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Mental Toughness Training

By Lisa C. Duncan, Certified PTR/PPR Professional |



Are you the Critical Judge or the Intrigued Detective?


In coaching novice as well as elite players, I have observed competitors enjoying an impressive winning 7-point differential, only to lose the game. How does this happen? What occurs in the mind that such momentum can be lost within minutes? How is it possible that such a focused and impeccable game plan becomes so horrifically derailed?


Perhaps the opponents have discovered and implemented a change in strategy- targeting one player, hitting safer shots instead of taking risks that create unforced errors, slowing down the game, serving and returning serve with greater depth, etc. Or, an even greater likelihood may be that instead of one or two opponents on the opposite side of the net there enters a third challenger – your own ego-driven critical internal judge!


You can move towards the discovery of your own mental state when, after making an error you do a mental “step-back” and observe your own reaction. Does anger well up? Does self-condemnation take over? Do you attempt to explain to your partner why you did that and really know better? Does your body language or facial expressions reflect your inner frustration?


If so, one can be assured that their inner critical judge has taken over and is slamming down the gavel in self-reproach. People by nature have a tendency to be more critical than accepting – especially in a competitive environment. One of the great challenges in life is learning how to be tender and accepting of oneself- warts and all.


A strategy for overcoming this admonishing inner judge is to instead become a detective who is inquisitive and intrigued by the mechanics or decisions that led to the mistake. Instead of silently uttering comments like, “You jerk! How could you possibly go for that shot?”, one might take a step back and think, “Hmm…would you look at that? Perhaps I went for too big a shot when I was in an unbalanced position. Next time I will play it safer until I am positioned correctly!”


As we continue to grow and develop as players, it is important to realize that at the end of each point, we have a choice to either bring judgment to our actions, or discover what led to the error, and reframe our approach to future opportunities.


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