Learning to "go for your shots" in tennis should be the number one priority for competitive tennis players. Yet most players do not realize that there are two mental challenges to this 'go for your shot' mindset. The first mental challenge to overcome is being too tentative, too cautious, and too fearful on the court. For most players, playing cautiously gives them a false feeling of control and security.
The second mental challenge to overcome is handling failure. Just because you have learned to give yourself the freedom to go for your shot does not mean you will always make the shot; therefore, failing is part of the package. You will be constantly confronted by these two distinctly different challenges. Every time you hit a ball and every time you fail, these two challenges loom.
Challenge #1 - Going for your shot
Challenge #2 - Handling your failures
Going for your shots must take priority over your fear of failure. You will never establish your timing, rhythm and feel if you stop making the decision to go for your shots every time you fail! And bringing your game to a higher level without consistent timing, rhythm and feel is impossible. The benefits of going for your shots justify any negatives or failures that may come along. All players should strive toward this positive mental attitude.
Unfortunately, most players have not mastered the specter of failure. Instead they reverse the whole process! Players may correctly go for their shot, but when they fail they pounce on that failure and whine, "I failed, I failed, I'm never going for my shots again!" In their mind the failure is justification for not going for the shot. Completely the opposite of the positive mental attitude of a Champion! When the core thinking of players is reversed they become totally controlled by negatives and failures, not by principles of success. The term I use for this reversal of values is "reverse process thinking." The principle of going for their shots is pushed aside, their positive mental attitude is inverted, and avoiding failures becomes the priority. Then they cross the Rubicon -- no turning back! Now, they make all match decisions based on the priority of avoiding failure.Ê
Gary Player, the great South African professional golfer, once said, "We create success or failure on the course primarily by our thoughts."
THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
If reverse process thinking is in your mental attitude you will make avoiding failure the priority and slam on the brakes in your tennis game. Going for your shots? Out of the question, you may fail! Going for an angle? I don't think so, you may miss! Think positively? Sorry, you tried that and still failed! Learning something new? No way! Failure, failure, failure! Reverse process thinking justifies NOT taking ANY chances because you may fail.
In match play when you begin to play cautiously, tentatively and passively you are headed into reverse process thinking. All players, including top pros, at times play cautiously and tentatively. This is normal. However, the mentally tough competitor quickly bounces back to a positive 'go for your shot' attitude and maintains his momentum. The danger comes when players do not consistently make that decision to bounce back, and instead become engulfed in tentative and passive play. Then, avoiding failure becomes the dominant mental attitude, you lose your positive momentum and you begin playing not to lose instead of playing to win!