Whether you have won a dozen Grand Slams or just occasionally play on a Saturday afternoon, competitive anxiety is something that every tennis player has to deal with on a regular basis. But while this is a regular occurrence for everyone, for some it can be a crippling problem as their anxiety completely overwhelms them in important moments. This can lead layers who are usually quite good to completely fall apart on the court.
Competitive anxiety usually results in an exaggerated fear of failure. You lose all confidence in your ability to play well, leading you to play timidly and commit more errors than you usually do. This anxiety also finds expression in what is generally referred to as “choking,” when you are at a critical point in the match, often even at an advantage, but you let your nerves get the better of you.
The first step in getting rid of competitive anxiety is to identify what is causing it. What makes you anxious? For many people their anxieties are tied into the opinions others have of them. If you fail to win a match, or make a bad mistake while in the lead, what will your friends or family or coach think? People don’t want to let those close to them down, and this can lead to severe competitive anxiety. Very often, this in an internal fear that has no basis in reality. If you do fail, chances are those close to you will be supportive, so there is no need to be anxious. But apart from that, and more importantly, it is essential that you train your mind to focus not on the possible consequences of your actions, but on the immediate present. Focus on the task at hand, take one shot at a time, and don’t think about what-if scenarios.
“I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within. It is there all the time.” ― Anna Freud
Some competitive anxiety can also be linked to past failures. So, for example, if you once lost a game when serving for the match at 40-0, you might get very nervous when a similar situation comes up. The key in such cases is to realize that you can learn from such mistakes. Every failure is an opportunity to become better, and if you can identify why you lost in that game, you can perhaps avoid doing so again in the future.
It’s all a matter of perspective, and if you can focus on the positive side of things, you can quickly put your issues with extreme performance anxiety behind you.