How to overcome fear during a tennis match - my experience

30 Oct 2019
#EMOTIONS

Fear is an ugly beast. You cannot hide from her, because she can smell you. And you cannot escape from her either, unless you wanna end up exhausted by her constant blowing on your neck.

Listen, I know what you're thinking. If there's really no way to get rid of fear, then how so some players always seem to be fearless, no matter the circumstances?

And you said it well: they SEEM to be fearless. But they are not, because there's literally no way to get rid of fear! Ever heard the saying "fake it 'til you make it"? That's exactly the way to go! The sooner you accept fear, the faster you can shift your focus and energy from trying to eliminate it to learning how to handle it.

Because the difference between you, systematically chocking up in every single match, and that other tennis player you admire so much for her fearless attitude, is just this: you step on the court hoping that fear won't come say hi to you, while she steps on the court knowing exactly how to handle it.

Because fear will come. And I know for a fact, it won't let you alone. EVER! So you better get used to it, and learn how to turn it on your side, instead of desperately trying to run away from it!

Gonna play a tennis match soon? Then you don't wanna miss what's next! Hopefully it will help you avoid learning the lessons the hard way and master your fear once and for all! Tennis matches are not your thing? Go ahead anyway and have fun reading about the most common fears we tennis players get to deal with once we step on the court for a match!

#1 - FEAR OF LOSING

You know what I'm talking about, don't you? Off the court you keep telling yourself and others that "sometimes you win, sometimes you learn", but when you're playing a match you want everything but to learn.

Who can blame you?! After all, you know how it feels to lose: you experienced it in the past, and it's horrible. A nightmare. It leaves you wounds that you'll lick for days, and hurts like crazy. You don't want to feel like that again, ever.

My experience

To be honest, I don't recall having this fear of losing before quitting tennis, at least not as much as I did recently after my comeback. Don't know what I mean? You need to catch up my friend, otherwise you're missing out too much: go read the long-story-short version of my tennis story so far right now, and then come back. This blog won't go anywhere, I promise :)

In particular, there's one occasion not too long ago in which this fear completely took over me. And that is the first match of the first tournament after my comeback. I remember it as if it was yesterday: at some point, the fear became so overwhelming to freeze me, literally. My arm got so stiff I could no longer hit a proper backhand. I just wanted to cry.

That experience was quite awful. In fact, after that match I decided I'd never feel like that again. So I researched a bit, and found a way that worked like magic in the next matches.

My tip

Focus on the process, not the outcome. By doing so, you automatically put the stress on your performance, removing it from the result of the match, which leads to less pressure, which means "bye bye fear of losing".

So yes, just get laser-focused on the goals you set for the match and the fear of losing won't get you, I promise!

#2 - FEAR OF MISSING OUT

That's right, FOMO! I'm sure you've witnessed it already: if you haven't experienced it yourself, at least you must have seen it in your opponent. If that's the case, you probably won a very tight match in which you had to face one or more match points.

The fear of missing out is that fear that assails you when you're so close to win you can almost smell it, and you lose the next point. And all of a sudden, your mind starts playing on repeat the movie of you being so close to victory, and wasting the opportunity. It's not nice.

My experience

Lately, I was lucky enough to see the FOMO in the eyes of one of my opponents. It was fun, let me tell you! I know it sounds cruel, but what can I do?! It's the truth :P We were in the match tiebreak, and she was winning 6-3: she had 3 (three!!!) match-points. And guess what? I stayed there, calm, cancelled the first one, then the next and in no time I found myself at the net with the victory in my pocket!

How did that happen so fast? I'll tell you. FOMO took over her as soon as I cancelled her first match-point, and didn't leave her alone until the end. Those last points must have been a torture for that poor girl: she smelled the victory for a short while, just to see it disappear under her nose!

What I saw in her eyes when we changed sides at 6-6 was pure terror. At that point, I understood not only that I would soon win the match, but also that our mind can sometimes play bad tricks on us. I mean, after that first match-point, she was still much closer than me to winning, yet she acted like she was the one losing. Not good. Lesson learnt!

