In the work I do as a mental coach I often hear coaches and parents say, “I know he/she thinks way too much before certain matches. How can we help him/her to not be so caught up in their head before important tournament matches?” One aspect of thinking too much before match-play is players predicting what will happen in the match. Making a pre-competition assessment is a psychological challenge that all high level performers are faced with at times. You can assess on either side of the outcome. One side includes the thought, “I have the win in the bag – there is no way I’m going to lose this one” The other side can begin prior to the performance by the idea coming into your mind that you are not good enough to win. This idea of accepting defeat prior to the event often occurs in the back of your mind, meaning that you are not consciously thinking about it, It’s more of an uneasy feeling that turns into tightness as the competition nears and eventually panic and self-destruction once you start competing.
In my book, Worthy to Win I make the point that seven out of ten performances are pre-determined before the competitors walk onto the playing field. One common reason is that upon assessing their competition, performers can fall into the trap of the “awe factor”. The result of this mindset is that as soon as anything goes off in the performance they will experience a panic response that can lead to a full-on choke response. Its important to understand that all levels can fall victim to the effects of this negative and doubting mindset. This mindset can begin prior to or in the early stages of the event by prematurally assessing your abilities or the abilities of your opponent and getting stuck in your mind regarding this over-analytical judgment.
Because of the internet it is all too easy to look up details on your upcoming opponent and begin to compare yourself to their status, ranking or former accomplishments. If you dwell on this too much it will find a way into your head and create a wall of pre-competition doubt. Another distraction can be talking with others who may have struggled with the same challenge and have become nay-sayers in their thinking. They may attempt to impose a “I couldn’t do it, so you cant do it” mentality into your thinking. Look for situations that validate that you can do it. This is the “if he or she can do it, I can do it” mindset. Learning to accept the upcoming match up and choosing to believe that you have what it takes is a mental skill that all performers need in order to make the jump forward in their mind. I call this jump taking a mental leap of faith. It requires the ability to focus on those things you can control and believe in yourself and your skill set and put your focus on your preparation. It also implies that you are not getting caught-up in excessive mental projections. Take it from the many who have dared to believe, never back down, and never say never!
A Great Example of Believing:
In July 2001, Goran Ivanisevic, although ranked 125 in the world on the ATP men’s pro tour, was given a courtesy wildcard allowing him to play in Wimbledon. He had previously lost three times in the finals of Wimbledon, and was currently having shoulder problems. Despite 125-1 odds, he believed he had what it would take to win. Match by match he moved toward the finals, a first for a Croatian tennis player. He shocked the world by defeating Patrick Rafter in the finals in a thrilling five set match that was the longest in the history of the tournament. Goran Ivanisevic became a Wimbledon champion because of his belief that he had a chance to win and managed the mental process of allowing his ability to come out without over-thinking what his opponents ability was.