Monday, April 20, 2015

Marco Bitran: Lessons From the Tennis Pros: How to Tackle Losses, Failure and Mistakes

    By Karolina Sznyceer, PhD

The notion of failure may be totally removed from your mental framework or at least become crucially redefined if you decide to look at mistakes from refreshingly positive viewpoints regularly adopted by top tennis players. Perfectionism or excessive fear of mistakes locks you up inside, generates internal blockages and saps your energy. Its common result is inaction, opting for the emotional comfort of stagnation and avoiding emotionally risky ventures. Athletes attempt to embrace mistakes through consistent redefinitions of their standard meanings.

On the first approach, a mistake is reframed as a task to be repeated. The athlete never ceases trying until the goal is finally accomplished. How to make this slightly super-human option doable? For sportspeople, the secret most often lies in effective goal-setting. You divide your task into manageable segments and tackle them in sequence. You do it at your own pace and rhythm. No pressure - you simply carry on doing your own thing. If you fail, you rearrange your goals: add steps, reduce the sequence, fine-tune intensity. You persist not so much in dealing with the same task all over again as in a smarter goal design. The key thing here is goal-setting mentality - approaching every difficulty in terms of action plans and mental plans.

Alternatively, mistakes are viewed as by-products of an aggressive mind-set bent on constant offensive attacks. This approach necessarily involves risk-taking, the frequent consequence of which are all kinds of errors and mistakes. Yet, it is a calculated risk. The player accepts mistakes as an inevitable result of the strategy he or she adopts, as an indispensable part of the process. Their mindset operates on the gutsy principle of "no risk, no glory", which in addition serves as an efficient energization strategy psyching up the athlete before competition. The idea is that you own your failures in an equal measure as you claim your triumphs. As a consequence of this approach, you develop greater emotional bravery.

The final strategy is ruthless exploitation. You perceive mistakes as something to use and then get rid of with no further ceremonies. You extract the valuable part - the lesson behind the mistake and then erase the event from your memory. You don't dwell on errors; you don't ruminate and don't linger in the past for too long.

You are supposed to be unsentimental. The underlying principle relies on constantly adding to your repertoire and moving forward. This is how mistakes may lead to something new - a cycle of never-ending transformations.

All these perspectives aim to release you from the drag of perfection and help you get to grips with its frequently paralysing effect. In each case, mistakes trigger off something positive, be it more efficient planning, greater courage or self-improvement. In point of fact, perfection recedes into background while central emphasis rests on the constant development of your self and becoming more as a result.

Karolina Sznycer is a researcher working at Barcelona Tennis Academy in Spain where the programme 'Developing strong individuals - Play2Inspire' is implemented. For more information about the programme check out our website

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