Playing winning tennis is much more fun, isn’t it? And nobody likes to lose, do they? That being said, becoming mentally tough and getting the most from losing is an important part of your training. It is all about attitudes.
When I’m working with a new student, their reaction to a loss is often comments like “I played terrible” or “I should have won.” Have you ever heard yourself say either of these two statements or something similar?
My first response to “I played terrible” is to ask, “What did you do when you were on the court to turn your play around?” Did you re-program or visualize your shots going in?
In my opinion, this is the difference between playing the mental game the way I see it and playing tennis the traditional way. 95% of the players do not have a clue as to why they miss balls or how to fix their shots on the spot. No wonder these players get angry or frustrated.
So, let’s say that you did play terrible. You need to ask yourself, “What part of my game was not working?” Usually, it was only one shot that was off that day or they played one “bad” game and the person translated that into “everything was terrible.”
Once you have isolated where your game went wrong, I then ask, “Were you aware of this while you were playing?” and then, “What should you have done about it?” And finally, I will ask, “What can you do about it now that the match is over?”
I am hoping that you can see what I am doing with my questions. I am helping to isolate the problem so that you can do something about it the next time you are playing as well as going out and practicing the shot or shots that were weak or not working very well. But, to just say that “I played terrible” is not helpful.
Sometimes my students will say, “I should have won,” I ask them “why.” They may say that, “I was ahead and lost (choked),” or “I am a better player” or “they got lucky”, or “they were just a dinker,” or “I just didn’t play well” or any number of things about the match, I tell them, “No, you should not have won because, for whatever reason, your opponent played better than you did and you need to figure out how you lost the points.”
If you have ever said these things, once you figure out how you were losing the points, you can then go and practice so that the next time you find yourself losing points in this way, you will be able to overcome it. Also, once I get my student to understand that your opponent was actually better than you were, I tell them, “If you don’t like the fact that your opponent was better than you, then you need to hit 50 million more balls so that you improve.” Of course, I believe that while you are hitting these 50 million balls, you will improve that much faster if you focus on the “Core Principles” of the mental game found in my book Playing Zen-Sational Tennis.
The whole point of losing is that you get to find out where your weaknesses are. If you played a two year old, you could just about do anything and you would win. When you lose, it should be an incentive for you to go out and hit those 50 million more balls so that the next time you will play better.
Most of the time when I play tournaments, I put myself into a situation where I will lose. For example, I don’t play in my age division (except when I play in National tournaments) because I need to be pushed and I need to find out where my weakness are so that I can improve and fix them.
And, just for the record, as soon as you think that you have fixed your weakness, another one is presented to you the next time you lose.
So really take the time to find out why you lost and then go and practice using the metal game principles. You will find that your game will continue to improve, you will be getting more mentally tough, and maybe you won’t have to actually hit 50 million more balls.
Now go play the mental game.