When talking about mental toughness with my tennis kids, I make sure they understand the difference between confidence and expectation. They have different meanings; expectations are demands that you place on your game. You demand to not make any errors or to never double-fault for example. These expectations cause you to constantly judge the quality of your shots and performance on each point.
Your expectations undermine your confidence in tennis. Why are expectations so harmful to your tennis confidence? First, expectations set you up for a win/lose proposition. You can achieve your expectations or you fail to achieve your expectations. Second, if you don’t achieve your high expectations, it’s easy to question your ability that day during or after a match. Essentially, you set yourself up for feeling let down before you even start a match.
Most tennis players who have experienced success at any level set very high expectations. I think expectations naturally develop from success. Tennis players then think that an expectation-filled mindset for competition is the norm. After all, shouldn’t you expect great things from yourself and expect to win every match?
Expect the best from your game and demand high levels of performance and wins. It sounds good. You hear pros say it all the time…. Although this logic sounds correct – it is not ideal because it sets you up for disappointment and frustration if you don’t execute on cue or achieve your expectations.
What makes expectations even more harmful is tennis juniors who elevate their expectations to an extent that prices in a level of perfection. For example, expecting to hit every shot perfect or not make any unforced errors are examples of strict expectations that are unrealistic and almost impossible to achieve.
Here’s my mental toughness tip for kids in junior tennis: Be confident in your game, but throw away your strict expectations. I know expectations are harmful to your tennis confidence. The ideal scenario for my tennis students is to have high levels of tennis confidence, but without the judgmental behavior that comes with expectation.
Thus, my number 1 “Formulas for Success” I teach to my junior tennis kids is to develop high levels of self-confidence without any demands or judgments. To do this I help tennis kids improve mental toughness by replacing expectations with manageable goals, such as to track the ball well during the match.