Waging Mental Warefare…on Myself

I played a practice set the other day, however the entire time I played it felt like I was chasing a car that was 10 feet in front of me, but I was running the exact same speed. The car was in sight, but unreachable. And it was infuriating.

My shots alternated between fluid and tight in an undecipherable pattern, and while the set ended 5–5 (I lost in a tie-breaker 5–7), I felt so utterly frustrated that I wanted to throw my hands up and quit (OK not REALLY quit, but at least throw something). What had happened to the confident player I used to know? To the solid, reliable strokes I supposedly have stashed away somewhere?

A standard practice rally — that disappeared in the actual set (I’m on the far side).

In a word: Fear.

However, the understanding that fear controls a large part of my mental game also frees me expect and prepare for it. Diving a little deeper, I’m not afraid of missing shots. I’m not afraid of losing games. I’m not afraid of losing big matches. I’m not afraid of looking stupid.

I’m afraid I’ll never be good enough.

That my strokes will never feel natural. That it’s all an illusion that will crumble away in the slightest of winds. And that fear translates to tight strokes, to a split second of distrust, and errors that re-enforce the fear that I don’t have what it takes.

So the tough work begins: allowing myself to be free, or rather, finding a way to break free when that fear inevitably starts creeping into my game. Because I’m human, and it will — but now I can experiment with different ways to battle it.

As Rafael Nadal put it, “Losing is not my enemy. Fear of losing is my enemy.”