Sample Confidence Readings | International Association of Tennis Psychology

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The following readings will increase your Confidence:

Chapter 1: Fill Your Mind with Moments of Gold

Dolly and her family have a ritual at every dinner. Everyone must tell about one happening in their day—good or bad. However, they also have another ritual, Dolly’s favorite, in which each family member gets the opportunity to describe a “golden nugget”.

  A golden nugget is any great or special happening of the day. It could be when you aced a hard test, or beat a tough opponent on the court, or said the right words to a friend and made her smile. Dolly thought that the best part of this process is when you get to write down your golden nuggets in a small notebook kept next to the kitchen table. Then, if there are no new golden nuggets on a given day, one of Dolly’s parents will read out loud a golden nugget from the notebook to keep everyone’s spirits high.

 While this is great for school or tennis, many successful athletes use this process to boost their confidence when needed. Take the example of Football great Joe Montana. In the last two minutes of the 1988 Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers were five points down against the Cincinnati Bengals. They needed to march almost ninety yards to score.  In the huddle, Joe told his teammates “This is just like ‘81.”

 Those words in the huddle allowed Joe and the other 49ers to recall a golden nugget: a very similar pressure situation in which they succeeded. When they were playing the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC championship game, the 49ers needed to advance the ball the entire field in the last minutes of play. With just a few ticks left on the clock, Joe threw the famous catch to Dwight Clark for the winning touchdown. Those winning images—that golden nugget—gave them a sudden jolt of energy and bolstered their confidence, which carried them to victory over the Bengals and to another Super Bowl title.

 Recalling successful experiences is key to developing a strong mental game for tennis as well as in all areas of your life. Players who can replay key successful moments in vivid detail have an enormous advantage against those who lack this skill. Here’s how you can fill your bag with golden nuggets.

 Drill: Get a bag full of Gold Nuggets

 Like the Joe Montana, you too need to develop a golden nugget book. Write down the times you performed beautifully, whether it was a beautiful service game or a perfect shot down the line. But do more than just record it. Keep it in your tennis bag and pull it out when needed, such as during a break in a tight tennis match.

 Those nuggets are bound to turn your performances into gold.

 Drill: Make a Peace Book

 Most everyone has memories that can promote positive emotions in the present. Recall a moment when you felt completely peaceful and happy. Perhaps it was standing at a beautiful waterfall or sitting at the end of a pier watching the boats roll by or lying on top of a mountain looking at the valley below or watching a sunset over the water. Now, record that moment. Describe it in great detail in a “peace” book and place it in your tennis bag.

 Next time you have an anxiety-related moment in a tough match, just read a passage from your “peace” book. This practice will help you stay calm in times of high stress and pressure.


Chapter 2: Choose Your Attitude

“At the end of the day, you battle yourself the most” 

                                                                         Novak Djokovic

 The Norwegian people have it down cold. They live in a usually frigid environment, yet they are a nation of outdoor enthusiasts. They have a tendency to see only the positive of their climate and have a saying that captures their perception: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”

 We have the choice to feel great about our day or feel like we should still be in bed. We have the choice to remain positive about events outside our control, such as the weather, or to get gloomy with each passing rain shower.

The same principle applies to your confidence. You have the choice to believe in your exceptional skills or to believe that everyone else has more talent than you do.

While essential to possess in any endeavor, confidence is as fickle as an eight-year-old boy in a candy store. One moment he wants the Gummi Bears and the next he wants the Sour Chews. A great performance can create the sweet air of invincibility. One bad shot or one foolish mistake can sour your attitude and perception of your ability.

 One of the toughest mental skills is to keep that sweet feeling of confidence even when your performance takes the train south for the day. However, no matter how poorly you are playing or performing, you can always choose to remain confident. No matter how many disappointments or mistakes you make on the court, you can still choose to taste that sweet feeling of confidence.

