The art and psychology of tennis is not just about tennis, it is about life. Whether we are conscious or not of it, all of our behavior is connected to our unique or not so unique psychology. Since I can remember and long before I became a physician and even knew what psychology meant, I was curious about why we do the things we do and how our surroundings or perceptions of our surroundings impact our mind and our behavior. Fast forward to many years of research into hundreds of books later, I came across an amazing book in my quest to understand how we are affected by pressure.
Pressure may or may not be real; however, what is real is our perception and feelings of pressure in response to our situation.
I have been interested and involved in sports for most of my life; sadly, I never pursued it as a profession because I was focused on becoming a physician, another lifelong obsession of mine. Yet, I have no regrets because I believe it was God’s will for me. I was introduced to tennis when I was fourteen years old in Central Park, N.Y. and I immediately embraced the sport. It was not only appealing because of the physical aspect; I was also intrigued by the mental aspect of the sport.
It was fascinating to pit my determined and naturally competitive personality against the sport. It was even more exciting when I had to compete against others to win a title. Unfortunately, that was when I realized that how one perceives and responds to a situation can significantly impact their performance. Although I won the trophy, I realized that I did not perform well when I felt that I was under pressure. However, contrary to my sporting life, I have been told that I handle pressure extremely well in my professional life.
I go back to 2015 when Serena Williams lost in the semifinal of the US Open to Roberta Vinci. Then more than ever, I wanted to understand why. Billie Jean King is famous for many things; however, one expression associated with her that I find fascinating is her saying: “pressure is a privilege”.
While I may not understand why she has that opinion since I do not know her personally and have never discussed it with her; I will say that there are many factors that come into play that can either help us to handle pressure better or cause us to succumb to the negative effects of pressure.
Those who arm themselves with certain traits and habits will find themselves performing better under pressure than those who don’t. After reading the aforementioned book in the first paragraph, I have a better understanding of what happened to Williams. Now I can appreciate certain cues/habits that some of the other tennis players have incorporated into their arsenal to help them perform as close to their artistic best under pressure.
Stay tuned for our next post on the negative effects of pressure and some short-term strategies to use to minimize them and improve your chances of performing at your best even when there is pressure.
SOURCE OF IMAGE: serveandrally (early morning at Central Park tennis courts)