What does it mean to say that an athlete displayed outstanding
competitiveness? How can you become more competitive and successful
in tennis? This month we'll take another tool from the mental
equipment stockpile and add it to your personal arsenal.
What is Competitiveness?
For many tennis players and fans, "competitiveness" evokes memories
of Jimmy Connors' never-say-die perseverance or John McEnroes'
cleverly timed outbursts. However, sport psychologists use this term
to describe much more than extreme desire or tactics. From this
perspective, competitiveness involves the whole range of attitudes,
thoughts, feelings, and behavior associated with the pursuit of
excellence and the long-term journey of getting there.
Competitiveness has also been described as achievement motivation in
sport. Recall the September, 1996 article, The Motivation to
Achieve, which discussed the advantages of
striving for success over attempting to avoid failure. Although we
all desire optimal performance, match outcome is actually impossible
to control. Luckily, our responses to outcome are within our control
and highly related to competitiveness and future performance.
Explaining Performance Outcome
How do you explain your wins and losses to yourself? Research
indicates these self-explanations are closely related to your level
of competitiveness and future performance. Follow the lead of the
effective competitors to enhance your growth in tennis.
Following A Win
Highly competitive tennis players believe that success results from
stable factors such as talent and ability and internal factors such
as effort and health. On the contrary, less effective competitors
attribute success to unstable factors such as luck and external
factors such as opponent weakness. The message here is to give
yourself full credit for your wins without minimizing your part in a
successful performance. This will increase your confidence and
motivation for your next match.
Following A Loss
Highly competitive tennis players attribute failure to unstable
factors such as poor strategy and external factors like opponent
strength. Failure for players low in competitiveness is ascribed to
stable factors such as low ability and internal factors such as
reduced interest. After a failure, it is in your interest to credit
the opponent's performance but realize that conditions can easily
change next time to increase your chances for success. This will
keep you hungry and positive in your pursuit of redemption.
Here are a few more ways to improve your competitiveness on the
- Make sure that you are setting task rather than outcome goals.
Review the May 1996 article, The Art of Goal Setting.
Remember that focusing on "winning" does little to actually help you
- Anticipate the enjoyment and thrill of competition (See the March
1997 article, Keeping Tennis Thrilling). Learn to
thrive on the chance to play in front of others.
- Find opponents that are near your own ability level or slightly
better. Thrive on situations where there is a legitimate chance of
losing and never walk from a healthy challenge.
Learn to control your explanations for winning and losing and you
will be more competitive in your next match. Look forward to the
excitement of the match and your competitiveness may even scare your
opponent. Have fun and I'll see you next month ...