| By Christopher Pucci
Photo credit: Visage

If you believe you cannot win, you won’t win. Focusing on the future will only take away from the process that will inevitably bring you to the final outcome. Think of the story “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The hare thought he was a sure thing before the race began, while the tortoise never thought of the outcome, but focused on the task at hand. His theory was slow and steady and the outcome will be the outcome. We all know who won. That story teaches us the concept and rewards of proper competitive thinking.

Success and failure, although opposites, could not exist without one other. If you are a player who has difficulty coping with the idea or thought of failure, then the question you need to ask yourself is: Why do I compete? “Fail forward” is a concept that I try to install in a player’s thinking. It is okay to fail, but not learning from that failure is not okay.

In competition, the task at hand isn’t about winning or losing the match, but about the process to get a desirable outcome. Many players focus on the outcome, and therefore, will not compete unless they know they can win. Excuses are often made or competition is avoided due to the possibility of losing. This is very prominent in junior tennis, where players will skip tournaments, sometimes after a draw is posted, so they do not encounter a “bad” loss. In reality, you must be prepared to accept losing, and accept it often during your development. A draw of 64 players will only have one winner, which means 63 players will lose.

Take a good look at why we all like to win. Winning does not require change, whatever you are doing is working. Losing requires change, it requires you to look at your own shortcomings and address them. This takes work. A coach is supposed to train the player to implement a winning strategy during a match, but what about a “non-winning strategy?” A good coach teaches both.

To develop a good “non-winning strategy,” you need to think that winning and losing are part of the process and not the description of the final outcome. During a tennis match, you need to be able to handle the situations when your game plan is not going a certain winning way, therefore losing. While you must believe 100 percent in your winning strategy, you need to be able to adjust when a particular opponent, for some reason, is not succumbing to it.

Coping with losing
During a match, when things are not going the way you anticipated, you may become impatient, irritable, imprudent and/or uninterested. This is where having a non-winning strategy will help. To effectively implement a non-winning strategy, do not panic, as you will need all of your abilities of analysis, concentration, open-mindedness and execution to reverse the situation. All of this has to be done while you are at a vulnerable state because of the blow to your winning strategy. Making the decision to stay with your game plan, but concentrate on better execution or to forego that game plan for a new one, is the key to begin the reversal process

Toughen up
What is your level of stress tolerance? Good overall physical conditioning is important since stress—whether physical, mental or emotional—depletes us of energy. The better your physical conditioning, the more stress you can handle. On- court levels of stress vary as well as off-the-court levels. If your off-the-court (school, home, injuries, fatigue) level is high, it will ultimately affect your on-the-court level, possibly making you quicker to act negatively. Sometimes your opponent is not the player across the net, but you are your own opponent. When you chastise yourself over errors and/or act negatively toward lost points, you are not helping the reversal process. Try to treat yourself as a third person with optimism and support.

Develop an approach
Learn to develop an approach regarding losing, as well as winning during matches. Anyone can win when they are playing well, however, it is the ability to win when you are not playing at your best. The implementation of your non-winning strategy is what makes champions.