by Jeff Greenwald, M.A., MFT; sports psychologist
Reprinted with permission from Fearless Tennis
With so many players worrying about whether they will lose, it probably seems preposterous to you that some people are actually frightened to win. But it’s true. To play better in front of crowds and win more, get comfortable with winning.
One highly successful male college player I worked with recently shared with me his fear of being in the spotlight and raising people’s expectations. He had endured a great deal of pressure and expectations from others to achieve early on in the game, coupled with the message, “It’s important to be humble and not bring too much attention to yourself.” Over time, this mixed message created considerable inner conflict for him. Gradually, he found
himself critically paralyzed in big matches. He felt overwhelmed and self-conscious when he competed. If he won, the bar would be raised and he would feel pressure to keep the winning going. If he lost, he would feel deflated and guilty that he had disappointed his teammates. This no-win mind-set was certainly not a recipe for his best tennis.
Over a number of weeks, I helped him recognize that winning wasn’t personal, it was simply a result—a result he could be proud of. He began to see the impact his beliefs were having on him. He started to separate these old beliefs that were handed down from family members from his own. Playing well and hitting through his shots were his right, and he began to give himself permission to compete, have fun, and win. He became less ambivalent about the meaning of winning and losing and focused on playing for himself.
Another female player I worked with struggled with a slightly different version of the same challenge—getting comfortable with winning. When she was beating a higher-ranked player and in a position to win, she would be bombarded by thoughts like, I’m not supposed to be in this position; I don’t deserve to win. This player was highly sensitive to the opinions of others and feared being told that she was “lucky” and simply was uncomfortable being in the spotlight. With prompting, she began to shift the negative view she had of herself and raised her self image as a player. She, too, learned to give herself permission to win.
If you find yourself holding back in matches because you worry that expectations will rise or that you don’t deserve to be in a winning position, remind yourself that you have earned the right to be there. There is a reason why you have gotten this far, and you deserve to finish it off. It is your right and obligation to play your best, and whatever happens is meant to be.
The game of tennis teaches you a lot about your values and sense of character. You can’t hide from yourself for very long in this game. Your win/loss record need not be the defining aspect of this game or your sense of self. It’s not personal. Give yourself permission to hit out on your shots, shine in front of others, and win.
Jeff Greenwald, internationally recognized sport psychology consultant, was ranked No. 1 in the world and U.S. in the men's 35 age division and is the author of the best-selling book, The Best Tennis of Your Life. You can visit Jeff's website at www.jeffhgreenwald.com.