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Mon, Sept. 16

Column: The 'Fear Factor' of tennis

The game of tennis is unlike many other sports when it comes to how the body deals with the "fight or flight" aspect that fear evokes both physically and emotionally in each person.

Most sports have a finite time frame and when the clock reaches that point, the game is over.

With tennis, you play two out of three sets, and it may take 45 minutes or up to 3 hours depending on how close the match is.

It's tough to keep the body and mind regulated in this state of duress for this length of time in a lop-sided match - let alone a closely contested one.

Add in all the emotional aspects of the sport of tennis where you get to play a number of roles that add to this stress like: scorekeeper, umpire, player, linesman, and diplomat. And, it's surprising there aren't more melt downs during matches than there are.

It's tough to do all of this as an advanced adult tennis player, let alone a junior who's just starting out.

In the game of tennis you're pretty much out on the 60' by 120' foot rectangle all by yourself to win or lose, no teammates to help share the win or loss, at least in singles. That can be gratifying or scary - a little of both for sure.

As you drive or are driven to your competition there's a world of thoughts that go through your head. "My parents, friends, coach and teammates are expecting me to win, and I'm not sure I'm ready."

"I've drawn one of the seeded players."

"I worried about letting my teammates down." "I should have practiced more."

"I just want to look respectable."

"I should have had my racquet restrung."

These are pretty crazy yet normal thoughts for many of us.

You get to the tournament site, meet your opponent and are given a court assignment.

As you walk along side each other, you may or may not make small talk, but you are sizing them up. Do they look athletic? Do they have an era of confidence? How did they dress and where do they normally play? Have I heard of them before? Are they seeded?

It's easy to build up a slew of anxiety and unsettled nerves even before the first balls been hit.

So, how can you change a few of the thoughts that might take you down a more positive road of mind over negative matter?

How about starting off with the thought you're just going to play the best you know how at this point and time. No expectations. A positive attitude and a game plan that may stay the same or change depending on what's taking place with how their game sizes up to yours.

Allow yourself to perform freely. If you're afraid to make a mistake, you'll have a tough time reaching each rung of the ladder that takes some experimentation.

Compete for yourself.

When you make a mistake, defuse the disappointment with a bit of a laugh, it'll help you relax.

Don't build an image in your mind that you can't live up to. Even Roger Federer loses.

Keeping your wits and humor about you will let you stay in the moment, perform better and help you enjoy the process.

At the end of the match, if you win, shake hands and tell your opponent how much you enjoyed the match. Try to think of something good to say about their game.

And if you lose, shake hands, smile and even though your mind might have 25 excuses ready to spout, don't. You could ask them what they saw in your game that might be improved. Learning from losses is the experience that will better your chances the next time around.

Stay positive through your losses and don't become a whiner. No one wants to be around a sniveling "loser." It's unbecoming and won't help you grow as a player.

Legendary coach Vic Braden says, "In your next match you have a 50-50 chance of winning or losing, and in a 32 draw tournament, there will be 31 losers and only 1 winner - so don't define who you are as a person based on what takes place on the court - it's only a game, so laugh, work hard and have fun."

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