While it can be just an embarrassing situation in a social environment, in competitive sports, knowing how to deal with (respond to) that little voice can make the difference in winning or losing!
While we think that little voice is just in our heads and nobody else can hear it, the fact is, that little voice amplifies and exposes itself through our body language.
Even in the top professional levels of sports you see athletes verbally, and sometimes even physically, abusing themselves in response to that little voice.As a competitor, when I see my opponent get into an emotional tiff with themselves, I put the peddle to the metal and pounce on the opportunity to take advantage of their loss of focus and concentration. My goal is to cause a snowball effect and change that little voice inside their head from a whisper to a scream!
Beyond the physical challenge of competing in sports (assuming we are competing against opponents of equal ability), the real challenge gets down to who can control their emotions, stay steadily focused, and remain with a positive attitude during the ups and downs of competition.
While it is virtually impossible not to listen to or hear that little voice, believe it or not, and as crazy as it sounds, the best way to deal with that little voice when it talks to us is to confront it and control it. If we are able to control the voice, instead of joining forces with it, we can hopefully stay focused on accomplishing our tasks and retain a positive attitude.
For instance, lets say we just double faulted in tennis, or single faulted in pickleball.
Usually at this point in time, that little voice takes command and we start verbally abusing ourselves in two-part harmony with the voice. Along with, and in addition to this verbal abuse, our body language turns very negative.
The presentation of this negative body language can vary from person to person, depending on our own individual personality traits.
Some people droop their shoulders and go into an “I feel sorry for myself” mode.
Some people go into a tantrum and have a fit with themselves, like John McEnroe, who would also go into a tantrum and have a fit with the officials (a tactic that worked very well for him).
McEnroe was smart enough to not let that little voice control and distract him. What everyone perceived as being a negative response was for McEnroe, in his own unique way and within his own mind, his way of being very positive and in charge. The result from his tantrums was that he would normally come back and end up winning the next point/game/set, and finally, the match! It was his way of conquering that little voice and re-channeling a negative happening into a positive resolve.
Each of us needs to find our own way to control our little voice and turn it into a positive response.
For me personally, when I am playing and I do something stupid like double fault, the way I control that little voice is to coach myself. I coach/talk to myself, I tell myself to remember to get more spin and kick on my second serve next time. This positive response to my mistake or error keeps me focused and on track of the tasks that I need to accomplish. Then, when I’m up against another possible double fault and I kick that second serve in and end up winning the point, I feel really good about myself! I am re-channeling a negative happening into a positive resolve.
So when you do something stupid on the tennis or the pickleball court, don’t join forces with that little voice. Confront it and turn that frown upside down! You will feel better about yourself and you will end up winning more points.
Wayne Clark is a certified professional tennis instructor with over 25 years experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction. He has been the head instructor at The Marco Island Racquet Center since 2001. The Racquet Center offers clinics, private and group lessons for both tennis and pickleball. Coach Wayne’s Island Kids Tennis/Sports Juniors programs run year round, and offer classes for players ranging from kindergarten through high school. Contact Coach Wayne by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone or text at 239-450-6161.