Fake It Til You Make It

tennis mental toughness

Feel Confident When Nervous During a Match

Many strategies build confidence leading up to matches, such as preparation, visualization, success journals, etc.

Many tennis players also know in-game strategies (positive self-talk, cue words, focusing on positive points, etc.) to guard their confidence level.

Although for some players, anxiety can become overwhelming. These athletes can quickly feel over-matched despite their confidence level before the match.

For example, doubts can seep into your mind if you play an opponent ranked slightly higher and lose the first set 0-6. 

During those times in matches, your positive self-talk may feel like you are just lying to yourself. You feel like a wreck on the court. 

Suddenly, your breathing is labored, and your heart is pounding. You feel tired.

Between points, your head is down, shoulders slumped. You walk around flat-footed and feel sluggish.

In these situations, can you do anything to turn your performance on the court around, or is a loss imminent?

Two strategies can help you regain confidence and get your mind back in the match: “Fake it till you make it” and changing your body posture. 

These techniques are closely related. Both strategies send positive messages to the brain, which keeps confidence at a stable level.

“Fake it till you make it” is when you mimic what championship-level athletes would do. How would high-level players act under similar circumstances?

The answer is they would have a positive, confident body posture. When top-level athletes are trailing in a match, they walk around with their heads up and shoulders back. 

They have a pep in their step. In other words, high-level players walk and play with a confident body posture.

Take, for instance, Ben Shelton, the 2021 NCAA champion from the University of Florida. Midway through his college career, Shelton decided to leave college to join the ATP Tour.

Shelton made his pro debut at the 2020 Western & Southern Open edging out Lorenzo Sonego in three sets. Shelton followed that victory by beating fifth seed Casper Ruud, 6-3, 6-3.

In the post-match interview, Shelton was asked if he was as calm and confident on the inside as he appeared on the outside.

SHELTON: “Fake it till you make it, right? I wasn’t feeling calm out there, but I was trying to portray that I was calm, and I had things under control.”

By acting as if, Shelton was sending messages to his brain that he is a talented, skilled competitor that can perform at a high level under any circumstances.

When you are in the middle of a match and your confidence dips, take on a confident body posture. Just a little boost in confidence can turn your game around.

A positive, confident body posture includes: head up, shoulders back, standing tall, breathing deep, and bouncing on the balls of your feet.

Try this positive posture during training sessions and note the difference you feel mentally.

Once you get the hang of this positive posture, you can apply it to match situations when you need a confidence boost.

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