Updated: Jun 1, 2021
For competitive athletes, it is often all about the direct outcome: winning or losing. That's only what matters. The issue with this is that by focusing only on the outcome, athletes, particularly the young ones, often evaluate their self worth based on the immediate result. This is what most players define success. "how did you go?'. " I won!"
So basically if I win, I am doing well and I feel great, if I lose, I feel terrible, worthless and this is where the negative talk starts.
There are some problems with that:
1- Assessing your self-worth only based on result is a dangerous thing to do. One day I believe i am a great player because i am winning, the next day, I think I am just a terrible player because I am losing. This is particularly true in tennis when momentum can shift many times within a match. As a result, players go through a roller coaster of emotions during a match.
Sometimes you can play very well, then the next day, you will play terrible. Sounds Familiar?
When focusing only on the direct outcome (I am winning or I am losing), players put all their energy on something they can't always control.
1- Winning is not always under our control. Winning is about your opponent's performance as much as your performance and that's not all under your control. So basically, the player puts his whole focus on something he can't always control, A very good example are players who get angry at themselves when the other player plays a very good shot.
2- Just Winning does not make us happy.
Do you remember a match where you won but you played poorly? did that win made you happy? Did you feel that match was successful? Probably not. It shows that success and happiness is not all about winning, It is more about delivering a performance you are satisfied with.
Ironically, many of the most competitive & successful athletes in history do not only focus just on winning. For instance, in his book "Wooden", John Wooden, the most successful coach in the history of US Basketball, said that despite a record winning of 7 consecutive national championships, he hardly spoke to his players about winning the championships. So what was he focusing on, instead? Getting his players to simply bring the best version of themselves.
When Cross Fit Coach Ben Bergeron trained his Athlete Katrin Davidsdottir to win the World's Cross-Fit games in 2016, he focused on getting her to become the best athlete she could be instead of focusing on her competitors' performance, although cross-fit, much much like tennis, is based on direct competition with other athletes. Katrin was focusing on lifting heavier weights, run faster, swim for longer. That's how she won. (Book Reference: Chasing Excellence by Ben Bergeron).
So What players can do instead:
1- Redefine success: Players need to lear to redefine success by not only focusing on the immediate outcome (the win) but instead focus on their own Performance as well as they long term development.
Focusing on your own performance means focusing on what ever is under your control in order to deliver the best possible outcome. For tennis players on "bring the best version of themselves" may means show great attitude, be focused, put great amount of efforts on each shot, get better footwork, solve problems or get better at their decision making. Basically they need to assess their performance, understand what's not working and put their focus on trying to do better. Success should be redefine as such:
- Did you really try to deliver your best possible performance?
- Did you maintain a great attitude, mindset & focus throughout the whole match
- Did you try to get better by fixing your problems and learning from your errors.
- Will this match make you closer or further of where you want to be.
2- Allow yourself to win ... and to lose.
If you compete you need to be ready to lose. It is a possibility and anyone competing should be ready for it.
The fear of losing (also called "choking") is disastrous for players. it puts an enormous amount of stress on young players and it often results in a dramatic drop in performance particularly when things get tight, possible lose the passion for the game in the long term. By reducing the fear of losing, players will play with more freedom and often play much better. Of course, players will still want to win, and that's great as long as they allow themselves to lose. Winning become a motivation not an expectation. Sometimes losing is the best thing that can happen to you because you learn from it, get extra motivation to work harder and you come back twice stronger the next time.
3- Focus on the long term development.
Players should very much be focused on their long term development. The win? Well it is still important for any competitor but it should seen as an immediate feedback on the performance towards a bigger goal which is the long term development of the player. For instance, a competitive 12 y.o. boy may have lost and did not play particularly well but he may have shown a great attitude, fighting spirit and kept trying even if he never manage to play his best. This match is actually a very positive experience for the player because he is getting closer to the type of competitor he wants to become and he learnt to deal with frustrations. The player will grow from that match. On the other hand, regardless of a win or a loss, a player may show poor performance, poor attitude during the match, kept making the same errors, not learning from them and that's not a successful match regardless of the results,
So think about redefining success with these 2 questions:
Did you feel that today 's Match/training/practice brought you close to the player you want to be or not? Did you try to bring the very best version of yourself through full Commitment, focus, Game intelligence, efforts & attitude?
Please feel free to share your comments and challenges.