 One of the best stories to illustrate this point is with the story of Willie Mays, one of the greatest baseball players of all time. A former teammate recalled how one day at the start of a big game, Willie declared to the guys, “This is going to be a great day. I’m going 4 for 4 today. No doubt about it.” After Mays struck out his first at bat, he came back to the dugout and said “This is a great day today. I’m going 3 for 4.” When he failed to get a hit in his second at bat, he proclaimed that he was going to go 2 for 4. Then he grounded out for his third at bat and made the bold statement that he was going 1 for 4. Later in the game when he was robbed of a base hit on his last at bat, he smiled and said, “Tomorrow is going to be a great day, I’m going 4 for 4.”

 Centuries ago, the founder of modern philosophical thought, René Descartes, wrote that we have the capacity to think whatever we choose—and to have thoughts that are self-liberating or those that are self-defeating.

 This same principle applies readily to you and your tennis game. You can have self-liberating thoughts that free you from your fears or you can choose to be full of self-doubt. Know that you have a choice to be confident. The following drill will help you believe that you can go 4 for 4 every day, in every way.

 Drill: Have an Early Morning Happy Hour

 When most of us wake up, we focus on everything that needs to get done that day. If the list is great, and the time minimal, our attitude can sour quite quickly. The same goes for us.

 To help you start your day in a good mood, try this simple exercise. When you wake up in the morning, focus on three things you are thankful for in your tennis game. It could be your health, the friends you have made in the game, and so forth. You will find that when you choose to focus on these simple thoughts, your morning will be that much brighter. It is an early morning happy hour.


Chapter 3: Talk Yourself into Greatness

Most champions use positive self-talk. They routinely pump themselves up with the right words, like Serena and Venus Williams, the tennis dynamic duo.  While they are best known for their single victories, these sisters also play doubles and are a formidable pair, to say the least. But this one afternoon, they were losing decisively. They needed to grind it out to win this match, but Venus was not particularly focused and looked despondent about winning.

 Usually during a changeover, the sisters talked about anything from movies to shopping to boys, but during this changeover, Serena gave her older sister a needed earful. Serena said, “Listen, I don’t care what you do on your side of the court, but I’m not going to miss on my side. We will not lose this match.”

 Then Serena went on to say, “Look, Venus, no matter how you feel about your game, you have to show up on the court, right? You’re here to play tennis after all. But you do have a choice about whether you want to compete well or compete badly. I’m going to make the choice to compete well. Why don’t you do that, too?”

 Apparently, Serena can talk herself into winning on the court. And she can also talk her sister into feeling the same way about winning.

 Positive self-talk can do more than help us win, however. It can even change our brain. Our thoughts create neurological impulses, which stimulate the creation of new pathways in the brain. The more we think any thought, the stronger and more available the pathway becomes. So repeated positive thoughts can super-charge our brain with positive energy and help us become a champion.

 Positive self-talk should start long before the match starts. Andre Agassi said he would pump himself up in the shower, long before the match started, and then keep going with the positive self-talk up into the match, as well as during the match.

 Unfortunately, many athletes are not like Serena or Andrea. Instead of engaging in positive self-talk, many do the opposite. Tiffany had a negative mental tape always playing in her head. Although she had a lot of talent, she never played well under pressure. Before every match, she would say things like: “I know I’m going to blow it again!” and “Don’t choke away this match again.”

 Making these destructive self-statements helped to burn a negative mental tape in Tiffany’s brain. She had become her own worst enemy. One day, after listening to Tiffany berate herself, her mother asked her this question: “Who would you like to have around before a match—someone who always calls you names and puts you down or someone who praises you and pats you on the back?”

 “Of course, the one who praises me”, Tiffany said.

Then Tiffany’s mom told her she was her own worst enemy. “You’re the one who’s self-destructing your performance—no one else.” With that insight, Tiffany began to realize that she was the obstacle to her potential. She stopped using negative self-talk and self-destructive tones in her communication.

 Sometimes changing a negative mental tape into a positive one can happen due to a simple insight, as in Tiffany’s case. Other times, the change comes with using key mental exercises.

 The following are a few mental tools to help you talk yourself into excellence.

 Drill: Develop a Best Friend’s Journal

 Just like Tiffany, you want to be around someone who pats you on the back before and after a performance. You must become your own best friend, if you want to achieve excellence.

