Updated: Jun 1, 2021
Based on the "Hierarchy of Mindset" Podcast by World-class Cross-fit Coach Ben Bergeron, I am sharing what I believe are 6 specific mindsets applicable to Competitive Tennis. This article will hopefully help tennis players understand their current approach to competition as well as where they stand on the hierarchy of mindset. Hopefully, it is also helpful for parents and coaches to identify their current players' mindset in order to better understand their behaviour.
1- The Non-competitor.
Ben Bergeron identified 5 competitive mindsets but I would add one more, The non-competitive mindset, This is frequent at low level competition with players who are "not that competitive' but more interested in the social side or in the playing experience. This is common particularly with girls, who generally speaking, are less competitive than boys in sport. Sometimes there can be a misalignment between the non-competitive mindset of the player and the competitive mindset of the parent which can create frustration and unrealistic expectations. .
Attributes & behaviour:
Not that interested in the competitive side of the game. Don't really worry about winning or losing. Just want to play, have fun, socialise, spend time with friend or feel part of a team
Mindset towards competition:
Not into competition, may lose track of the score a lot. Focus on enjoyment. They don't understand why others care so much about winning. Don't like when things gets too serious.
2- The Victim.
The Victim mindset is the first proper level of competitive mindset and also the weakest.
Attributes & behaviour: Scared of competition, Only want to win. Hate losing, hate losing control or being out of their comfort zone. Quickly move onto a Giving up attitude when things gets tough and find excuses or a way out. They will look for external excuses for losing. " Weather, courts, noise". Poor or even dramatic attitude on court (get very upset). No fighting spirit. Panicked by the idea of losing. Deeply upset after losing.
Mindset towards competition: It is "The world is against me" victim mindset. They want to win but cannot handle losing. Never learned how to lose. Tend to panic when things don't their way. Fixed mindset: They don't think it is anything to do with them and they are not ready to change. They 're totally outcome-focused so the attitude will not improve unless they start winning.
Examples in tennis:
They will get upset early on, as soon as things don't go their way. Dramatic behaviour (crying, throwing racquet etc..). Regular conflict about scoring.
3- The Pessimist:
The pessimist is not as bad and dramatic as the Victim however they still have a very hard time being challenged and don't like the idea of being out of their comfort zone.
Attributes: similar to the victim, Pessimists are all about the outcome (winning or losing) and will evaluate their self-esteem based on the outcome. They will get down on themselves badly when they lose.
Mindset towards competition: "This is tough and not fun". Very outcome focused. Lots of negative talk even when winning. Don't give up as easily as the victim and not as dramatic but not enjoying themselves. They will keep trying and fight more than the victim but don't like being challenged.
Fixed Mindset: Don't see benefits in learning to be challenged.
Example in Tennis: lots of negative talk. Get down on themselves and don't celebrate when they do well. Look miserable more often than not..
4- The Optimist:
The optimists are not particularly looking for challenges and don't like to be out of their comfort zone however they understand there are benefits from it.
They see good side in bad things and opportunities in challenges. While they are not particularly enjoying being challenged, they will try to hang in there with a positive attitude and some fighting spirit as they understand it will help them grow.
Mindset towards competition: This is a big step towards a strong mindset. They still very much focused on outcome and like to win but they won't get down on themselves too hard if they don't. Frustration may appear but they will then often compensate with a positive attitude. They will remain more composed and competitive when it gets tough, They are not as upset when they don't win.
Example in Tennis: They will show frustration but then try to fight their negative emotions with positive attitude or positive self talk. Their match is often a roller coaster of emotion in the match, between frustration and enjoyment.
5- The Realist
The realist is the first level of true competitors. They're prepared to compete and ready to handle anything from easy win to tough challenges.
Attributes & behaviour: Realists understand that life is not just good or bad but more about how you see things and handle the situation. The realist don't mind challenges as he understands it's part of life. They have a mature approach to competition and while they love winning, they also focus on their long term development. The realists are hard workers although not as obsessed as the Ultimate Competitor.
Mindset towards competition: The Realists enjoys competition. They are prepared for it and don't mind a tough challenge. They are ready to take on whatever comes at them and they will often thrive when things gets tough.
Growth Mindset: They focus on their long term achievement. As such they see the win only as a step towards their development. They are still very competitive and may be upset when they lose but they will quickly move on and use that as a motivation to work even harder.
Example at Tennis: Realists do well against good players as they manage to remain composed and competitive. They often show good consistency in their performance as they're able to manage times when they temporarily lose control. They are able to maintain a high level of focus and competitiveness during the entire match.
