May tip of the month: ego and tennis

The mental side of the game remains the most important determining factor for success at every level of this and every other sport.

It is also the most mysterious and hardest to affect any change despite the claims of many sports psychologists.

This is a complex issue and I certainly do not claim to have all the answers, but it is something I am very fascinated by and interested in. Consequently, I have spent some time exploring this issue and my objective is simply to share this experience.

So, here is something to explore if you are dealing with nerves, tension, anger, frustration or any other emotional state that does not allow you to play the best tennis you are capable of playing.

What would happen to your competitive experience if you made a conscious effort to take ego out of your life; both on and off the tennis court?

We could make a game of it. Refuse to strengthen ego by giving it credit for anything. Notice how, ego wants to take credit for anything ‘good’ that happens. Conversely, the ego also wants to take the blame for all the ‘bad’ that happens.

Let us play with the idea of not not taking blame or credit and see what happens to our competitive experience.

Some years ago, I was talking to a competitive college player who was struggling with anger and frustration. We talked about taking the ego out of playing; about understanding that there was a factor in execution that we seemingly had little control over. Consequently, regardless of our effort and commitment, the result was more of a ‘happening’ rather than something we could ‘guarantee’ or had full control over.

I suggested that perhaps he should highlight this ‘happening’ aspect and take no credit for the successes and no blame for the ‘failures’. The player nodded politely, but I could see he struggled mightily with the concept that he could never take credit for his wins.

Even though, I had raised this concept of removing ego from playing some 4-5 years ago, I only really understood it this winter.

The past two winters, perhaps for the first time in my life, I began playing tennis with the focus on me and my game as a priority. It was an amazing experience, one full of learning and growth.

This past winter whenever I received a complement about my game, I noticed that I felt the need to explain and what often came out initially was, ‘yes, I have been working on my game’.

As I listened to these words come out of my mouth, I realized that ego was taking credit for the improvement.

I also realized that these words, spoken by the ego, were inaccurate.

The truth was not that ‘I’ (the ego) had worked anything out, but that things had been ‘revealed’ to me.

This is not just a matter of semantics; I am convinced that the latter statement is true, while the first is absolutely false.

The difference in experienced sprang from dropping all that I knew and instead paying attention to things: both psychical (hitting the ball) and emotional (the feelings that were arising as the ball came towards me and at contact).

Instead of ‘telling’ the body what to do, I started experimenting, exploring and watching what the body was doing and what affects different actions had on where the ball went and what it did.

The more attention I paid to these things, the more things were ‘revealed’ to me. It was truly exhilarating to be shown things every time I stepped onto the court! Quite an amazing experience and best of all there was no one to take credit for the results that ensued, consequently, the ego was not strengthened!

My suggestion is for you to find ways to weaken ego in yourself both on and off the court and see what happens.

This game between ego and ‘the one who can see all the games of the ego’ seems to be the real game.

You may win more money, fame and power by winning Wimbledon or Roland Garros, but, in my experience, the rewards are greater winning the game of ego.

Although, truth be told, I have never won Wimbledon or Roland Garros, so perhaps I cannot really make that statement!


Explore and enjoy!