Fear of Success in Tennis Players 

mental toughness tennis
Fear of Success

Is the fear of success a reality for tennis players?

Yes, tennis players can have fear of success. But doesn’t everyone want success playing the game?

We constantly hear about the fear of failure and how losing affects confidence.

Tennis players who fear failure experience high anxiety during matches. They try to avoid mistakes. On the court, players who fear failure play not to lose.

This reactive style of play causes players to make poor decisions and unforced errors.

Well, fear is fear, and no matter the source, the result is the same; anxiety, tightness, lack of focus, more mistakes, low confidence, and under performance.

Unlike its counterpart, fear of success has a different root cause… 

When a tennis player experiences success at an early age or has a long streak of tournament victories and match wins, they feel the pressure to keep succeeding or meeting high expectations.

These players feel others expect them to win every time they step on the court. They feel that all eyes are on them. They feel they are constantly being judged, and the pressure becomes unbearable.

Players who fear success often become perfectionists, and the fear is so daunting that they rather not play than risk the possibility of losing.

Recognizing the signs of the fear of success is the first step in managing those feelings and regaining control.

A series of questions will help you identify if you are experiencing the fear of success:

  • Are you afraid of being in the spotlight?
  • Do you worry about disappointing others if you don’t consistently win?
  • Do you feel everyone around you expects you to be perfect?
  • Are you anxious about acquiring new responsibilities as the result of your success, such as being team captain, being the “face” of the team, or being a role model?
  • Do you fear what others may say or think if you lose?
  • Do you engage in self-sabotage?

WTA player Emma Raducanu won her first Grand Slam, the 2021 US Open, at the age of 18. Raducanu holds the Open Era record for the fewest majors played before winning a title.

As a result of her US Open victory, Raducanu jumped 332 places, rising to No. 23 from the start of the year. From there, Raducanu received a number of awards, interview requests, and endorsement deals.

Fast forward to the 2023 season, Raducanu is still battling the fear of success. The pressure to succeed has been so overwhelming that Raducanu admitted she sometimes wished she had never won the 2021 US Open.

Coco Gauff, who burst on the tennis scene at the 2019 Wimbledon when she was 15, empathizes with Raducanu.

Gauff advises Raducanu to ‘mute the noise’ and ‘focus on herself.’

GAUFF: “I completely understand what Emma [Raducanu] is going through. A lot of people will say a lot of things in the media and won’t come up to you directly and say it – not just fans, but even like, you know, people commentating on matches… For me, I hear a lot, so the best thing is to mute the noise and focus on myself and don’t focus on what other people are saying.”

The fear of success is internalizing what you perceive are the expectations of others. Blocking out the noise enables you to regain a sense of control, shrink anxiety and focus on what truly matters… YOU!

Playing for yourself and not for others is a significant step in managing the fear of success.

You can mute the noise by asking yourself three questions:

  1. What matters to me?
  2. Why am I playing? 
  3. What are my goals for myself?

When you play for yourself, you can shed the expectations of others and focus on working towards more realistic personal goals.

Focus on the benefits of being successful instead of the problems!

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