Fearless Tennis: Build Your Game with a Vision

by Jeff Greenwald, M.A., MFT; sports psychologist

Reprinted with permission from Fearless Tennis

Change can be difficult. And, usually, it happens only when we are truly ready.

Everything written on the game of tennis related to strokes, strategy, mental toughness, or physical fitness asks us to consider changing our current habits if we want to improve our performance on any level. Whether it’s returning serve with more authority, remaining composed after mistakes, engaging in a strength training program, or developing a weapon, the decision to change takes two things—motivation and confidence. In other words, for any real change to take place in your game or your life, you need to believe that such a change is important and that you have the confidence to attempt the change.

When Pete Sampras was sixteen years old, he and his coach, Pete Fischer, made the decision to change Sampras from a two-handed to a one-handed backhand. At the time, Sampras was ranked nationally in the boy’s 16, and such a change at this late stage was considered very bold. But he did it. We’d probably all agree that, given Sampras’s game style and personality, not to mention his fourteen Grand Slam titles, the decision was a positive one. But what helped Sampras make this decision? First, Fischer communicated his own belief that Sampras had the ability to make this change, which Sampras seemed to accept. Second, and most importantly, Sampras felt it was important for his career in the long run and that he had the confidence to stick with it, even if he lost some matches along the way.

The trick is to get clear about your intention related to the specific change you want to make. Make it important. Connect it to a value you hold, beyond winning or losing. It must reflect your desire to improve, to test yourself, and to learn on some level. Then maintaining the confidence to persevere is critical. This will most likely require a perspective shift related to “success” and “failure” in the short-term. Whatever change you choose to make, you need to assess the level of importance and confidence you have prior to taking it on. Perhaps this will make the difference for you as you consider your next bold move on or off the court.

To do this, choose a behavior or part of your game you would like to change over the next month. On a scale of 1 to 10, rate how important this change is to you. Similarly, rate how confident you are that you can successfully make this change. If it is below a 6 in either category, ask and answer, How would I close the gap between where I am now and where I would like to be?  Try to come up with at least three action items you could do to move toward your goal.

Next, ask yourself, What perspective shift do I need to make?  To do this, you will want to connect this change to a value you hold (for example, actualizing potential, enjoyment, personal challenge, etc.) and write down why you are making this change. Decide why it is important to you. Having a purpose for your change will help you maintain the motivation needed to see it through.