Players, coaches and parents are often so focused on success, winning and rankings that they often lose track of the ‘big’ picture. It is almost as if, there is an implicit fear that if one focus’ on the big picture then the desire for short-term success will somehow be diluted and therefore harder to achieve. This fear prevents the overview that is essential, not just for peak athletic performance, but more importantly, for a healthy and happy attitude to and experience of competition.
Ironically, the lack of the big picture perspective makes it harder, not easier to play to one’s athletic potential and thereby maximize a player’s ability to ‘succeed’. On the short-term, a narrow, result-oriented focus leads to a fear in players that can manifest in different ways, all of which will hinder peak athletic performance. However, a wider perspective helps players relax through the understanding that this is not a life or death situation.
Players often develop a mindset that the upcoming match is the most important match of their lives and therefore a loss would be inconceivable. While this approach is good to the extent that it helps them focus wholly on the match at hand, the problem arises when this thought creates fear and doubt, which it invariably does in almost all individuals.
The reality is that there are hundreds of matches coming up and while it is essential to give your very best each time you play, no one match is so important that it will define who you are as a player or as an individual. If the player is truly honest with him or herself, it will become clear that one’s life will not measurably change from the outcome of one match. This truth if really understood need not decrease motivation. On the contrary, it can free the player from a false burden and allow him or her to play tension free.
I know some players and coaches will be saying that this ‘must-win at all costs’ attitude is absolutely necessary for success in the super competitive environment that we live in. While it is true determination and commitment to do one’s utmost is an important part of the process, there comes a point when the line is crossed and this attitude becomes counter-productive, this is especially true of a sport as skill intensive as tennis. That is why I repeatedly suggest finding a balance between relaxation and intensity. Both components are necessary and if there is an imbalance in either direction, peak performance will not result.
Finally, each and every individual needs to consider what is success for them?
I remember telling a particularly result-oriented mother of a highly ranked National 14 year-old that for me, success for this young girl would ultimately be defined when, at the age of 30, this young lady was a well-adjusted and happy individual. One who felt at peace with herself and was able to love and be loved and tennis had played some role in reaching this inner peace. I know few adults whose biggest regret in Life is that they were not ranked higher in the 12s, 14s or 16s.
Ninety-nine percent of the players who play tennis will not become professionals so it is easy to see for them, at least, that success in tennis is not a goal unto itself, the value has to lie in the process of playing. If this was not the case, every competitive junior who did not become a professional would have to be considered a failure, which is simply missing the point.
Additionally, I would suggest that even for that one per cent that become professionals, being the best will have no value unless they have some measure of peace of mind and inner contentment. There are many aspiring professionals who may disagree with that last statement, but significantly, I doubt if there are any successful professionals who have climbed the mountain and disagree.
Perspective is essential if the wholistic welfare of the individual is to be considered. Is there any point in being able to hit a great tennis ball, if there is no joy, peace or contentment in one’s heart?
Of what value are success and high rankings if the joy is not in the playing? Look closely and you will see that, despite their protestations, very few players are truly enjoying the process of competing (the higher level you go the clearer this becomes). For most, joy comes after the playing is over; it lies in the winning or the sense of achieving something and the playing is merely a means to an end. And when the joy lies in something other than the process itself, it is extremely short-lived and a poor trade-off. To suffer through a 2 hour match or even more for a moment of relief (which is no joy at all!) at the conclusion is a very poor business deal. And of course, that is the best case scenario if one achieves the result one wants; if one loses after a miserable experience of playing then the misery continues and one is left with a feeling of utter despair.
So, a broader perspective will, not only allow players to play relaxed and therefore to the best of their ability, but also will allow them to enjoy the journey by making the process stress-free. In addition, the wider perspective is not a distortion of reality, on the contrary, it is reality and as they say, ‘the truth will set you free’!