How to Overcome Self-Fulfilling Prophecies in Tennis

Learn How To Break The Chains of Negative Thinking

What is a self-fulling prophecy? Do your thoughts really have a strong impact on your performance?

If so, is there any way to change your thoughts?

Finding the answers to these questions and understanding the relationship between thoughts and focus can help you take your game to a new level.

You may not be aware of how impactful words, images and self-talk can be, but their impact is as significant as your practice sessions.

A respondent from our Mental Game of Tennis Survey requested help with the following:

“I keep double faulting on my serve. This has been happening for the past 2 years and I can’t seem able to get over of this issue.”

The underlying tone of your comment sounds more like a self-directive, “I doubled faulted in the past… I double fault in the present… and I will double fault in the future.”

Your self-talk in this scenario becomes a self-fulling prophecy… as you step to the baseline to serve, your thoughts are about NOT faulting.

You think about the times in the match you have double faulted, you see those images clearly in your mind, you expect to double fault again…

You feel uneasy during your practice tosses. Tension takes over your body. Your breathing feels labored. Your hands become sweaty so you grip the racquet tighter. You desperately hope to avoid the net…

You become more cautious with your serve and take a bit of pace off your swing. You try to guide the ball but direct the ball and guide it right into the net…

“Shoot, I did it AGAIN!” And the fear and frustration grow even more. At that point, you have lost confidence in your ability to serve.

Disruptive thoughts and images will pop up in your mind throughout tennis matches. Just because those thoughts exist doesn’t mean you have to pay attention to them or accept them as truth.

You can break the chains of negative thinking and refocus on neutral or better thoughts that immerse yourself in the moment.

For example, think of all the noise in the crowd after a point. You don’t have to take in every bit of noise in the stands. You don’t have to zoom in on the cheers for your opponent. You can choose to turn from the negative channel and focus on something else: positive thoughts, motivating self-talk, the feel of the ball, the strings on your racquet, taking a few deep breaths, your pre-serve routine.

How do you change your thoughts? You don’t. You switch your focus. Treat yourself as a positive doubles partner.

Imagine for a minute you are playing a doubles match and your teammate makes three consecutive unforced errors that result in losing the first set.

When you are talking with your partner during the match, you don’t blurt out every negative judgment that pops up into your head.

You won’t go on a rant about their play such as, “You are playing horrible today. Can’t you hit at least one ball fair? We are definitely going to lose and it’s your fault.”

You use restraint. You redirect your focus. You help your teammate redirect their focus to the present moment by telling them, “We got THIS one.”

Redirecting your focus will change how you play the next point and how well you play the next point.

How to Avoid Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

The past is in the past. Approach each new serve as an opportunity for success, not failure.

A pre-serve routine helps you transition from the last point to the current point and helps you focus on the process.

After the point is finished, take a couple of deep breaths and refocus your attention on the next point.

Avoid dwelling or analyzing the last point and focus on what you want to do on the next point.

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