Perfectionism In Tennis
The drive to succeed and the frustration of never getting there

Perfectionism can be beneficial or detrimental to your tennis game, depending on just how perfect you want to be.

I suggest you get acquainted with the concept of perfectionism first, by reviewing this excellent article from the BBC and then return to this article to see how trying to be perfect can affect your tennis.

When Perfectionism Helps

The game of tennis requires many different skills and techniques including footwork, hand-eye coordination, and balance, among others.

In addition, playing higher level-tennis demands good physical and mental preparation. All of these need to be worked on and improved, day after day.

In fact, the goal of a professional -- and often times a recreational player as well -- is to reach the maximum potential of his or her abilities and skills. Striving to perfect your strokes and other parts of your tennis game will drive you to work more, stay focused, and look for any weakness or imperfection in these skills.

Perfect forehand by Roger Federer
Perfect forehand by Roger Federer - ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
If you stick with trying to do things better just a little bit longer than most other tennis players, then you can achieve a lot; conversely, if you are satisfied too quickly with your results, you won't make the best of your abilities and you will find that there will be many players better than you.

In order for perfectionism to work for you, you need to use its drive and energy to improve your game and be able to let go and accept excellence as the final and realistic goal of your training and match play.

When Perfectionism Hurts

Having a perfect serve every time, and never a double fault, is impossible. Hitting every sitter for a winner is not possible either. In fact, there is not a single element of tennis where you can be perfect because:

a) human beings are not perfect; and

b) the game of tennis is too difficult.

This is where perfectionism can hurt you. While it may seem that you are perfect for a short period of time - for example, when you hit three approach shots near the lines and win a point -- you will, sooner or later, miss a shot or lose a point: perhaps you will misjudge the ball's depth, speed or spin, perhaps you won't be 100% focused on the shot, perhaps the wind will blow the ball slightly out of its trajectory, perhaps your opponent will guess where you are going to play and move early, perhaps ...

In other words, if your final goal is to be perfect, you'll be training to accomplish the impossible. That's when frustration and anger can arise and work to destroy your game.

Frustrated Andy Roddick breaks his racquet
Frustrated Andy Roddick breaks his racquet - Tyler Anderson / National Post
It's important that you remember what you want to achieve in tennis and check with yourself: "Does pushing for perfection help me achieve this objective?"

It's also useful to ask yourself: "How much do I need to use my desire for perfection when I train or play, and how much do I need to let go to achieve best performance?"

Note that perfectionism is only a way of thinking -- nothing more -- which means that this way of thinking can be changed. To tackle and win your battle against perfectionism you need to find its lies. Being perfect is a lie: Imperfect human beings cannot be perfect.

Let's take tennis for example. If you miss an easy sitter, you may feel disappointed about it because you "shouldn't have" missed it. But hitting every sitter is not possible, no matter what you have been told. Which proves that your thinking that you "should have hit the ball in" is false. And no one likes to be wrong -- not even in one's belief about perfectionism.

The best way to tackle perfectionism is with logic.

You need to test your beliefs about how things "should be" against reality. Ask yourself whether your thinking is true. Compare your expectations with reality - with other people or tennis players.

Here's what I did to get rid of "shoulds": I watched pros play on TV, but I didn't look for great shots. Instead, I looked for poor shots, poor decisions, sloppy footwork and bad misses.

Once you change your frame of mind and look for mistakes, you'll see many, many, many, of them. Once you see that even "top 10" players make many mistakes, you'll realize that you can't be perfect and that there is no need to be perfect to be a great player.

Remember that Roger Federer was an obsessive perfectionist when he was younger and often "self-destructed" during matches. His biography, The Quest for Perfection, explains how Roger's game suffered from his constant desire to hit perfect shots, and how he later changed his way of thinking to focus on more realistic expectations.

... And we all know how his career exploded after that.



Win More Matches When It Matters Most

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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