It’s no secret that confidence is the one defining factor of winners and those who remain at the top. Confidence seems to be the reason the ball drops in when it should not, that luck is on your side and that you can come back from behind and always believe in your ability to win.
Have you ever wondered why players who have a great come-from-behind-win or who get over the line in a long, tough, tight battle tend to carry their momentum for a number of weeks or in tournaments afterwards? It all comes down to the magical feature named “Confidence” which, believe it or not, is all developed behind closed doors away from the competitive stage.
Confidence, put simply, is that belief that you can and will do what you have set out to achieve. Research has proven that it is the one key component that separates the best from the rest. Top players at all levels do not hope or wish to be successful–rather, they are absolutely convinced in their ability to succeed.
The question then must be asked: How do these players develop the complete ability to believe they are going to win? Is this something they are simply born with? Or is it something that is trained and trainable? The answer is that no one is born with confidence and it is completely trainable with daily routines.
Leading sports psychologists have noted that superstar athletes in a variety of sports, at the very peak of their performances, understand the importance that confidence plays in their performance. When athletes feel confident, they are more relaxed and thus feel less pressure. They remain calmer under stress and have a tendency to solve problems more intelligently.
We have all heard that tennis is a mental sport, and according to Jimmy Connors, it is 95 percent played in the mind. We have read that the longest distance in tennis is the 15 centimeters between the ears. So what do we do to ensure that we are competition-ready with confidence to spare and wearing a bulletproof vest when we go out to compete? For high-performance players, how do we prepare to get ready for a competitive phase?
Confidence comes from repetition
We know that repetition is the mother of all skill development. Confidence is no different. Whether our players are training in the areas of physical skill development and biomechanical proficiency or off-court rehearsal, it must be deliberate and planned in order for the players to have clarity and then repeated again and again under stress to be able to expect the response to come out when needed.
Putting a player into a stressful situation off the court to learn how to respond to situations teaches routines and rituals that allow for the automated response to emerge when under pressure. The legendary Nick Bollettieri is renowned for waiting for his players to find that point of complete self-stress before he steps in with his words of wisdom. It is that time when the player is prepared to learn and make changes.
The military and police force all train under stressful situations to be able to click into automation when the “real life” moments arrive. Competitive tennis training should be no different. Other sports which are considered dangerous do the same thing. I was recently speaking with an America’s Cup Captain—who trains with his team of 12 seamen to cross the scariest and deepest oceans in freezing weather in the middle of the night. They simulate the responses by having to get up in the middle of the night and do routine development in the dark in a deep swimming pool. Developing confidence in tennis is no different to many other disciplines which require deliberate practice and rehearsal away from the competitive environment to master the mental skills needed.
The skill of being confident is developed through:
►Repetition under different circumstances in various environments
►Committing to off-the-court reading, studying and work, both alone and with your coaches … becoming a student of the game.
►Recognizing and taking responsibility for the mental side of your game, including developing emotional control strategies and mental plans.
►Deliberate work on those components which need to be improved upon. This requires being honest with yourself, which can be difficult to discuss with support circles.
►Practice, repetition: Repeat this cycle over and over again until confidence becomes an ingrained natural skill, which will take time to achieve.
Some other key things to work on to develop confidence into a natural part of your character include …
►Planning: Know your own strengths and weaknesses and be clear on what you are working on in various sessions. Set performance goals and map out a pathway to achieve those goals.
►Evaluation: Where are you currently at? What needs to change, and by being honest with yourself, what are you actually feeling under pressure? Ask yourself … are you doing everything within your control to develop in all possible areas or are you spending too much time in too few areas like hitting? Never undervalue self-practice time away from coaches.
►Review: Analyze your training, coaching, technical skills, tactical knowledge and preferences, as well as game style, personal characteristics, nutritional habits, physical programs, recovery, off the court study, and match watching or charting.
►Your beliefs: Are your beliefs helping you reach goals or are they blocking you from achieving them? Remember, beliefs either turn your dreams (or nightmares) into reality. You have the power to choose your beliefs and what you believe!
►Self-talk: Do you train your inner voice (the one inside your head) to say the right things? Do you hand-write your thoughts and are you honest about keeping a training diary recording by hand your internal voice? We must learn to turn the negative inner voice to a positive. Self-talk has a direct correlation to your outcomes. The power of positivity is something that is a challenge to some personalities, but we must challenge ourselves to stay positive in everything we do!
►Goals: Set mini-goals to keep yourself on track and to ensure you are learning to achieve the stages. Each time you successfully achieve a mini-goal, it will certainly grow your confidence.
►See, feel and hear: Using visualization can help to create match situations and responses. It’s been shown that players who lack confidence visually tend to see their fears as opposed to the dream. As opposed to confident players who will see, hear and feel winning shots, anticipate movements and can conquer those challenging moments in their mind before they actually are real. Meditation and visual rehearsal are proven to work. Remember that fear really means “False Events Appearing Real.”
►Always act like a champion: “Fake it ‘til you make it” as we say, but acting the right way certainly goes a long distance in being the right way when it counts. Remember that body language can be a huge factor in intimidation tactics, either for you or against you. You need to maintain your posture, keep the eyes up and look for a way. “Look up and you will find a way–look down and that is where you will stay!”
Confidence is the one thing that can change everything. Get to work on developing these skills both on and off the court today!
Conrad Singh is the Chief Operating Officer of Tennis & Director of Coaching at Centercourt Club & Sports. He has held Head Coach and Director positions in Australia, England, Japan and China, and has been involved in professional tennis player development for well over two decades. Singh came to Centercourt from Shanghai, China, where he helped to develop a top high-performance player program, which saw more than 200 athletes train under his system.