Fearless Tennis: Face your fears


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

Reprinted with permission from Fearless Tennis

After feeling continually disappointed with her rate of improvement and results in recent tournaments, a client confided in me, “The more you invest, the more you lose.” Of course, it was her perspective that scared me the most.

I have witnessed similar beliefs among a number of players over the years. Many players might not come right out and acknowledge that they are scared of trying and failing and the pain that comes with it, but I know how fear can creep into our lives. Even if we do not recognize it as fear, it shows up in defeated body language, minimal effort in matches, tentative ground strokes, worry about the match outcome, even the tournaments we choose to play. But here’s the truth: Fear isn’t the real problem. The problem is the fear of the fear, the shame, disappointment, embarrassment, frustration you might experience if things don’t go your way.

So, rather than calling someone to play with you who might say no, you avoid it. Rather than playing a tournament where you may not do as well, you avoid it. Rather than going for your shots on break point, you play tentatively and avoid the possibility of missing. The list goes on and on. It’s the avoidance of the fear that is in your way. And the only effective way to deal with this pattern is to begin facing your fears head-on.

I know you don’t want to feel bad. You don’t want to confirm what you secretly think may be true about you or your game. Because what if you’re right? No, you say, I have to avoid that situation at all costs.  You do not want to feel the anxiety when you go for it and miss, the disappointment when you lose to someone ranked below you, the rejection by another player who won’t play with you. You choose to “duck” a tournament rather than risk a drop in your ranking. What is the consequence of letting fear dictate your choices? Unfortunately, you pay in unrealized potential, missed opportunities, and loss of enjoyment in the game. What’s the alternative? Face your fear. Make the call to someone you want to play with, hit out on your shots, play the tournament, don’t give up in matches, stand tall when things aren’t going your way, practice hard, tell your partner what you need. The more you face your fear, the easier it gets, and the better you will play.

You have all the right equipment, you take lessons, you spend money on travel for tournaments, and you may have a fitness trainer to get you in physical shape. You can get the upper hand on fear. But you must first acknowledge when you are fearful and become resolved to act with courage. When you do, your confidence will rise and your game will improve. You can certainly apply this same approach off the court. The more you invest, the more you gain.