 To get started, get a small notebook. Then write one positive self-statement in it each day, like:

 I have confidence today

 I am a great tennis player

 I am mentally tough

 I bounce back from errors easily

 I feel great today

 I like myself

 Write one of these self-statements in the morning before school or before going to bed. After writing them, reread a few statements every day. Rereading these statements will create a positive “mental tape” in your brain and help you to become your own best friend.


Chapter 4: Act Like a Star

Suzy is a great junior tennis player, but when she hits a few bad shots she begins to look differently. She slouches her shoulders and walks around like she does not want to be on the court. Unfortunately, for Suzy, this has become a bad habit. Until one day.

 “My dad told me, ‘Just strut your stuff not matter how you are playing or how many shots you have missed,’” Suzy said. “Those words were like magic. The weird thing is that when I acted that way, I started to feel that way!”

 Suzy had learned what all top tennis players have known: whenever they step onto the court, they have to perform, no matter what.   Winners aren’t always motivated, eager, and confident. They can get tired, sick, and burned out. But they know that when the bell rings, it’s time to put negative feelings on hold, and they do. They call forth whatever emotions will empower them to win.

 How do champions turn fear into boldness or fatigue into energy?

 They actor in the words of Suzy’s father, they strut their stuff no matter the circumstances. Great acting is the ability to portray emotions. A skilled actor shows emotions with his face, eyes, hands, poses, movements—everything he does, even the way he walks, shows the audience how the character feels. But a great actor doesn’t just show the emotion to the audience—acting an emotion can make the actor actually feel it.

 Psychologists have discovered that our emotions follow from our actions. People who always strut their stuff often feel confident no matter what the score is or how many opportunities they’ve just blown. People who act like winners feel like winners, think of themselves as winners, and are more likely to become winners than people who act like losers.

 One of the greatest tennis players knew this to be true–Chris Evert. She always acted confident and committed, even when she felt out of sync, weak, or nervous—or just didn’t want to play tennis. But Chris never revealed feelings of weakness or doubt to anyone, especially an opponent. Instead, she showed a fighting spirit, a will to win. She always kept her head high and her shoulders tall. She roamed the court like a lioness looking for her prey. Her exceptional acting skills helped her achieve eighteen Grand Slam titles.

 Unfortunately, when the chips are down, many young people do not act like Chris Evert. They do not act like winners, but rather they act like whiners.

 You may never take acting classes. You may never want to be on stage or in the movies. But to unleash the champion inside, you must become a great actor. Whenever you step into the court, you must act like a champion, radiating confidence no matter how you feel. And you will feel confident because the emotion you portray is the emotion you will ultimately feel.

 The following exercises can help you become the actor all champions need to be.

Drill: Wear the Red Shirt

 Wearing something special can make you feel special. When Tiger Woods was very young, his mother gave him a red shirt. She told him that the color red would give him strength and courage whenever he wore it. Now, as part of his Sunday ritual, Tiger always wears a red shirt. When he puts his red shirt on, his confidence grows.

 Take the lead from Tiger.  What clothes and accessories would help you to feel the way you want to feel?  And then wear that shirt or socks, etc. to make you feel confident.

 Drill: Enter through the Stage Door

 Nick Saban, the great football coach tells his players that the second they walked into the locker room, they stopped being students, boyfriends, and sons. They are now football players and only football players; no other roles existed for them once they entered the locker room.

 Discard all other roles and play only the role of a tennis champion.  Once you walk onto the court, you are no longer a student, son or daughter, but just a great tennis player.

 Remember, acting like a winner creates the most effective emotions for becoming a winner.


Chapter 5: Become more optimistic with the TUF mentality

The path to success on the tennis court will follow many twists and turns. Players who ride through those pitfalls with resolve and resiliency, typically will achieve success.

 One of the greatest examples of resiliency is the story of Thomas Edison. His road to success was racked with a multitude of failures. Many times, in his young life, he faced excessive debt incurred from acquiring new equipment and continually building a better laboratory. Also, he failed many times to sell and promote many of his important inventions. In addition, other inventors stole his designs and infringed upon his many patents. And the most famous Edison failure story, retold many times, is the amazing number of mistakes he made before discovering the effective light bulb.

