your efforts, work habits, and
self-discipline will lead to improvement.
- Performance accomplishments naturally lead to a higher sense of
mastery. To accelerate learning,
frequently watch experts, visualize their performances, and
solicit feedback from them about your
- Interpret increases in arousal as energy for performance rather
than as stress, anxiety or fear (See
September, 1995 article on Optimizing Arousal).
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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.