pressure drop

I was supposed to play an opponent who is ranked below me in my league match this week. I was sure I could pick up some games and get my winning percentage up to 50% by beating him. I hoped to win by at least 6-3 but it rained hard the day before the match and I was concerned that I might not get to play. If a match is rained out, there’s no makeup and next week I have a much harder match. I have to play a guy who toys with his opponents by running them all over the place even though he limps and wears a brace on one knee and is likely over fifty.

The sun came up in the morning, thank heavens, and I got to the court early for practice. We were the third match on our court and the sky was clouding up. I ran around trying to find an empty court so we could start earlier but I couldn’t find one. Luckily the weather held and we started our match. Oh no, I got an attack of nerves. I won the match 6-4 because I played consistently and he didn’t, but my ground strokes were all landing short and I was nervous on my serve. What happened?

I was so anxious to pick up more wins that I forgot the task at hand. This is called trying too hard, putting pressure on yourself, getting tight. Whatever you want to call it, it’s not a good thing. If you’re the New York Yankees and you get to the World Series, you’re expected to win. If you’re the Florida Marlins, it’s a huge surprise if you win. Who’s gonna feel looser and play better? It’s bad enough if others put pressure on you to perform well but it’s really unnecessary if you do it yourself. I don’t see anyone lining up to see me play.

Anyone who thinks we play sports for fun isn’t paying attention. Watch people routinely berate themselves and throw their racket and scream when they make an error. While I was playing my opponent today, his teammate kept applauding his winning shots and cheering him on. That bugged me so I looked over at him and gave him a dirty look. He left. Heaven knows what I’d do if I had to play in front of a hostile crowd. The point is that all the insecurities and doubts that plague my everyday life are also front and center at a tennis match.

If I wanted to have fun I’d have taken up bingo. No, I want to learn how to compete and do it well and I want to chase away the demons that drown out a much larger part of the day than they should. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a happy highly functioning human being but a lot of the internal messages I generate are negative or critical. If I wrote them down they’d look absurd. No one would admit to having thoughts like that. Houses have burned down, whole families are dead and cities have crumbled before I’ve woken up from some daydreams.

I’m working under the assumption that I can use tennis to slowly decrease the volume of those inner voices. If I can play tennis and focus on the task at hand, getting the ball back over the net, then I’m not thinking about anything else. If I can develop that skill in tennis, I can develop it in other parts of my life. Actually, the volume of the voices probably won’t decrease at all, it’s just that I won’t be paying attention because I’ll be thinking about something else.

Practice and Competition Report: played league matches, one set of doubles and one set of singles: 3-6, 6-4.
Solutions Analysis: looking for a solution to the problem of getting nervous. Possible solution: use an affirmation that deals with playing under pressure.
Success Analysis:
1. Won my singles match. Got the ball back over the net consistently.
2. Returned serve well.
3. My serving is starting to feel automatic.