 However, Edison’s resiliency to failure was built on his effervescent optimism. Edison did not view these failures concerning his light bulb invention as a permanent happening or as an insurmountable obstacle, but rather as pathways he no longer needed to take. He simply saw every failure as a temporary roadblock to his future success.

 Thomas Edison is the epitome of an optimist. Most people have the belief that optimists see the glass as half full while pessimists see the glass as half empty. While this is the archetypical analogy, psychologists believe that the difference between an optimist and a pessimist is how each explains a failure event.

 Optimists are resilient because they follow what is known as the TUF strategy when describing their failures. For instance, when failure comes to an optimist, they see it as “Temporary.” If an optimistic student fails a math test, she believes that she was not “with it” on that test and that tomorrow will be a better day. Optimists also see failure as “Unique.” That is, specific for that one situation. Optimistic students who fail a test believe they were not good at that particular chapter, but the next chapter will be different. They will “get” the next chapter. Failure, to an optimist is also “Flexible.” Optimistic students believe that their behavior is flexible, and they can change their behavior, such as trying a new strategy. In this case, if they get a tutor for this next test, success is around the corner.

 In direct contrast, pessimists do the opposite when evaluating failure and mistakes. They blame failure on things that are Permanent, Global, and Uncontrollable (PGUC). First, pessimists believe failure will not change in the near future (permanent). They believe they will continue to make mistakes and fail. Second, pessimists believe that failure will happen for every situation (global). Pessimistic students who are not good at a particular chapter in the geometry book believe they will not understand any chapter in the book. Third, pessimists believe that no matter what they do, failure will not change (uncontrollable). A pessimistic student believes that getting a tutor or studying more will not help them get better grades. For them, once failure occurs, the situation becomes hopeless.

 The good news is that you can become more optimistic. Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, and the foremost psychologist in this area, says that an optimistic attitude can be acquired with the appropriate thinking patterns. According to Seligman, anyone can relearn and change thought patterns to become more optimistic.

 The following are strategies to help you develop the TUF mentality on the tennis court:

 Drill: Tune up the “T

 To enhance the temporary dimension of failure, you should emphasize the fleetingness of mistakes. When you played poorly in a competition, realize that it is part of a series of peaks and valleys.  Some days are just going to be worse than others. Some days we have it and some days we just do not.

 Ask the following questions to tune up the T:

 Were you at 100 percent today? (Perhaps tomorrow or the next time you play a mach, you will be at 100 percent)

 What might change in the near future in terms of your tennis game?

 Will you feel better next time you are on the court?

  Drill: Urge on the “U”

 To enhance the unique dimension of failure, you should emphasize how the event was special or unique. For instance, perhaps the player rushed the net and that did not match up with your game. But next time, your game will match up better with your next opponent.

 Here are some questions to ask to urge on the “U”:

 What was it about this specific player that did not match up with your game?

 Are there any strengths that you have that will help you succeed in the future?

 How does your game match up differently with upcoming opponents?

  Drill: Foster the “F”

 To enhance the flexibility dimension of failure, illustrate how failure can change by altering some behavior. For instance, if you may need to practice your breathing techniques before the match. Or your pre-day preparation may need to change. Or try implementing a new pre-shot routine—a series of behaviors that a player conducts before the shot that can lead to better performance.

  Also ask the following questions to Foster the F:

 What can you change for your upcoming tennis match for you to be successful?

  Is there another strategy you can implement to be more successful?

 Will a different pre-day routine help you succeed? 

 On a scale from 1 to 100, how much effort did you give? Can you give any more effort?

How can you go about doing that?

When you use the TUF mentality on the tennis court, the road to resiliency will be much easier to find.


Chapter 6: Imitate Greatness

 What we can learn from the Inspired Naomi Osaka , #1 tennis player in the world.

 If you are tennis fan like me, you were excited to see the #1 player in the world, Naomi Osaka, play the teen tennis sensation, Coco Gauff in the 3rd round at this year’s US Open. And if you were like me, you were not quite sure who would win. (Many were hoping the Coco might pull this out and win.) But that was not to be. The inspired Osaka was amazing, hitting forehands and backhand winners all match long. Osaka dominated the match from start to finish, winning easily 6-3 6-0.

