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Conquering Perfectionism

September 14, 2005 09:56 AM

by Dr. Robert Heller

Striving to do well and play at you best are healthy goals that lead to improved performance and satisfaction whether or not you win or lose. Demanding yourself to to be perfect or to play perfectly will lead to decreased performance and dissatisfaction, also regardless of whether you win or lose.

Perfectionism is striving for unrealistic goals and is usually accompanied by intolerance for mistakes. While perfectionism as a personality trained is learned early on, in tennis it may be fostered by watching the pros play and believing we should be able to perform similarly. Sometimes watching professional tennis players, it appears to be a relatively easy task to hit the ball over the net, close to the lines 20 or 30 times in a row. After all, they seem to get to each ball with sufficient time to hit a smooth relaxed shot at their opponent and ready to receive a bullet rocketing back at them a second or 2 later.

The reality is that few of us possess those special physical gifts many of these super athletes have. Nor do we usually have access to their high performance coaches and support teams that mold this raw talent into the exceptional result we witness at matches or on the television. Finally, we don’t regularly hit the thousands of tennis balls on a daily basis they do in order to groove our skills to such a high level.

An old joke goes like this: “A visitor in New York City stops a passerby and asks, Excuse me sir, How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The man replies, “practice hard and long”.

Even the top players with their natural talents, expert coaching and hours of practice sometimes double fault, hit easy forehands into the net or dump a high, floating volley.

I recently was hitting with a young college player who was hitting with great power, placement and spin. On almost every rally, he would end it with a sizzling groundstroke or a ball angled with such spin that I couldn’t get my racket on the ball. When he occasionally missed a shot he would seem upset. Several times when he missed 2 consecutive shots he would get noticeably agree and threw his racket in disgust on several occasions. After the workout I talked with him about it. Here’s a summary of what I said:

“John (not his real name), you have such great strokes and you were hitting the top off the ball on both wings today. Why did you get so upset with yourself when you missed a shot once in a great while? You were hitting 95 % of your shots great! Is it reasonable to expect that you should never miss? Why not focus on the 19 shots that were super and when you miss the 20th just think, “OK that’s my one miss, the next 19 will be fine”.

Besides, I’m wondering how many times you had consecutive misses, it was do to getting yourself overly upset with having missed the first ball?

I also reminded him that the pros also miss sometimes and many of them take it is strike without any particular upset or concern.

The bottom line: if you want to play better tennis and enjoy yourself more, cut yourself some slack. Know that you aren’t perfect and don’t need to be. Strive to play your best, learn from your mistakes and savor your moments of excellence. You may just start having more of them!

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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