JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best
Confidence Is Confidence: Take It Wherever You Can Get It
Not my line, but a good one! And one to be heeded.
It's credited to the always thoughtful and insightful Tennis Channel commentator, Leif Shiras, a former Princeton #1 who reached a career high of World #31 during his playing days.
His off-the-cuff remark during a recent telecast should register with those club players who believe that they should only be seeking matches and practices with players better than themselves as the best way to improve. Just yesterday I experienced a well-intentioned lesson client spouting the same belief.
Ideally, one should seek out three (3) distinct classes of opponents or practice partners:
- Ones that are clearly superior to you, but with whom you can at least stay on court
- Ones that represent a very equal playing skill level
- Ones whom you can control and have a clear advantage over
If you're exclusively seeking players undoubtedly better than you – that's assuming you can get them to play or even hit with you – your confidence will suffer greatly over time as a result of getting repeatedly thumped, and you will incrementally develop a negative view of your game.
Not good, since, just as in real life, at the end of the day you generally get what you expect. That goes for on the court as well.
Playing against, or practicing with, relative equals represents real value in that it triggers and develops match play toughness under pressure – no temper tantrums, no tanking, overcoming choking – since the outcome is up for grabs and can go either way on a given day.
Seeking out those who are not up to your skill level, but who can still compete or practice with you positively can build confidence. That acquired confidence fosters a positive attitude towards your game and a continually nurtured self-belief. So yes, go with Shiras and "take it wherever you can get it."
Winning breeds confidence. Confidence breeds winning. It's all about previous experiences.
Definitely make it a point to mix in practice hitting sessions with your matches, or even a ball machine session can be just the thing to keep you grooved and in your zone. After all, the best players on the planet practice practically every day under the watchful eye of their coach to create and maintain clean ball striking, energized movement, a positive mind set, and sound strategy and tactics.
And it's never a bad idea to schedule the occasional tune-up with your favorite pro who can keep your mechanics on the straight and narrow with a little tweak here and there, and also be objective with you about your game subjectivity.
Finally, especially in the hot summer months all over – here in Florida that means months of days with the heat index hovering around 100 - don't forget to pre-hydrate well before play, and hydrate/sip on every changeover during play, or take frequent breaks if practicing. Wear a light weight, white ball cap in the sun – visors don't do it ladies (there goes the hairdo) – and avoid dark shirts or tops that absorb heat. Lay the sunscreen on heavy. And, for heaven's sake, breathe out, exhale, grunt, or whatever you want to call it, on every single shot to fend off going into O2 debt. Waiting to drink until you're thirsty (too late), breathing only intermittently or worse yet not at all will also undermine your game and possibly your health.
By the way, experiencing a serious loss of conditioning makes this all-important confidence factor unattainable.
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