6- The Ultimate Competitor
The ultimate competitor is the highest level of competitive mindset. This is where the high achievers and legendary athletes are. Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods... They are competitive animals, They were born to compete and they often excel in their field. Similar to the realist, They see winning only as a temporary results but what matters to them is the long term achievements. They are extremely ambitious, often achieve a lot and when they win, they often focus very quickly on what's next. They will dominate and remain at the top of their field for a long time.
Attributes & Behaviour: Ultimate competitor are easy to spot. They are constantly in search for greatness and they are very much focused on Long term development. They are very ambitious, very curious to see how far they can go and as a consequence they will actively seek any opportunity to get challenges as they understand it will help them grow. They are very obsessed about becoming the very best in their field, they are self-motivated, fully dedicated to their quest for greatness and they will work harder than others to achieve it.
Mindset towards competition: Ultimate Competitor absolutely love tough situation as they know this is where they do their best work. They love every bit of a tough challenge and actively seek them. They constantly want to test themselves. as such, Easy wins are somehow boring to them as they can't test themselves and produce their best performance. They often shine under pressure. They are often very good loser and show good sportsmanship because if they lose they understand that They found better than them on that day and they will be motivated to come back stronger.
Example of Tennis:
Rafael Nadal is to me the Ultimate Tennis Competitor. He has worked harder than anyone else to achieve his dream and he's fully obsessed and dedicated to be the best. Despite winning many grand slam he keeps competing because he loves it and he's curious to see if he can become the greatest. He knows his strength and weaknesses very well and he never looks for excuses for his shortcomings. he always take full responsibility.
As a lower Level, a ultimate competitor would show similar behaviour, constantly looking for challenges, loved being out of his comfort zone against better players and will raise to the challenge. He does not like to lose but he will show great attitude and competitiveness even when losing. When he wins, he won't celebrate for too long and instead he'll focus on his next milestone. They're extremely dedicated to their training, even obsessed. They train more than others and are self motivated.
1- Non competitive: plays Competition for other reasons than the competitive side
2- Victim: Not ready to handle losing. Feel the world is against them.
3- Pessimist: Not enjoying being challenged, go down on themselves but will push through but looks miserable most of the time.
4- Will try to handle challenges with a positive talk.
5- The Realist: prepared and ready to handle anything.
6- The ultimate competitor: Love when it gets tough, Will actively seek challenges as a strategy for self growth.
Conclusion & Strategies to elevate your mindset:
1- First of all, The growth mindset is not just black or white, it needs to be seen as a constant work in progress through our whole life/career.
For instance, Players like Djokovic or Serena Williams are very high achievers and tough mentally, but then they can still move occasionally into a victim or pessimist mindset and get down on themselves. Competitors are not always just one particular type, they may be predominantly one type but may change depending on the situation. We are humans, not Robots and not perfect.
2- A champion/competitive mindset can be learned! First step is to identify where you are in all honesty, where you want to be and work on starting to display those attributes. Then we need to identify when our mindset is failing us (when we show signs of a weak mindset), recognise it, acknowledge it and adjust it. The more we start displaying a strong mindset and correcting bad habits, the more we start building habits of a strong mindset. Once again, it's not all or nothing, The idea is to work on increasing our percentage of situations when we display a champion mindset.
3- Be patient, it does not take 2 weeks to build a performance mindset. You need time to learn it. See it as building a house. Every little win, Every positive reaction is like adding a brick to the new house.
Strategies to elevate your mindset.
1- Acknowledge situations and celebrate when you do well. if for instance you catch yourself behaving poorly, then you consciously adjust it with some positive talk/attitude, make sure you acknowledge and celebrate this positive change in your attitude.
2- start by working on your mindset when you're training. You cannot expect to display a champion mindset in competition which is stressful environment and if you don't do it in training.
3- The hierarchy of mindset is very much related to the focus on the outcome.
Basically, The weaker mindsets are fully focused on Win or Loss, this is only what matters to them and so they can't handle when they lose control of the scoreboard. It feels like the end of the world. On the opposite side, Strong competitive mindset are ironically not so focused on the win, The win is a great motivation to extract the best of themselves and become better but they're very much focus on long term achievements.
4- Accept a temporary loss of control. When you play competition, you cannot always be in control of the scoreboard but you can always be in control of your mindset and attitude. Negative mindset often don't come just because we're losing but also because we feel we're losing control and that results into a panic mode. This is why we get frustrated if we lose a few points in the row even if we are still winning. We are not losing but we're losing control of the game either because we temporarily drop our level or because our opponent raised his level. Instead, be ready to temporarily lose control of the game at some stage so if it happens you don't panic and work on focus on what you can control such as your technique, your intensity and your attitude.
Thank you for reading.