Failing on your terms.
Tennis is a very unique sport if we talk about losing. Tennis players lose more often than athletes playing other sports. Professional players play up to 30 or more tournaments per year and there is only one winner each week. More than that, a player may lose a few times during one tournament if participates in few draws (singles, doubles, mixed).
So are you prepared enough when it comes to losing/failing? Does anyone actually train how to act when things don’t go your way? As you may have heard a million times before «Tennis is a mental game», but what does it actually mean? For me, one of the aspects that makes tennis players show their mental power is the ability to turn bad matches into good matches. You don’t see great players giving up on the match, they truly fight till the last point and they truly believe that poor start doesn’t have to mean poor finish. No matter how great you are, you will lose and not just once.
Another tennis and life words of wisdom say: «Failing is the part of the process», «Losing is the part of winning» and «Fail better». But how do we learn to fail better? Does anybody really teach that? I googled «losing in tennis» to get more information and here is just the first few articles that I’ve found: «How to NOT lose your tennis match», «How to overcome a fear of losing», «How to stop losing to weaker opponents», «No losing in tennis», etc. So the general message that we get is «losing is bad» and «we should avoid losing» which is no doubt is true. In addition to that, I strongly believe that players and specially children should learn how to embrace failing. I would like to share the actual mechanism that will help you to «fail better» and help you improve during the match after a poor start and help you take something positive out every perfomance or practice.
- Changing your tactics is a logical step when losing. But as we know tennis a bit more complicated than just that. Most of the times there will be more change required: in your attituide, body language and even technical aspects of your game. For example, if you keep missing your serve to the net, there might be a problem with your toss height or not using your legs enough.
- MAKE NOISE. The score on the board and the match pressure lead to the muscle tightness and mental stress. Breathing out with your shot louder than usual may relax your muscles and help you stay focused at one shot at a time. It is also helpful to encourage yourself with a reasonably loud and confident «come on!». Even if you don’t feel that way, you do show the world that you are here to fight till the end.
- STICK TO YOUR ROUTINE. There are 4 types of tennis routine: pre-match, pre – serve, pre-return and a way to refocus between each point. It is very important to stick to your ritualsregardless of the score. The routine is your individual way to concentrate and will help you to «control the controllables».
- TAKE YOUR TIME. Obviously nobody looks at the watch when playing a match. Most of the times players have to have a pretty accurate «time sense». Rushing in between points and changovers may lead to rushed decisions and actions during play. It is common that some players tend to speed up their walks and skip on routines simply because they want to change the score as soon as possible. But the truth is you will only do a favor to your opponent. Let yourself take the time allowed by rules to breath, focus, plan the next point.
- FIGHT FOR EVERY POINT. One point at a time. Take a big picture out of your mind and put a little frame that has only upcoming point in it. Winning a match is a great goal but it is neccessary to make your goals a lot smaller. It’s mistaken to think that winning a point at being 0-40 down is not going to change anything. Just remember, the more points you win the more pressure you create. Challenge your opponent on closing the game – let their nerves come out! And you will see, points make games, games make sets and sets make matches. Even if you are not going to win that particular match, you will definately improve your statistics!
- BE A PROBLEM SOLVER. As the match goes on, you should be able to spot your weakness/weaknesses in your game on that particular day. It may be your first serve percentage, shot selection, not enough variation, missing too much to the net, etc. Being able to improve your game under pressure will take your perfomance skills to the next level!
- SHOW TRUE SPORTSMANSHIP. Show respect to the opponent, officials, spectators, sponsors and your team members by not letting your negative emotions go out of control. You are showing your professionalism by doing that, but also you are not giving your opponent extra confidence. After all, people won’t remember the scores, they will remember your sportmanship. Besides your achievments, your sportmanship defines your reputation as an athlete and as a person.
- MAKE «CONFIDENT» ERRORS. What does it mean? How can an unforced error have something confident in it? It sure can if you don’t doubt your shots. Trust your decisions on the shot selection/directon/pace/spin. Don’t slow the pace of your swing down significally in order to put the ball in. That would lead to the technical damage of the shot. Focus on HOW to play the shot and not on «JUST PUT IT IN». Eventually, those positive «errors» will become postive solid shots and will bring your confidence back.
- HIT AS MANY SHOTS AS YOU CAN. Simply make the point last longer. Make your opponent hit one more extra ball every single time. It is also a great idea to play back the balls that are long or wide. It will give you extra practice and will take some tension off your muscles. Hit the return every time the serve is out. That makes you hit another shot with no pressure and shows your readiness to anything that’s coming!
- STAY IN PRESENT. No looking back in the past, no looking forward to the future. One shot at a time, one point a time. Don’t let your thoughts to be irrelevant to the actual momentum of the game. For exapmle, «What if I lose today?», «Oh my God, I just beat him/her a week ago», «what am I going to do after a perfomance like that?», «shall I change my coach – doesn’t look like I’m gettig better…», etc. Keep you mind busy with sharp, short, positive and relevant thoughts. Leave all the drama for later or never.
- ACT IN A POSITIVE MANNER. It is quite rear to FEEL that when things are not going your way. So fake it before your make it. Let your positive body language guide you through a bad match. And you will see, it’s worth it!
- INCREASE YOUR HEART RATE. If the points are very short and basically you are just walking from corner to corner and your heart rate is at 80 beats per minuite –this ain’t doing any good for your perfomance. Your muscles have to be warm, a little sweat is required for an optimum physical condition in a match. Ever watched Nadal doing sprints before the match and after the changeovers? That is why. The body needs to be at certain temperature (varies individually) to perfom great tennis skills. Keep moving between points and run for every ball possible and impossible.
Tennis players can’t avoid losing. Even number one in the world experinces the feel of failure. Regardless of the stage of the tournament (finals or first round), losing a match will hurt but it will also challenge you to overcome adversities and become a stronger player. Hopefully, this article will help you to not to panic and have a plan on how to save a match. And after all being said, I just wanted to add the words of wisdom from Andy Murray: «It’s not the end of the world to lose». The more you fail on your terms, the more you win on your terms.