How To Stop Beating Yourself And Start Winning Tennis Matches

Q: Great book Tomaz!

I'm trying to have my son read when he has some free time. The strategies on how to play the different types of players has been very helpful.

My son's match last night brought up a question. He plays in a Junior Ladder program twice a week. The ladder has 48 juniors, and he's typically in the top 10.

Last night, he was number four on the ladder and played the number eight player. He's been trying to tweak some parts of his game - taking the ball on the rise, trying to be more aggressive and come to the net, and working on a new slice serve. So he told me he was going to try that during the match.

Win or lose, after all it was just practice. His strategy was paying off, his opponent is a very consistent baseliner, and my son was mixing things up, coming to the net. He was up 5-1 and at the net for several points, when his opponent hit three winners on him. Even though he was still up 5-2, the three winners began the mental meltdown and he found himself down 6-5, by sliding back into his old way of playing.

He starts yelling at himself and gets sloppy. He finally realized what happened - that it was all in his head - and talked himself back into the game, returned to his aggressive play, and won 7-6. But that isn't typical, he usually beats himself at that point.

My question is what can I say to him to help him stop beating himself and making his matches harder than they need to be? This opponent has only beaten him once before in the more than 10 times they've played, and that time it was his mental meltdown that beat him.

A: In your case I have good news and "bad" news. Bad news in the sense that things may not work out how YOU want them to work out. Basicly it's only "bad" for your ego and sense of control but in reality it is as it is.

Ok, bad news?

You cannot "make" or "force" your son to be as you want him to be. He is a free person. Even if you try and partially succeed, if your son't internal motivation is not aligned with your wishes there will be some bad consequences later.

He will not feel good about himself or his choices. And that can result in variety of activities to "push down" those feelings - like overeating, watching tv, playing computer games and even worse...

So, the bad news is that he will eventually have to make his own choices whether he wants to yell at himself or not. Federer was known as a very "crazy" kid, throwing racquets all the time and getting kicked out of practice.

He made a choice.

So bad news - you cannot control your son's tennis career. You can guide him and show him the way you think is best, but at the end he needs to be independent and make his own choices and learn from them.

Good news?

What you can do is to make him AWARE of what is going on. I find it best to avoid talking and persuading and convincing. The best is to tape his match and have him watch it - if he wants to.

That way he will see what is going on. He will become aware how much emotions and ego hurt his game.

The difficult part of tennis and mental training is to be ABLE to disconnect from your own thoughts and emotions and observe them and make a conscious choice whether you will follow these thoughts and emotions or not.

"What do I want more - to win a match no matter what way OR I want to show people around (spectators, opponent, parents, coach, ...) that I am not that bad since I allowed my opponent hit three winners.

So I will "talk down" to myself and criticize myself so others won't have to and they'll see that I got what I deserved by making those mistakes or sloppy play."

This is the train of thought going through the head at light speed. The only thing for us - outside spectators is to try and disrupt the automatic thinking and emotions.

We can talk before and decide together: Look, when you get emotional I will say something like:... (talk to your son and decide what are you going to say)

I usually say:"Where are you?" I am referring to emotional state - high or low. Check the page of Activation for better understanding. And then the player EITHER decides that playing his best is more important OR that he wants to use his emotions to prove what ever he wants to prove or show to other people or get down on himself.

That's his choice. He is free.

Sometimes we must make the same mistake for YEARS before we get sick of it and change ourselves. That's everyone's own choice, not mine or yours.



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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