This guest post about Game-Day Mentality is from Rush Walters. He is a high school engineering teacher, boy’s tennis coach, and self-published author. He resides in Missouri with his wife Mia and Bernese Mountain dog, Zion. You can check out his self-published children’s book on Amazon.
Much preparation goes into getting a high school-level tennis player ready before game-day rolls around. As a coach, you build a player’s physique, consistency, and strategy. Practice makes permanent, not perfection. There is always room to grow, always.
The day arrives, the first match of the season.
When faced with a challenging opponent of equal measure, what will give you the advantage?
I strive to instill in my players a game-day mentality of courage, perseverance, and the task of staying focused.
Being Courageous & Contagious
First and most important, courage. Courage is easy to overlook but vital to game-day success.
According to merriam-webster.com, courage is defined as “the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous.”
Every player of every sport is bound to face difficulty.
Courage is the oil in the game-day mentality engine. For all of the multiple moving parts of an engine, you must have oil. Similarly, for all of the preparation and implementation of strokes, strategy, etc. you must have courage. You need to believe in yourself and your teammates. Believe that they are going to fulfill the roles that they are in. Believe that they can beat X team. Believe & trust that they will give their all.
Most importantly, believe in yourself, that you are capable of winning. That you are fully capable of having a down-the-line shot, of having your first serve in, of dominating the match. You need to believe that you can do it. Courage & believing in yourself does not always come naturally. The coach must encourage the player to continue to give their 100% throughout the entire match. When a player is a part of a team, your teammate must encourage one another. Every player approaches game-day differently, but every player can believe in themselves.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9 NIV.
You must take action to be courageous. You do not just wake up and have courage. God does not just sprinkle some magic dust and boom you have courage. No, being strong and courageous is an action. YOU, no one else, must take it upon yourself to be bold, to believe in yourself. When it comes to a team, believe in one another. Make being courageous contagious by encouraging one another. You need to trust that your teammate will play their best. Likewise, you need to be brave and dependable for others to rely on you as well.
Secondly, perseverance. Every single point needs to be played as if it was your last, no matter the match’s game score. Without a time limit, players can be out there on the court for hours. Yes, the coach should talk to the player(s) on a changeover when needed. Also, players will get encouraged from cheers from the audience, but doubles or singles, they are out there on their own.
Every player throughout history in every sport will meet their match. Chances are they will experience a loss. What matters is if they are willing to get back up and keep punching.
“It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.” – Rocky Balboa
Yes, I know the quote is from a movie, but perseverance cannot be defined better than “keep moving forward.”
At the end of the day, seeing them literally give their all, past the point of exhaustion, whether they win or lose the match, is winning in my book.
Staying Focused & Channeling Frustration
Thirdly, staying focused, you have one goal when you are out there on the court: play in such a way to win. Winning is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to play in such a way as to win. Strive to be the best you can be.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” – 1 Cortihains 9:24
You must stay focused mentally, keep your eye on the prize. Tennis is a mental game as much as it is physical. You need to get inside your opponent’s head without them getting inside yours. More importantly, you need to keep yourself from getting inside of your own head. In addition to playing your best, you need to keep your cool and be self-disciplined in doing so.
I have seen it time and time again. A player makes a few mistakes, gets mad, then their frustration turns into anger, and then they allow their anger to control them. They need to control their anger, they need to learn how to handle it. Keeping a fire under control in a fire pit is great. The fire pit provides warmth, an area to cook food, and light in the darkness. Once that fire jumps out of the fire pit you have a problem. If you’re going to embrace your fire, you will get burned. If you can control your fire, you can channel it into motivation!
I get it. I’ve been there. You get mad at a mistake you made or even a dishonest call from your opponent. Instead of letting your fire run freely, channel it into motivation. Let it be the fire behind making a better shot, getting the next point.
These three concepts: courage, perseverance, and staying focused, all play their role in developing & strengthening a player’s game-day mentality.
Again, much preparation goes into a player. Once game-day is here, you need to have the confidence that your player is going to implement everything he or she learned. That they are going to put it all together in their game-day mentality.