Do you get nervous when you play tennis matches?
Do you get tight, lock up, and become a totally different player once score is being kept?
If so today and tomorrow’s message are going to help you tremendously.
Fact is every passionate tennis player experiences those things at some point or another. That became abundantly clear to me when I recently asked my Facebook followers what topic they’d like me to cover on my next podcast.
A pattern quickly emerged:
“How to not get tense when you’re up in the set.” -David
“I play well knocking up and drills etc, but tighten up during matches. Is there anything i can do other than just ‘play more matches’?” – Matt
“Which ‘adult-like’ beverage to have before a match in order to relax the raging nerves beast…” – Pam
Well, Pam, recently my go-to has been Mezcal…but never before tennis 😀
Instead, I’ve found that understanding how my thoughts and feelings work, why they’re there, and what they mean is much more effective, which is exactly what I’ll get into today and tomorrow.
Let’s start by defining what we’re feeling:
Truth #1: You’re Experiencing FEAR
Psh, fear?? But it’s just a stupid game, there’s no way we should be afraid.
The truth is you have a lot riding on every match you play, whether you realize it or not. Behind the scenes our subconscious is adding up the cost of everything we’ve invested in our game to get to this point:
Effort and Energy
Social Currency (everybody sees you taking lessons, doing video analysis, hitting with the ball machine, etc)
Deep beneath the surface our ego badly wants to know: “WAS IT ALL WORTH IT? AM I WASTING MY TIME??”
And so, when the rubber really meets the road, when it gets down to crunch time suddenly the games of so many players completely change to become a shadow of what they’re capable of.
Which is really a shame, because those players are missing a critical understanding:
Truth #2: You’re SUPPOSED To Be Afraid!
If you work hard on your game, push yourself to improve, strive for better strokes, strategy, and results, then feelings of anxiety, tension, and nervousness are an integral part of competition.
In fact, there’s only ONE reason why you wouldn’t be nervous: you didn’t care about tennis.
The only way it would be humanly possible to play competitively without feeling some nerves is if tennis didn’t matter to you at all. For some players that’s the case, and for them that’s perfect!
They’re playing purely for exercise, or for social connection, or as a fun way to pass the time. Nothing more, nothing less.
But not you.
There’s no chance you’d be reading these words if tennis wasn’t much, much more to you than just those things. And so, you have to STOP thinking that something is wrong with you when those nervous feelings come, or worse yet: actively try to repress them or make them go away.
Because they won’t, no matter how long you play or how good you get.
Case in point, here’s a direct quote from Stan Wawrinka about his experience in the 2016 US Open Final:
“Before the final I was really nervous like never before. I was shaking in the locker-room.
When we start talking five minutes before the match, last few things with Magnus, I start to cry. I was completely shaking.
But the only thing I was convinced with myself was that my game was there. Physically I was there. My game was there. Just put the fight on the court and you will have a chance to win.
And that’s what happened, after a few games when I start to believe in myself, I start to be in the match. I had to put my s*** together. Sorry, that’s how I say it.”
Wow, that’s intense…but what’s crazy is Stan went on to WIN that match!
The world’s most elite competitors aren’t successful because they don’t get nervous or tight, or because they have some secret method of distracting themselves from it….they’re successful because of what they do in spite of those feelings!
Truth #3: You Have To Dance With The Fear
“Dance with the fear” is one of my favorite all time quotes/phrases and I got it from Seth Godin, an incredible writer and thought leader.
The idea is that instead of avoiding the fear, or demonizing it, to embrace it and make exposure to it a normal, natural thing. That’s something I’ve been consciously working on for many years now and I can’t tell you how much more fulfilling its made competition, business, and the rest of life.
In tomorrow’s message I’ll share some specific, practical ways that you can do the same thing on a tennis court to improve your resiliency, mental toughness and performance during matches.
Until then, what did you think of today’s post?
Was it helpful?
If so do me a favor and comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks so much for reading and making it to the bottom. I truly appreciate you.