Tennis Formula of Failure

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We normally look for a formula for success but it's also very useful to recognize the formula of failure. As soon as you'll see it you'll recognize it in yourself or in other players. It is quite general and can be applied to other areas besides tennis.

Here it is:

My (perceived) weaknesses + my opponents (perceived) strengths + circumstances (perceived negative) > my belief (hope, confidence) in winning.

Let's dissect this formula part by part:

My weaknesses – a player knows that he has some weaknesses – they can be realistic on non-realistic. A realistic weakness would be: I'm not that tall and my second serve in not really fast. A non-realistic attitude towards your serve would be: since I made 2 double faults in this set and my opponent hit 3 return winners already at 3:2 – my second serve sucks and I will lose most of my service games.

That is of course not true. Two double faults per set are just statistics and it doesn't mean that you will inevitably continue with this rate. Your opponent hitting 3 winners is his risk. If it wasn't risky, he would have hit every return for a winner. The same goes for your opponent’s strengths – some are realistic: he moves fast and has a good forehand, while non-realistic would be: he is going to kill every short ball I give him.

But the circumstances can really be the problem. Because when the players start a match and they assess themselves and their opponent, they actually have some hope; »If everything goes as planned, I play well, and he makes some bad mistakes, I have a good chance. «

And then as soon as one, two or three circumstances (events) go against them, like a bad call, lucky net shot, players see the formula in their mind. They feel their weaknesses, the opponent's strengths seem unbreakable and the circumstances are also negative. Now the scales have tipped over and the players do not believe in themselves anymore.

Many get angry when these things happen. But if you listen and observe really carefully you will hear fear underneath. Anger is just the mask. Fear is the original emotion. Fear of losing, fear of being criticized again, fear of pain and so on.

The problem here lies in the mind of course. The mind tends to predict, that's what it does. It collects data and info, and makes logical conclusions based on these facts. Aha, if he hits my second serve for a winner I have no chance. Aha, if I can't finish this sitter, I have no chance against him. Aha, if he made me run like this in this point, I have no stamina to survive this type of running for two or three sets.

So that's what your mind does. It takes one little piece of information and expands it to infinity. Mind likes to generalize. If event A happened, then it's event A all the way. Very funny. We need to stop and investigate our thinking. Is this true?

The game of tennis is not logical. It's not math or physics. If A happens there is no law or natural law that defines the future. Everything is open – IF you ALLOW that. There are many momentum changes, drops of concentration, nerves, choking, anger, lucky and unlucky circumstances and other factors that influence the match. There are no conclusions to be made. If you make one double fault, there is no known physical law that suggests a higher percentage of making another one. The only connection between past and future events is our mind.

The solution is to reprogram your mind by clearing it. You have to take information in, but you don't have to make conclusions as infallible. You need to learn during the match, receive feedback from your actions, but do not ATTACH emotions to your conclusions and make these conclusions permanent. Everything is just a probability.

Do not generalize. You might end up playing an imaginary game with a superhero. Surely you can't win that one, ha? And that's when your motivation and effort drop down and then of course you really lose and now you have the proof that you were right. That's how it goes...

The more confident the player is, the longer can he withstand the pressure from the circumstances against him. But that is not the final solution. Confidence is based on belief – which is shaky. It is not permanent in most players – even pros. Sometimes it's there and sometimes it isn't. It's based on emotions and these are unreliable in a tennis match. What you need is detachment and acceptance – of yourself and of everything that happens.

When you play a match, you need to give 100%, accept everything (or as much as you can) and play. You cannot predict the future. The only future there is for you is what your mind has predicted. But in reality there is only NOW. You create your future when you are totally in the now.

It is the only point of power and the only point in time that we can control. And even that is not 100% true. We can only control our actions (playing to the backhand, hitting decisively, playing courageously …), but not the outcome. We can't 100% control that we'll finish the »easy« sitter. Some of them go out.

Realizing all this and still looking to be the best that you can be or win the most that you can win; what is then the best way of achieving that? That's acceptance; acceptance of yourself and any event. That enables you to play at your best without emotional ups and downs. When you realize that and experience acceptance you will easily dismiss any negative event or emotion as an obstacle to your peak performance. That's when you can experience the freedom in performance.



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Most tennis matches are decided not by a better stroke but by a better tactical play and by a stronger mind.

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