More than a Game - June 1Tennis is more about competing against yourself than competing against an opponent. In sports such as golf or running this is easy to see. The athlete competes against a score or a time. But this is true in tennis as well. The real opponent is not the other person or team, it is you.
Performance is a mindset where reaching your full potential is the goal more than winning. In other words when we reach our full potential our chances to win go up. However, we cannot control winning 100 percent but we can control ourselves 100 percent. Therefore, the goal must be to reach the attainable, our full potential, and not seek out the elusive goal of only winning.
Players do not have total control over winning. The reason this is true is because there are so many factors that impact winning that we cannot control. For example, we cannot control shots made by our opponents, weather conditions, good or bad breaks, injuries, or spectators to name a few. Since these are out of our control, winning is out of our control. The bigger this list of uncontrollable factors, the less influence we have on winning.
Trying to control, what we cannot control, will bring stress and anxiety. This means we don’t try to control winning—rather, we simply set more achievable goals; goals over which we have total control.
Another way to look at this is to seek to improve as the match goes on. This is what a business seeks to do, improve sales each quarter, year by year. To do this they must be proactive and implement specific tactics and abilities. A tennis match is no different. Improvement is progress. It does not occur naturally because your opponent is trying to make you play worse.
Seldom do players think in terms of setting a goal for the match to improve as they play. The point is if they improve as the match goes on, they are getting better and better; hence the last point of the match is the best point. In fact, I would go so far as to say that losing a match can be seen in a new light. If a player loses a match but continues to improve faster than their opponent, they did not lose—they ran out of time. In other words if they keep improving at this rate in comparison to their opponent, eventually their winning percentage of points played will be higher than their opponents. This higher winning percentage means they will be the eventual victor, the question being: how long will this take to occur?
This goal is better than winning because it is more controllable. Players can set specific areas on which to improve on in a match—say coming to the net more—and seek to improve on this throughout the course of the match. When a player seeks specific areas upon which to improve as the match progresses, winning often follows. If you keep improving in critical areas that will have a big impact on the outcome of the match, your chances to win will rise.
This process of reaching your full potential, the process of improving, is the same type of goal that runners have when they race against the clock, or golfers have competing against the course. These athletes are competing against a set standard, not an obscure and vague goal like winning. When tennis players learn to have more tangible and clearly defined goals, they discover it enables them to become more process-based and less outcome-based.
When an athlete focuses on improvement, he or she must look to more than just physical abilities. They must look to their mental and emotional capabilities as well. These internal resources will have tremendous influence on the physical execution. Negative emotions produce bad thinking. Bad thinking produces bad actions. How well you think is vital to how well you perform.
The foundation in all of this is recognizing the tremendous consequences of vague and undefined goals. Winning is such a goal. This tells you nothing on how to do it. Sure, I want to win but how. It is like your stockbroker saying the key to an early retirement is to buy a stock that will grow at a rate of twenty five percent each year and hold on to it. That is great to know, but which stocks are those?