| By Amanda Ferranti

Have you ever been told that you think too much? Or do you feel anxious because you cannot seem to stay focused during a match?

As a competitive tennis player, you may already know the value of staying in the moment—whether you are in the point or between points. Knowing this, however, doesn’t make the task any easier, especially if you have been labeled as an “over-thinker.” With each lost point or mistake, another firework of thoughts is released, making it increasingly difficult to focus on playing the game. Your critical voice grows louder and your confidence is progressively stripped away.

Although rapid thinking is a normal physiological response to stress, the over-thinkers may start to worry about the fact that they are worrying. In other words, you judge yourself for thinking too much and start to feel a greater intensity of stress … and so the spiral of negativity continues.

In order to change this process, it is important to first understand the emotion(s) felt at this moment. From experience, both personal and professional, I would like to discuss what I think to be the most influential: Alienation. This feeling is associated with the internal message that “There’s something wrong with me.” When you feel alienated, there is a sense that you don’t fit in somehow. So over-thinkers start to believe that their mind is different, bad or weak in some way. This judgment is detrimental to performance in several ways, including the following:

Lowered confidence in one’s mental skills: In all sports, you can divide measurements of capability into four categories: Physical, Technical, Tactical and Mental. So how much do you trust in your mental performance? For those who are labeled as over-thinkers, they often report lower ratings of confidence–around 50 percent to 60 percent. This means that you don’t really believe in your ability to focus, be optimistic and resilient during a match. And without this belief, you are already set up to fail.

A sense of imprisonment to one’s own mind: When calling yourself an over-thinker, there seems to be an external locus of control mixed with the idea that it is a disability. It’s as if I was born this way and there’s nothing I can do about it. When you don’t feel a sense of control over something so inherent, like your mind, there is a lack of autonomy, freedom or power over its operations. So, how could you possibly excel in tennis when you don’t feel in control of your most powerful tool?

Heightened muscle tension and distraction from the match: When judging yourself critically, negative emotions are exacerbated, muscle tension increases, and thoughts continue to race. You become physically weaker and internally distracted from focusing on what you need to do in that particular moment. 

When looking closer at the underpinnings of over-thinking, there seems to be a misidentification with what is actually happening. To be able to compete at a high level in tennis, you must be cognitively capable of outsmarting your opponent. This will require knowledge, strategy, analysis, awareness, decision-making, etc. … all processes which require an ability to think. So what if you could just reframe your perception towards thinking? What would it feel like to think of yourself as a heavy thinker? What if you viewed your ability to think as a power or a tool?

Most players will immediately claim that thinking is a bad thing, yet they are focusing solely on the quantity of thoughts rather than the quality. Aren’t there benefits to being analytical, thorough or systematic in competitive tennis? Although it seems that thinking is your greatest weakness, it is also your greatest strength–if you can only view it as such. Self-acceptance is the ultimate key for heavy thinkers. It can help you to feel free and flow with the inner workings of your mind instead of fighting it and feeling imprisoned. And when you feel free, then you enhance self-trust, which is essential for performance success.


 

Amanda Ferranti is the director and founder of Ferranti Empowerment where she has firmly established herself as an AASP Certified Mental Performance Consultant for youth athletes, teams, and coaches. Amanda also has years of athletic experience as an ex-professional soccer player and Princeton graduate. She can be reached ataferranti@ferrantiempowerment.com.