Picture the last time you were in an intense situation. Maybe you were in a close call on the drive home, or you were confronted on the street by someone looking for more than a handful of loose change.
How did you react?
Fear is a real motivator when it comes to stressful situations. Fear can kick us into gear when we’re behind on a deadline (as we’re afraid of losing a contract) and it can motivate us to study when an important meeting or exam is approaching.
Fear is as pure as human emotions get. When you’re on the court, fear can either be your ally or it can be your opponent.
I recently spoke with two athletes from the North Shore Winter Club’s tennis community about what scares them on the court. The first: Joe Wood.
A tennis player his whole life, Joe came to the club as a part-time instructor and steadily built up his hours to become one of the club’s most respected coaches. Joe’s living the life these days passing on his knowledge to new players, but the fears that threatened to consume his playing days still occupy a small corner in the back of his mind.
The ultimate fear of any athlete - everyone wants to perform and be known for grace under fire. Sometimes you’re just not good enough. Sometimes you are but your fear gets in the way. The mental side of tennis is just as crucial to developing a winning attitude as the physical side. The fear of losing affects every serve, every return, every rally - if you let it.
A lot has to go wrong for Joe to commit the dreaded double fault, but the intensity of the moment - the crowd, the anticipation of the opponent’s return, the importance of the point - can crush a player and send that second serve straight into the net.
Some of Joe’s fears are related to coaching. There’s nothing worse than having a student on the brink of understanding when a rogue ball destroys that progress.
The only thing worse than a random ball invading your court? That random ball hitting you. This happens more during match play, but regardless of the source, a tennis ball smacking into your non-protected flesh stings like crazy.
Joe’s fears have been gradually cultivated and honed during a lifetime playing tennis and now coaching the sport. No one likes to be distracted, and for Joe, distraction is the key element of fear.
“Anyone can play, and anyone can get better,” that was Joe a couple weeks ago in an interview. While this statement is true, it can be difficult to improve your game with the spectre of fear looming over your shoulder.
So, what’s the point of fear? Well, if you work with your fear, rather than against it, then fear can serve as a reminder of what can happen if you’re not prepared. Scared of the double fault? Practice your serve until it becomes second nature. Scared of losing? Take the necessary steps to not lose.
Fear is a reality with which we’re all faced. It’s what we do with that reality that truly matters in the end.