My tip

Always focus on the next point. Because in the end nothing else matters: you cannot change the past, can you? So why spending energy regretting?! Instead, force your mind to do what you tell her to do, to pay attention to what's important. This way, you won't let her enter the negative loop!

I know, easier said done, but with practice you can get there! I did it, so can you!

#3 - FEAR OF EMBARRASSMENT

Ever wished you could tell the people in the stands or your opponent you don't usually play like that? That you can do much better, but today is just not your day? That you could just POUFFF, disappear? I certainly did!

Every time you find yourself worrying what other people may be thinking of the way you're playing, you should know: the fear of embarrassment is having fun at your expense!

My experience

This one fear has been with me since my early tennis days, and still today I'm not able to completely annihilate it. What a struggle!

That it's been there since day 1 is no secret: you can already catch a glimpse of it in the story about my first tennis lesson ever and how I prepared for it the day before.

And here's how it shows up nowadays: I never (NEVER) warm up overheads in a match. And before you ask why on Earth are you not doing that and think I'm dumb, let me explain.

Whenever I try to hit overheads, even in practice, I'm terrified of not hitting the ball and looking ridiculous. And I know that the less I practice them, the longer it'll take to get rid of that awful feeling, I know. You see? I'm not dumb!

Elena embarrassed, holding her hair

Want another example? Don't you worry, I'm plenty :P For example, last weekend I faced my toughest opponent so far. And by toughest I mean three-four times as tough as the others, summed together! She was seeded number 1 of the draw, and the ranking was quite scary (something like 33 rankings more than me, just to give you an idea).

The day before the match I was so excited of having the possibility to face a player of that caliber! I literally couldn't wait, and I kept repeating "expect the best, prepare for the worst"! I was clearly intimated, but looking forward nevertheless, if that makes sense!

Then match time came: I stepped on the court and my mind went bananas. As soon as we started the warmup, my loyal fear of embarrassment showed up and didn't let me hit a forehand in the court, not a single one. No joke. I wish it wasn't true!

My opponent looked pissed: she must be thinking I've never grabbed a racket before, I kept repeating over and over again. And of course, that didn't help! I was so terribly embarrassed that I would have dug a hole and disappeared.

Then the match started, and I soon realized I'd better kick that fear away if I wanted to avoid the fastest 6-0 6-0 in the history of tennis. So I collected my pieces, and made the most of what I had that day. And guess what?! Although my forehand sucked from beginning to end, I did manage to hit some reasonable ones and fight back my in-my-mind-invincible opponent, and even force her to a tiebreak in the second set.

This girl will kick my butt many more times, I'm sure, but I won't let this happen again. This time I lost to the fear of embarrassment, next time she will have to beat me!

My tip

Practice the uncomfortable! Staying in your comfort zone and avoiding those situations and strokes that are not "your thing" won't help you. Instead, it'll just reinforce your conviction about how bad you are at them. And let me tell you: 99% of the cases, you probably think you're worse than you actually are!

So get out of your comfort zone: the sooner the better!

Ok, enough talk about fears: it's time to go practice those overheads! But wait, first let me ask you something!

Let me know in the comments about your worst fear of all, on and off the court.

What is it? Can you tell where it came from? Did it just show up recently, or you've had that since the very beginning?

And then, how do you deal with it? Can you handle it, or it just takes over you leaving you frozen? If you can handle it, how do you need to think and behave in order to overcome it?

Hope you enjoyed reading about the most common fears (based on my experience) we, as tennis players, have to learn to live with, and understood we are all on the same boat! If so, leave me a clap (or two) so I know you did ;)

Would you play tennis all day and night just to get better?

Then you're one of us! We're a community of passionate and motivated tennis players who work hard every day 💦 to reach their goals, motivate each other 🔥 to keep going when things get tough and share their own experiences 💬 so everybody can get better faster.

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