I’ve written a lot about the importance of confidence in tennis. I call confidence a cure-all for the mental game because it’s so powerful to other parts of your game. For example, when you have high confidence going into a match, you are relaxed and won’t feel anxious or tense about playing well.
OK, so I recently got this tennis psychology question from a reader: “How do you help a tennis player who insists, ‘I just can’t! I’m terrible’ even when the player is actually ranked in the top 15 in the state in her age category!”
At first look, it sounds like severe negative self-talk, but this statement goes beyond negative self-talk when you consider the level of her skills and experience in tennis! This is a player who lacks confidence in her ability. And not because of her lack of success!
Some young tennis players, despite their success, are perfectionists. This has its advantages and disadvantages. Perfectionists tend to be highly motivated, work hard, and strive to be the best. However, perfectionism has its downside. Perfectionists often don’t develop full confidence in their ability because they have such high expectations for themselves. Because perfectionists are highly motivated and really want to win or succeed, they practice a lot and work very hard at their games.
A hallmark sign of perfectionists: They spend a lot of time training and practicing, then under-perform when competing in matches or games. Lack of confidence due to high expectations is the culprit. Often, when these young tennis players compete, they believe that they’re failures unless they’re “perfect” or win. So expectations do not allow this type of player to fully believe in her ability; she never stacks up in her mind even when she’s won a lot of matches!
You should begin by helping your kids identify the strict expectations that pressure them to be perfect or play perfectly. Once you identify expectations such as “I need hit perfect shots today to win or play well,” your job is to replace these with objectives that are more easily obtained.
As a mental game coach for tennis players, I help my students replace damaging expectations with mini-goals. Mini-goals are more manageable for your players and allow them to focus on the process instead of judge their performance (based on expectations). Process goals help athletes focus on being in the moment and executing one point at a time, which are critical components to getting into the zone during matches.
Once you understand mini-goals, they are really simple to use. In addition, they’re very powerful tools for helping athletes focus better. Process goals replace expectations and help athletes focus on what is really important during performance – execution!