by Jeff Greenwald, M.A., MFT; sports psychologist
Reprinted with permission from Fearless Tennis
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In my sport psychology practice, I often hear things like, “If I could just get a few matches under my belt, then I might get some confidence back.” It would be difficult to go through a weekend tournament and not hear players mention confidence as a factor in their wins or losses. But if you look closely enough at the statement made above, you’ll also see that confidence is perceived almost always as something that happens to players as opposed to something that is within their control. That is, winning or hitting a string of successful returns in a match are the only real ways to gain confidence. While there is no doubt that winning and immediate results have the most immediate impact on our confidence, we cannot overlook alternative strategies to raise the confidence meter when it drops.
If your confidence is low and you want to get back on track, recall some of your past successes. Often, your mind can get lost in what you’re not doing well, particularly when you find yourself low on confidence. Reflect on your strengths and acknowledge that the fact that you have played well in the past means you can recapture a winning mindset again. You need to believe in yourself and your abilities.
Therefore, your perspective of confidence needs a slightly broader definition—one based on your overall athletic talent, ability to make important adjustments in a match, and evidence that you learn from past mistakes.
For example, let’s say you’ve lost a string of close three-set matches in the last couple of months. And now you’re up a break at 4–3 in the third set but end up losing your serve to even it at 4–4. The reality is that even after being broken, you are still even in the match at 4–4. What happened four weeks ago—or the volley you missed to lose this last game—becomes irrelevant. These results are as irrelevant as what you ate for dinner that same night four weeks ago. You simply don’t give them any air time. Instead, you remember the many penetrating ground strokes that have served you well in the past, and you see these images clearly. You decide to trust your shots because you’ve hit them well in the past and you know your ability is still there. Even though you were just broken, you stay calm and recognize that your best stuff can come out at any time if you continue to trust and adjust as necessary.
You can surely practice this mentality from one moment to the next. Off the court, review videos of yourself that remind you of times when you felt more confident. Get a journal and write down how you felt and played in past successful matches. Just don’t forget that your ability is not something that comes and goes just because of a few disappointing matches. It’s there, and you simply need to trust it. Avoid labeling or judging yourself too harshly and thereby convincing yourself you’ve lost confidence.
My recommendation is to simply get clear on what it means for you to act in a confident manner—regardless of the situation or score—and base your confidence on that. With a more composed outlook, expanded belief in your overall ability, and memories of positive past performances combined with some more wins under your belt, confidence will feel more enduring.