Measuring the Mental Game (or a Tale of Three Matches), Part I

Tennis is my lab. How I compete – both in matches and at practice – enables me to get a read on how mindful I am on court. Though it’s tempting to focus on Ws and Ls (wins and losses), as a peak performance coach, I’m more curious about assessing the success of my inner game.

Recently, I set two tennis-related goals for myself: To have fun and to support my doubles partner. I’ve committed to share these aims with my partner before our match and to request feedback afterwards.

At singles, I want to take joy in the competition and to support myself.

 Match 1: Several weeks ago, my partner Maria (she of the great serve) and I played a match in which we dominated the first set (6-1). Then our opponents regrouped and tried playing from the back of the court in the second set. They gave us balls with no pace, an indecent number of which I hit into the net. I got frustrated. We fell behind in the score. By the end of the set, which had been long and torturous after the ease of the first, we found ourselves at a set-deciding tiebreak.

Time can pass quickly in a tiebreak. Maria and I fell behind 1-6. Somehow, I stayed calm. Maria and I talked a lot and knocked fists, staying positive. “The pressure is on them,” I told her, since losing the tiebreak would mean losing the match. Nonetheless, I started to succumb to storytelling – imagining that we would lose the tiebreak and second set, which would lead to a 10-point match-deciding tiebreak that we would also lose. I managed to pull myself from the slippery slope of that dangerous mind game to stay focused.

You can only focus on one point at a time. It’s a truism and, well, it’s true. Maria and I did just that. We came back from facing four set points to level the tiebreak at 6-all. I can’t say for sure but our opponents got nervous and tight. They made mistakes. We stayed calm and stole that tiebreak right out from under them, winning it 9-7. It felt like an important win, because we did have fun – though perhaps less so during the tension-filled second set – and were mutually supportive. Later, when Maria told me how much she felt my support – and lack of judgment when she made errors – that felt like the bigger win and the one I celebrated.

How do you show up in your lab – be it tennis, another sport, a performance arena, or life itself? On Monday, June 15, I’ll be discussing “Sidestep Your Saboteurs for Success” at Innate Chiropractic and Wellness Center at 916A San Pablo Avenue (near Solano Avenue) in Albany. The free talk will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Register today at to save your seat!


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