Hey you…. Yeah you…. Have you ever withdrawn from a tennis tournament because you did not like your draw or were scared of losing to a potential opponent? Have you ever retired from a match because you had convinced yourself that you were too injured, sick or tired to keep going but you really just needed an excuse because you were going to lose?
I played a open tournament recently which was made up predominantly of junior players. Here are the frightening statistics:
The tournament included two draws (men’s and ladies) of 16 - 32 players in total
The draws were made and published 4 days before play commenced
4 male players dropped out before the tournament even started
3 male players dropped out of the back-draw matches and 1 player retired after losing the first set in the second round
In the ladies draw, 2 players dropped out from the back-draw matches and 1 player retired during her last match of the competition
This means that of the original 32 players, 9 players dropped out before the tournament had started or were competing in back-draw matches, and 2 players retired during their matches. I cannot believe that 35% of these players were sick, injured or had something better to do – THIRTY FIVE PERCENT!!!! Think about that for a second…I hope that is not a common statistic but even it is 10% I believe that is still way too high. I understand that nervous feeling of having to play someone you are expected to beat, or to feel so sick or injured that you wanted to quit during a match. I can relate to the feelings, but I cannot relate to the attitude of acting on these feelings and quitting. Why are spending so much time on the practice court if you are just going to drop out of competition? I thought the whole point of training was to prepare for competition?
There is obviously something a little more to this issue than what appears on the surface. There is no way that all 35% of these withdrawals were legitimate. I believe that many of these players were influenced by other factors. I am not doubting that some of these players may have been slightly under the weather or slightly injured but not to the point where they had to withdraw. I also know that some of these players felt a level of shame about their withdrawal and had to deal with that nagging little voice in the back of their head telling them that their excuse was not exactly bulletproof, and if they really wanted to persist, they could have done so with no repercussions to their health.
So why do many of junior tennis players choose not to listen to this voice and fail to explore the real reasons for wanting to quit. What might happen if they allowed themselves to feel what they were trying to avoid? How do you think they might grow or develop from sitting in this uncomfortableness?
So back to you….yes you……What would happen if you persevered through the next match even if you did not feel your best or were worried about the consequences of taking the loss? What do you think you might learn about yourself if you stuck with something when all you wanted to do was quit? Don’t you think you might become just a little more resilient? I do. Regardless of the outcome of the match you will be so proud of yourself for sticking with something challenging and fighting through some small adversity that the sting of losing won’t actually feel that bad. Rather than avoiding eye contact when someone asks why you withdrew, you can look them in the eye and say that you got outplayed and your opponent was better than you today. You may still catch some grief from you Mum or Dad about losing to someone they believed you should beat, but they don’t have a clue about what you just went through. Unfortunately, some parents can’t help but have their own ego tied up with your wins and losses and will actually support you wholeheartedly in your decision to withdraw or quit. They may even suggest it as they see you grabbing your shoulder or some other body part. They don’t fully understand how they are robbing you of this golden opportunity to grow and evolve. But hopefully that little voice in your head will be buzzing and extremely happy for what you just accomplished. No need for excuses or to justify your loss, you know that you just persevered through something even though your body and mind was telling you to STOP. There are very few better feelings than this on this planet. Who knows, maybe you will then be able to take that extra bit of resilience into your next competition and be just a little harder to beat. This new toughness may even spill over to how you view other challenges in your life. You might find you start coping better with your anxiety, worries and fears because you trust in your resilience and willingness to face whatever adversity comes your way.
“Mental toughness is associated with the use of problem-focused coping (active coping) as opposed to avoidance (denial) or emotion-focused coping strategies” (Kaiseler, Polman and Nichols, 2009). Most of us learn through experience. If you keep actively avoiding problems, then you cannot learn what it means to be mentally tough regardless of how many Rocky movies you watch. You will only learn by attempting to actively cope with the next issue that arises in your life. Don’t deny that this issue exists. Attempt to work through the problem even when all you want to do is stop and run away. Remember that real growth begins at the end of your comfort zone.
And please, if you are not willing to see out your commitment to playing through an entire tournament, back-draw and all, then don’t enter it in the first place! College coaches would prefer to see a big L beside you name instead of a W/O. If they see too many W/O’s on your record they will most definitely be walking away from you as a prospective recruit.