We are what we think about
An athlete that holds many limiting beliefs limits his own success. When he realizes that these beliefs are false, he is free to perform at his peak regardless of circumstances or his abilities – positive and negative ones.
Beliefs are ways of thinking for which we believe that are true. Every person has a certain logic and proof that his belief is true. Unfortunately, many of these beliefs are harmful and limiting for one's success and improvement.
Some typical limiting beliefs of tennis players are:
- every time things start to go my way bad things start to happen
- the last game is the hardest one
- if I lose my advantage (leading 5:2 in the set, 40:0 in a game), I am a loser
- good players don't make stupid mistakes. I made a "stupid" mistake therefore I'm not a good player. Bad players cannot win tournaments or tough matches
- he gets all the luck, never me
Many of the beliefs are subconscious. The player only sees that his game falls apart at certain critical situations in the match but doesn't know where those feelings of fear or doubt come from.
Only with detailed analysis of his thinking and logic can he discover the underlying limiting belief.
When the player becomes aware of his beliefs, he is half way to free himself of them. With a realistic view on sport and himself a player becomes open to all events that happen during a match. He is in a state of acceptance.
To really become free of beliefs a player needs to find out that they are not true. He can do that with logical thinking and with realistic observation of other players, tennis matches and various situations that happen in a tennis match.
For example – a player may be convinced (belief) that his serve is really bad and that he made many double faults. This is how his belief filters all the information and lets in the memory only events that are proving and reinforcing the belief.
If a player then watches a video tape of his match and makes a detailed statistics of his serving, he may discover that he made 3 double faults but he also put 26 second serves in. That's around 90% of the second serve success.
And out of those 26 second serves he actually forced 7 times a short return which he could then put away with a winner.
He can then compare his stats with top players in his league or even with top ATP players and then set realistic beliefs about his serve.
Why are beliefs problematic?
If a player has a belief that his second serve is weak, he will feel insecure and fearful almost every time he serves a second serve. Our thinking and emotions heavily influence our ability to perform at our best.
Another common way of limiting beliefs is that some things shouldn't happen. This causes the player to become stressed, emotional and lose his focus. His level of playing drops.
The most typical events that shouldn't happen are:
- lucky net cord from his opponent
- line shots
- bad line calls
- getting aced by a »bad server«
- the opponent hitting a winner because of a mishit shot
But the reality is that all these events have happened, do happen and will happen again. What players hold in their mind is an illusionary fairy tale of how nice the matches should unfold. Once they get real and are ready to deal with anything that happens they are in a state of acceptance.
Acceptance means that everything that happens is perfectly normal. It just happened, so that's the way it is. Acceptance doesn't mean resigning to fate. Resigning to fate means that you don't do anything against events that happen. Acceptance means that you do everything in your power against events that happen and still accept that you cannot control reality.
Things sometimes do not go your way. Most of the time players think about an easier way. They cannot comprehend that a real tennis match can be so tough. Some of the players are too afraid to deal with reality because sometimes events in the match can make it really hard for one to come through. That's called growing – as a tennis player and as a person.
When a player accepts himself and all the events, he is free from negative thoughts or thinking how things should be. His mind is calm and clear. He can play his best tennis.
How to discover and get rid of limiting beliefs
Read these statements and see what you come up with after the first part:
- If I lose my lead (5:2 to 5:5, 40:0 to 40:40, …) it means that…
- I lost my match because of
o one mistake at the beginning (Yes/No)
o a double fault when I served for the set (Yes/No)
o bad luck (Yes/No)
- If I make mistakes then…
- Since I played badly last time (yesterday, this week, …) I will play badly today (Yes/No)
These are some of the beliefs that we commonly hold for true.
Take your time this week and attentively listen to your friends, coaches, TV or radio to identify more beliefs about tennis or anything else.
You can discover your personal beliefs by first identifying situations where you perform below your best. Maybe it is serving for the match, maybe it is playing in the finals, and maybe it is playing against someone specific.
When you find the recurring situation try and remember what you think when it happens. What are you trying to avoid when being in that situation? What will give you most emotional pain if things that you don't want to experience happen?
What does that tell about you?
After you have found your beliefs ask yourself the following questions:
1. Is that true? Can you find any proof that exactly the opposite is true?
2. Is this in my best interest?
3. Does this type of thinking make my journey towards my goal easier or more difficult?
4. Does this type of thinking lead me to my goal at all or am I going away from reaching my goal?
Once you realize with logical thinking that your belief is not true and that it does not work for you, you can either choose a new one that will help you or just accept events as they unfold.
If you are in a state of acceptance, events don't bother you. You are focused on your goal even when unwanted events happen. You can use the following demonstration to experience acceptance:
Place a tennis ball 20 feet away from you on the ground and take 5 or 6 tennis balls in your hands. Now throw each one and try to hit that tennis ball on the ground. Just throw the balls one after another and try to hit the ball.
Regardless of the outcome, ask yourself:
- Did you try any less when you missed the ball?
- Did you try much harder when you missed?
- Did you criticize yourself when you missed?
What do you think about mistakes that happened?
Most people do not get angry or do not see their mistakes as mistakes. They see them as feedback. You are accepting mistakes as part of the task, not your deficiency or inferiority or anything like that.
You realize that the task is too difficult for you to be 100% successful.
Now how about tennis? :)
Write down for one week after your practice:
1. Did you recognize any beliefs – your own or someone else’s?
2. Check with yourself whether:
- is that true?
- does that way of thinking help you?
- how does that affect your future effort and commitment?
3. Have you recognized any differences in beliefs that people have about the same event or circumstance? Can you see that there are many ways of describing the same situation?
Once you expose your beliefs and see them as unlogical you are free and all possibilities are open. You are not limited by your thinking.
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