Secret 1. Focus on only those things that you can control and disregard the rest
This is the first and most important concept, and it must be the foundation from which to build your psychological approach to competition. If you can grasp and apply it, it will help you to free you psychologically to play the best tennis you are capable of.
Great athletes mention this concept all the time. Sometime they say it in fewer words, yet we often don’t seem to hear them. Monica Seles (who I felt was one of the greatest competitors I had ever seen in any sport before her unfortunate attack by a crazed fan) said it before the 2000 French Open: “I truly will try to worry about things I can control and not worry about stuff that’s really outside my control”.
Andre Agassi was quoted by USA Today before a tournament as saying” “If I come in here physically ready and hungry, then I‘m giving myself the best shot to win here”. And perhaps John Wooden, the great basketball coach at UCLA, said it best: “The more concerned we become over the things we can’t control. The less we will do with the things we can control.”
Why is this so important? If you are not focusing on what you can control, you are no longer giving yourself the best chance to play up to your potential. It will create problems such as fear, anxiety, frustration, significant fluctuation in motivation, and stagnation in your development. It will also affect your ability to analyze the match and to adjust tactically.
Conversely, when you are engrossed in what you can control, you will find that you are more relaxed and your concentration improves. The result is that you not only strike the ball better but your ability to analyze the match and make good tactical adjustments is enhanced. Finally, and most important, you will enjoy the competition.
Don’t get me wrong. You should be aware of such things as your opponent, the score, the environment, and the like, but they are simply a means to gather information so that you know what actions you might take.
The most difficult aspect of this concept for players to buy into is that they can’t control winning and losing. The phrase “I control my own destiny” is not totally true on a tennis court or in life. Here are a few examples that may help illustrate this point.
Imagine that you are playing Andre Agassi in a two-out-of-three-point contest. Can he guarantee winning the points? No. He might make an unforced error or twist his ankle, or you might hit a let cord that drops for a winner. Even against you, Andre cannot control winning and losing. What he can control, however, is how he plays, the pace between points, his shot selection, and so on. If he focuses on the things he can control (which he does to a great extent), your odds to beating him won’t good!
It doesn’t matter what the situation may be. You don’t control winning and losing. You can profoundly affect the outcome and put the odds in your favor by focusing on what you can control. Positively affect what you can, and don’t worry about what you can’t. You’ll be surprised at how successful you’ll become. Once you let go of the false notion that you can completely determine the outcome, you’ll find that you are more likely to get outcome you want.
When you catch your mind drifting towards the mental quicksand of things you cannot control (which means no chance for a “flow state”), tell yourself to stop and refocus. Get yourself back on solid ground by focusing on the things you can affect.
When you are able to do this, you are a major step closer to achieving your optimum state, physically and mentally. Your chances of being able to flow in your play and reaching your ideal performance state are far better. The remaining secrets are all things that you have a great deal of control over and are inextricably tied to the first secret.