How interesting to watch 7-, 8- or 9-year-old children learn the game of tennis. You see no fear of missing, no tightening of the arm, no over-thinking of the technical skills. They are not worried about what others think. The child is just happy to run around and hit a tennis ball... anywhere! If the ball goes over the fence, wow that was fun. If it lands in the court, that's fun too. If the ball hits the pro in the head, that's loads of fun!
For most children, their youth and innocence means just running around and hitting a tennis ball is fun. The same is true for the top pros when they were young. Roger Federer would hit against a wall for hours and hours while Andre Agassi pounded away on a ball machine day after day. It's safe to say that all children when practicing at a young age fail often, yet they just kept on hitting the ball and having fun. Some children had coaches to guide them, some children had their parents and some children just hit by themselves. Bjorn Borg played on his own for 3 years before he had any kind of guidance.
Children display an energetic, mentally tough attitude that few teens or adults can match. But can a child improve just by hitting balls and having fun with little or no technical information? What do you think? If the child began playing this way at 7 years of age, by the time he is 9 he or she would show signs of significant improvement. Bjorn Borg found a coach at 12 years of age, who said years later that Borg's strokes at 12 looked the same as when he won Wimbledon!
Compared to many adults, a child at a young age demonstrates a better grasp of mental dynamics by not being preoccupied by failures. The child may not know what he or she is doing but nevertheless he ro she still is thinking correctly. Adults are supposed to know what they are doing, and often do know, but still struggle to perform with this child-like mental attitude.
So, why can't we all think like that child now? What happened?
It's simple! Somewhere around the age of 9, 10 or 11 the child is exposed to the tennis industry with its full force of tennis lessons, tournaments, rankings and peer pressure. Now all of a sudden the child's mind is inundated with, "You're winning, you're losing, you're failing, elbow in, keep your knees bent, that technique is right, that technique is wrong, you can win if you do this, you will lose if you do that," and so forth. The child begins to collapse under all of this propaganda and thinks, "Failing and losing are important, doing the correct technique all the time is important, If I miss, I'm doing something wrong. If I make the shot, I'm doing something right. Everyone is thinking this way, so I should too!"
The child has now become aware of failing and succeeding as being of the highest order and acts accordingly. The childlike fun and energetic mental attitude have vanished! In the child's mind this attitude must go because there was too much failure and that's not tolerated. Learning tennis is serious now! No more swinging away, having fun and playing automatic, instinctive tennis. The parents, the coaches, the rankings and their peers directly or indirectly demand that they comply. The child must play controlled, mechanical, failure-free tennis to compete and be accepted. I guess you could say they become "tennis industry approved!"
Are you "tennis industry approved"? Do you dance to the tune of the rankings, your peers, winning or being technically perfect? Have you developed a "tennis industry approved" mindset to the point where you are afraid to take a chance on the tennis court, because you may fail? Have you given up your childlike fun and no fear of missing to become part of the tennis status quo?
If so, you have lost your mental toughness and the joy of the game. But be of good cheer, help is on the way! All you have to do is think like a child again! What do a child and a Champion have in common? Both have no fear of failing; both play instinctive, automatic, relaxed tennis; both have fun and totally ignore the status quo. Oh, and I almost forgot, both the child and the Champion are constantly and naturally improving!