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You Can't Afford a Negative Thought

July 5, 2005 11:37 AM

by Dr. Robert Heller

Negative thoughts lead to negative feelings, which in most cases, negatively impacts performance. Tennis is a game, which requires “feel.” To have optimal feel our body needs to be in the mild-moderate arousal zone. The tension in our hands, arms and legs needs to be minimal so that we can react quickly and smoothly. Excess tension interferes with flow. Since we can only hold one thought in our mind at a time, negative thoughts distract us away from healthy thoughts and effective decision-making which are key to playing well.

I recently witnessed evidence of this while watching a match at the national boy’s 12’s.

A young boy had a lead in the first set but ended up losing it and the first set. He came back in the second set was now ahead 5-0. His opponent made a few good shots and won the next game. Our player with the now 5-1 lead, double faulted and that was the beginning of the end. His verbalizations and self-condemning comments increased in frequency and intensity with each point he now lost. Rather predictably, the more upset he became, the more points he lost. He stopped moving his feet, no longer put heavy topspin on his lobs and just dumped his serve in play without power, placement or spin. His opponent was no mental giant either, but couldn’t help capitalize on the changing situation and began to hit out more and developed growing confidence with each point.
He won the next 6 games in less than 20 minutes.

Here are samples of what our “loser” said to himself along with examples of what he “should” have said.

Negative. “Here we go again. I’m blowing the lead just like I did last set.”
Positive. “It’s OK, you have a big lead, just keep doing what you were doing.”

Negative. “I can’t believe I missed that shot. What’s wrong with you.”
Positive. “ You can’t expect yourself to make every shot. Cut yourself some slack.”

Negative. “Now it’s 5-3. You are giving away the match.”
Positive. “He’s playing better because he has nothing to lose. You can finish him off. Play smart like you did earlier.

Negative. “I suck. I just can’t do anything.”
Positive. “You’re getting yourself overly upset and that’s hurting you. Take some deep breaths, calm down and re-focus yourself.”

Had our young player thought these thoughts he might have been able to successfully close out the match. He surely, would have played better as well as felt better at the end.

Stay Positive
It’s important for players to review and analyze their mental and emotional performance the same way they evaluate their technique and strategy. When weaknesses in thinking, self-talking and on-court behaviors are identified, they need to be targeted for change and a training plan developed to work on them. In this way, our young players will enjoy the game more, progress to their true potential and develop their character and egos in healthy ways through participation in competitive sports.

Dr. Robert Heller is a psychologist, sports psychology consultant and certified tennis instructor based in Boca Raton, Florida. He is the author of the 2-volume mental conditioning CD-Rom program, “TENNISMIND.” For information on sports enhancement training, workshops and other services, contact him at (561) 451-2731, robertheller@adelphia.net or visit www.thewinningedge.usptapro.com.

 

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