Question – what possible link can there be between Sigmund Freud and competitive tennis?  Answer – the defense mechanism of rationalization.  Rationalization is the process that everyone uses to transform their unreasonable, invalid, harmful behaviors and opinions into creditable or agreeable ones.  They invent plausible explanations (in their minds) for their irrational acts, thoughts, feelings and communications.

In other words, they make excuses.  Excuses which others usually see right through and don’t accept, which can result in lost or diminished respect.  Many excuses are outright lies, and even if they’re not they’re still perceived as such.  People who make a lot of excuses can be seen as dishonest and untrustworthy. Usually, no one is actually interested in or believes these excuses.

One of the goals in competitive tennis is to earn the reputation of being a tough mental competitor, one who commands respect and fear for the fierceness of their intellectual focus.  Earning the reputation for a strong no-excuses game can be essential in intimidating the competition.  Conversely, a player who rationalizes and uses excuses is viewed as a weak whiner, who loses the respect of bystanders, opponents and possibly their coach.

Unfortunately, creating and believing their own excuses has consequences, because they don’t help the player learn.  If they’re rationalizing their poor play they can’t advance and become more skilled.  A player who consistently makes excuse for playing poorly and losing will continue to do so.  The problem with excuses is they give the player permission to underperform and not take responsibility for it.

For example, Todd gets a bad call at a critical point and falls apart.  After the loss he complains about how he was cheated, the judge was paid off, his racquet wasn’t the correct one and he was playing hurt.  Any excuse rather than taking responsibility for what really happened – he lost focus after the bad call and wasn’t able to recover due to his reoccurring anger issues.

Any opponent within earshot now knows that Todd can be beaten if you get him angry.  Successful competitors don’t care about their opponents excuses for losing, they care that the excuses give insight into beating them again.  Because, it doesn’t matter if the excuse is “real” or “good”, the player with the legitimately bad call is still responsible for their poor reaction and losing because of it.

Every successful competitive tennis player has had a good excuse for not playing well – injury or sickness, equipment problems, not enough sleep the night before and bad calls – and still won.  Successful players resist making any excuses by consciously engaging their rational brain to keep in the game.  Focusing on excuses (real and imagined) simply distracts and weakens them.  As Rafael Nadal famously said – “It’s not the time to look for excuses.”

Nicole Abbott – writer, educator and psycho-therapist

About The Author

Ron has started several businesses around technology and communications. He founded the WorldWide Tennis Association to use his technical skills to improve tennis players ability globally to compete, get ranking and have fun without unnecessary barriers.

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