This month we examine a truly terrifying emotion in tennis ...fear!
Do you remember the last time you were struck by fear in a match? If
it threw off your performance on a decisive point, you have plenty of
company! Let's confront and destroy this feisty foe.
Webster defines fear as a distressing emotion aroused by impending
pain, danger or evil, whether real or imagined. In tennis, fear is
usually brought on by the possibility of making a mistake, appearing
incompetent, or losing. Other descriptions of fear are self-doubt,
worry, concern, and negative thoughts or feelings.
FALLOUT OF FEAR
Fear is seldom helpful in tennis. It may lead to negative outcomes
including dangerously high arousal (See September 1995 article),
impaired concentration (See November 1995 article), reduced
confidence (See January 1996 article), tensed muscles, lost rhythm,
indecision, expectations of failure, and lowered perceptions of
control. Although this emotion effectively alarmed our ancestors of
approaching predators, the most threatening predator on the tennis
court is often fear itself!
Typically, fear increases with the perceived importance of the
situation. Play becomes more conscious, careful and tentative in an
attempt to avoid mistakes. The term "choking" is used to describe
this effect. A serve that was once loose and fluid is reduced to a
fat marshmallow, and groundstrokes are awkwardly steered and pushed
for added security. Opponents not overcome by these same tendencies
quickly realize an opportunity, play more aggressively, and assume
control of the match.
FEAR IS NOT NERVOUSNESS
It is important to distinguish between fear and nervousness. Whereas
fear is always a negative mental state, nervousness is a physical
condition (e.g., increased heart rate, sweating) that can actually
improve play. Martina Navratilova admitted that she always got
nervous playing tennis and had to gradually learn that it was not a
weakness. Jack Nicklaus stated that he did not know how to play
great golf when he was not nervous. So while nervousness provides a
great source of energy to enhance performance in critical moments,
fearful thinking about what might go wrong is a useless menace.
There are no quick or easy solutions to eliminate fear from your game.
Since fear arises as a result of your own appraisals and
expectations, it will be important to comprehend performance in a
slightly different way.
Here are some ideas to help you view things differently and begin to
eliminate this harmful emotion:
- Forget about how others might see you. Your perceptions about
yourself are most important.
- Begin thinking like a winner both on and off the court.
Frequently image what you would like to have happen while avoiding
doubtful thinking about possible misfortunes.
- Keep an active memory of times when you performed well and learn
to eliminate memories of bad performances.
- If you become afraid during a match, realize that your opponent
may feel the same way. Focus concretely on what you are going to
accomplish and then just do it.
- Practice begining matches at 15-40, 4-5 in the final set. Learn
to love this challenge. Maintain an aggressive style of play rather
than becoming tentative.
Your best tennis comes when you are relaxed, poised, and believe
in your abilities. You cannot control the outcome and you cannot
always win, but by confronting your fears head on you'll develop the
courage of a champion. See you next month ...