By her own admission Osaka was not playing well all season since here win at the Australian Open but was inspired for this match. But the important question for us, and what we can learn from this match, is how did Naomi Osaka get inspired and play her best match of the year so far?

Osaka got inspired (and how you can get inspired) was based upon 3 key performance principles:

  • Osaka’s intensity level was revved up. From the first point to the last, Osaka was fired up for every point. Think of your intensity level as your internal engine. It can range from a 10-100 on a ten point scale. For Osaka, she was continually at a 90 for the entire match. However, you may perform at your best at a 50, but the key here is to figure out what level of intensity you need to be and then get there and stay there. Getting there and staying there relates to the next two points.
  • Osaka’s body language was continually positive the entire match. She had countless fist pumps after a good shot. She strutted her stuff the entire match but most importantly never exhibited negative body language after a bad shot. Our emotions are influenced by our actions and her positive body language kept her pumped up the entire match.
  • Osaka was her own best friend. She continually had positive self-talk throughout the match. Self-talk is the best way to stay pumped up.

 The famed philosophy Machiavelli once stated, “Study the actions of illustrious people to see how they have borne themselves, examine the causes of their victories and defeats, so as to imitate the former and avoid the latter”                                                                                                                      

But this is not just about tennis. Success leaves clues. Great athletes are great for a reason. Great performers in any field are great for a reason. Naomi Osaka is a great tennis player and #1 in the world for a reason. 

 Study what she does and what other great performers do. Watch their routines before a shot, and what they do after a missed shot. Watch how they act when they are performing well and when they are not. 

 Do more than just observe. Once you have learned some important behaviors, pattern your actions after them. Winners imitate winners.


Chapter 7: Get a Life Line and nickname

Amy Miller would choke under pressure on the court. She would get really, really nervous and make many mistakes. She would get negative and her body language showed it as well.

 Her coach knew she was much better at tennis than her results indicated. So, to help fix the problem, her coach said we need to give you a nickname. He knew Amy would love the nickname “Wonder Woman” as she loved the movie so much and said how much confidence Wonder Woman had in every situation.  Her coach said that from now I am going to use the nickname W2 as a code for Wonder Woman.

 In the next match as Amy was about to start, she heard her coach yelling “Go get ’em W2” as both knew what that meant. Those words and that nickname gave her immense confidence when needed. From them on she would call herself “W2” when she needed a jolt of confidence.

 You too can make up a nickname that will give you the needed emotions to play your best tennis!

 Drill: Get a life line

 The all-time great tennis player John McEnroe has a life line—”Always moving forward”. John said his desire is to continually move ahead in his life. He is always trying new things. Besides being a tennis player, John has played in a band, owns an art studio, hosted his own talk show and currently commentates tennis matches for television. John’s life line has guided his entire career.

 Develop a lifeline—one that fits your goals and guides your actions. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Always keep trying
  • Bounce back
  • Be a visionary
  • Never give up
  • Be your own best friend
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff

 Pick a lifeline that works for you and use it to stay confident and motivated like John McEnroe. 


Chapter 8: Think Big

Belief in yourself can fuel the fire to overcome any criticism or adversity. Thinking big is key to achieving great results in your tennis game. It happened to Kurt Loy. He told all his friends that he was going to be the #1 player on his high school team. They laughed at him because he was only on the JV team at the time. 

 But because Kurt thought big and had a vision of his greatness, he practiced and practice and practiced. He read books on tennis and the mental game. He visualized himself as #1. Eventually, and it took a while, he started to win matches. He moved to varsity and eventually, made it to #1.

 If you want to achieve great things on the court and in your life, you must think big!!

 The following tip will help you to think big:

 Drill: Think big:

 To help you think bigger, get a small index card and write ” I am going to be the best player in my category” or “I am going to make my college team this year” Place it on your refrigerator or on your computer. Every time you see this card, it is to remind you that ceilings do not exist for you. You have no limitations. You can do anything, achieve your dreams and reach the greatest heights-in tennis and in your life.