Competition breeds pressure. This is especially true in the
unpredictable tennis environment where emergencies are often the rule
rather than the exception. Some players feed off competitive
pressure, improving their focus and raising their game to a higher
level, while others allow themselves to be overwhelmed by pressure,
choke, and fold. How can individuals respond so very differently to
the same demands? Enter Sports Psychology.
Athletes at all levels experience increased physiological arousal (e.g.,
butterflies, nervousness, perspiration) as a result of
competitive pressure. These natural responses increase as the match
becomes more meaningful to the individual and the ability levels of
the players become more similar. They are the normal results of
sincere effort rather than pathological anxiety states. Evidence
that competitive pressure can enhance performance is seen in the fact
that most Olympic track records are broken in front of massive crowds,
when the pressure is greatest, rather than in practice.
Although performance is often improved following normal increases in
arousal, recall from the September article that the complexity of
fine motor skills required in tennis dictates a guard against over-arousal. As such, responding to competitive pressure with additional
increases in arousal due to cognitive anxiety (e.g.,worry, concern,
self-doubt), inevitably destroys performance! It also steals
attention away from what is important, wasting it on irrelevant fears.
It is unrealistic, and perhaps fruitless, to try to eliminate natural
competitive pressure. However, studies suggest that the way an
individual appraises stressful events determines whether the
experienced emotion will be positive or negative. In other words,
differences in the way individuals evaluate competitive
pressure situations, rather than the situations themselves, explain
why some athletes thrive while others wilt!
Competitive pressure appraised as negative will inevitably lead to
unhealthy anxiety and less proficient tennis performance.
In contrast, pressure welcomed as a necessary challenge of the thrill
of competition guards against over-arousal caused by needless worries,
increases attention to the task at hand and improves overall
Here are some guidelines to help you manage competitive pressure more
In summary, competitive pressure is a natural component of match play
which should be accepted and eagerly embraced in order to crush the
demons of self doubt and anxiety (as well as your opponent). Until
- Play out points in practice. Training sessions should be
as realistic as possible, with lots of competitive opportunities.
- Never allow your coach or practice partner to stand in one place
too long and feed balls. This will only ensure that you become a
great practice player.
- Enter as many tournaments as you can to gain necessary
experience in a competitive environment.
- Believe in yourself when the going gets rough. Nervous energy is
a natural part of the game. Trust your preparation, stay focused,
and hang in there to win the internal battle.
- Welcome the uncertainty of competition as one of the most
exciting parts of the game. It never gets boring when you have a
good struggle on your hands!