By David Mullins
This article and more in March edition of The Baseliner.
If you are a positive, calm person who has no problem setting and achieving goals, and your current state is working for you, your relationships and your tennis, then stop reading this now. If, on the other hand, you tend to be a little negative at times, get angry when things don’t go your way and struggle to set goals (nevermind trying to achieve them!) then you might find the next few paragraphs helpful. It is a little counterintuitive but what the heck, we are all different and what works for one won’t necessarily work for us all.
BE NEGATIVE: Yes, that’s right, be as negative as possible. The glass is not just half empty, it is bone dry and slightly cracked!
Most of our fears and worries are not rational. As humans, we have a tendency to “catastrophize” and think of the worse-case scenario when things are not going our way and even somehow manage to do it when they are going our way! How often do we challenge these thoughts and actually play out the worst-case scenario to its most logical conclusion?
Imagine you are set point up and you miss an easy forehand volley into the bottom of the net. You might think, “That was the best chance I was going to get to win this set, I cannot believe I missed that!” – okay, so you missed an easy shot.
What happens if you lose the next point? Well, then I am down game point
And what happens if you lose that point? Well, then it is 5-5 and it is close to a tiebreak and I NEVER win tiebreaks
And what happens if you lose the tiebreak? Well, I lose the set
What happens if you lose the set? Well, I might lose the match
What happens if you lose the match? Well, I will be upset, and my ranking might drop
What happens if your ranking drops? Well, I don’t really know, I guess I won’t be able to get into that college I hoped to get into.
What happens if you don’t get into that college? Well, I will go to another one
Ok, do you really know one way or the other that this college will be a lesser experience for you or provide less opportunities for your future? Well, I guess not, no
Ok, so stop stressing about missing that easy volley and get back to competing….. So, go ahead, knock yourself out and think through just how bad it can get and you will see it is not that bad after all!
GET ANGRY: I used to show my teams a YouTube clip of Tommy Haas losing a match at the Australian Open. He came to the changeover and started berating himself, basically telling himself that he is a worthless tennis player and overall useless human being. For about 60 seconds he went to town on himself, got it all out in the open for everyone to see and hear. However, as soon as the referee called time, he said, “C’mon,” skipped out of his chair and went on to dominate the rest of the match. He had turned his frustration and anger into pure determination, demanding more from his body and his mind.
I am not condoning bad behavior by any means, so please remember:
Smashing rackets is STUPID and EXPENSIVE.
Cussing up a storm is STUPID and EMBARRASSING.
Punching the fence, your racket or something else is STUPID and will probably HURT.
Let out a yell, slap your thigh, bang the ball on the ground on your side of the court (not against a fence or over the fence!), or talk to yourself like you would your own worst enemy. Do all of these things but ONLY doing them if it is a cathartic action. You must be really willing to let go of it all and use that energy to make yourself more determined for the next point or game. In the long run, it has to provide you with POSITIVE energy, not take energy away from you in a “I’m feeling sorry for myself” kind of way. These are two very different states and should not be confused. I see plenty of players getting angry and look like they live under a grey cloud by adopting a miserably mopey demeanor. In fact, they just look like spoiled little brats that believe that life is unfair. Every so often I see someone get angry, become more determined and demand more from themselves. They recognize that feeling sorry for themselves has never once worked in helping them play better tennis and problem solve how to win a tennis match. With every outburst their body language improves dramatically, and they are ready to compete now that they have let go of their frustration.
DON’T SET GOALS: I know, I know, I know, I have spoken about the importance of goal setting before, and again a lot of research has been done on the positive effects of goal-setting but I just don’t believe it is the right solution for everyone. Sometimes setting a goal and falling just short of it can lead to doubts and too much rigidity.
Case in Point: You are currently ranked 184 in your state you want to be ranked in the top 50 in the state by the end of 2019. Then you get to the end of 2019 and you are ranked 62, should you feel poorly about this or believe you should have done something drastically different? Of course not, but some tennis players can be guilty of this way of thinking.
The other potential issue with goals is that you are assuming you will feel a certain way about a certain goal at some date in the future. This assumes a lot. We are constantly evolving, and we have no idea the type of person we will be, and the things we will value a year from now, never mind in 5 years. Maybe you would be better served now, and in the future, focusing on the task at hand and less about the outcome or final result.
I am not saying you should do all three of these things. In fact, I am not saying you should do any. What I am trying to do is get you to explore your own views about all the things we are supposed to conform to as a tennis player. You will be told time and time and time again to “BE POSITIVE,” to not get “ANGRY” and to set “GOALS” by many well-intentioned people. But these same people may have heard it from other well-intentioned people and so on. They may have never stopped to question whether it is valid or works for their day to day life; it is just something they heard, and it sounded like good advice. I want you to explore the why of these things. Is there another way to do it that works for your personality and temperament? Sometimes it is healthy to conform and sometimes it can be extremely unhealthy.