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The Big Picture vs. Isolated Situations
by Tom Veneziano

Using your mind as a tool to win can be tough! It takes determination, self-discipline, control of emotions, and understanding of the big picture vs. isolated situations. A good example of using the mind to understand the big picture vs. isolated situations can be found in an Olympic runner named Marla Runyan.

Marla Runyan ran in the 1500 meter event in the 2000 Olympics and came in eighth. She was the first American woman in history to place that high in the 1500 meter race. And it was only the 4th or 5th time she had ever run the 1500 meter event. What caught my attention in her book, "No Finish Line" was how she constantly used her mind to learn the different ranges of mental and emotional challenges that any athlete must endure. As a top runner in the world she had experienced the whole range of self-doubt, confidence, frustration, exhilaration, aggression, complacency, disappointment, and jubilation. Sometimes in the same event!

Yes, the top athletes experience the same mental and emotional challenges you do. It's how the top athletes deal with these challenges that separates them from the pack. In one race Marla experienced the whole range of mental and emotional fluctuations from confidence to self-doubt but kept running successfully. After the race she realized that as a top athlete you still experience a wide range of changing attitudes. She changed her perspective and accepted these fluctuating attitudes as part of the never ending journey toward excellence. In her book she said she wished someone had prepared her for these emotional and mental swings, then she would not have been so frustrated when facing failures and setbacks. She finally saw the big picture and how to handle the fluctuation by being patient and not focusing on isolated situations.

These valuable lessons applied not only in the races themselves but when she was injured or had other problems in practice. If she doesn't do well in practice, then instead of ending her practice in frustration, she is relaxed and waits for another day. No longer does she isolate a situation blowing it out of proportion; she now thinks in terms of the big picture and makes the bad experiences as well as the good experiences part of the package of being a seasoned athlete striving toward excellence. You must learn to do the same.

There is one other thing you should know about Marla Runyan. Although she never liked to make it an issue in her running, Marla Runyan was legally blind. She was the first legally blind runner to make the Olympics. She had some partial vision and could see some colors, but could not see a person's face five feet in front of her. She could not see the finish line and was not sure who was who when she was running. The title of her book, "No Finish Line," literally meant she could not see the finish line!

More important to her was that she could run and run with the best in the world. She was a top notch runner with extraordinary abilities. Her mind exemplifies the ultimate warrior mentality. She said she wished that someone had told her that these mental and emotional fluctuations were part of the process. She had to learn through hard knocks that success and failure are not on the opposite ends of the spectrum - instead, they ride together in tandem toward her goals.

Do not separate success and failure. Like the pros, whether you're training or playing you will experience the whole range of self-doubt, confidence, frustration, exhilaration, aggression, complacency, disappointment, and jubilation. Accept them as part of the process of learning, playing, and striving toward excellence.

I am not telling you to like these fluctuations. But the fact is, learning and playing tennis can be like an emotional roller coaster ride. One minute you're up, the next minute you're down. Many of you fight the roller coaster ride by holding on too tight, becoming anxious, and losing mental control. By the time you are through with your match you are mentally beat up and emotionally exhausted.

Stop isolating these fluctuating attitudes as if self-doubt or frustrating situations are unique only to you. Mentally step outside yourself and realize these fluctuations happen to everyone including the pros. Mentally push the self-doubt or frustration aside and keep moving. Like Marla, learn to focus more on the big picture; and you will save yourself a lot of anguish, frustration, and you will be light years ahead of your competition.


Tom Veneziano has been a tennis pro teaching in Houston, Texas for over twenty-five years. He has taught thousands of players to think like a pro with his Tennis Warrior System, which is described on his web site at www.tenniswarrior.com.

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