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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Tennis


If I'm The Better Player, Why Can't I Win?

Discover Why You Lose To Weaker Players
And Start Winning The Matches You Should Win

Bill Cole, MS, MA

Do you lose to weaker players? Can you get a lead, but can't close out the match? It seems like beating them should be routine, but these matches often turn into nightmares. If you struggle playing weaker players, you may be asking yourself, "I wonder if graphite racquets can burn?" Is chess less stressful?

How do you stop losing to players you know you should beat and start reaching more of your potential? There is help.

There are specific, damaging mental errors you probably make that stop you from playing well against these people. The secret? Learn these mental traps, recognize them in your own mind as they happen in your matches and apply mental remedies that counter-act their negative effects. Then, you'll start winning these matches.

Start Beating Weaker Players. Here Are My Top 7 Mental Game Success Tips.

As you read this list, recognize which damaging mental thought grabs you the most often in the middle of a match. Memorize all of them so you can immediately be aware of each one as a mental trap to be avoided.

Damaging Thought #1: "I Should Never Lose To Players Weaker Than Me." If that was true in all sports, we'd never see any exciting upsets. It would be quite boring. The top tennis pros lose to people below them, even to players no one has ever heard of.

The Solution? Don't Be A Perfectionist. This thought puts too much pressure on you, and then every little error you make scares you into thinking that defeat is right around the corner. You will make mistakes in every match you ever play the rest of your life. Relax and focus on what it takes to win, not on what is going wrong.

Damaging Thought #2: "I Should Be Killing Weaker Players!" There are no guarantees in tennis and even fewer in competition. Anything can happen. Players who go into a match expecting to breeze through to victory without sweating are hoping for the easy way out. There is no such thing.

The Solution? Don't Set Unrealistic Expectations In The Face Of Evidence To The Contrary. You've been losing to these folks, so don't be too quick to set such high goals. Don't set yourself up for disappointment by expecting such a lopsided outcome. Take a "Let's see what happens" outlook. Just win the match, no matter what the score. Remember, you have trouble with these folks or you wouldn't be reading this right now. Give yourself a break.

Damaging Thought #3: "It's So Boring Playing Lesser Players. I Want An Interesting Match!" Oh really? You lose to these people and you're bored? Losing always gets my full attention. Winners hate to lose and will do whatever it takes to avoid it.

The Solution? Admit That These People Have Your Number. In your own mind, at least give them the respect they deserve and figure out how to beat them. Winning starts with not telling yourself how dull the match is, so your mind wanders. Instead, vow that you'll discover how to play these types so they don't bother you anymore.

Damaging Thought #4: "Losing To These People Is Painful. When Is This Torture Going To Be Over?" Thinking this thought means you have not made the commitment to fully compete. You're looking for an easy way out of the struggle. If you want a guaranteed win, how about calling that 6-year old you can beat for sure?

The Solution? Before The Match Begins, Vow That You Will Fight To The Bitter End, And Accept All Trouble, Pain And Adversity That Comes Your Way. Then win anyhow. If you go through the match complaining that you're not playing well, or that the other person is weak, you're playing two opponents. Them and yourself. Accept the inevitable pain that comes with competing. Successful competitors love the craziness of a close match.

Damaging Thought #5: "This Isn't Real Tennis! I Want To Play MY Game!". Does it seem like you end up playing their game, that they drag you down to their level? How do top players like Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and others get to the finals so often? They've discovered how to adjust their games to lower ranked players in the early rounds and defeat them.

The Solution? Realize You Can't Play Your Favorite Game Style 100% Of The Time--You Have To Adapt And Overcome. Start the match playing your best game, but have a back-up plan ready to go. When the opponent starts forcing you to play their game, do so briefly, but then look for an opening to get back into your preferred playing style. Unfortunately, sometimes your best style of play fits unfavorably into their game style. Winners know how to swallow their pride and play any style it takes to win.

Damaging Thought #6: "What If Someone Finds Out I Lost To A Lesser Player? Having this thought rattling around in your head will really botch things up. You'll be self-conscious, send your mind zooming into the worries of the future and completely take your mind off what you're doing. It's a disaster waiting to happen.

The Solution? Do You Like Excitement And Surprises? Then Embrace The World Of Competition. If you can't deal with losing, don't compete. Or better yet, vow to deal with the emotional roller-coaster and no-guarantee world of competition. That's part of why you compete, right? To get that thrill and adrenaline rush of uncertainty about the outcome. Top competitors will hope for a close, tough match so they can brace themselves for it. Expect tension and an uncertain outcome and love it to the max.

Damaging Thought #7: "I Can Only Get Better Playing Better Players, So Why I Am I Even Playing This Clown?" Did you know that you're in a tennis classroom, and that your opponent is the teacher? If you have trouble beating lesser players, don't you still have lessons to learn about that? Open your mind and begin soaking up that learning.

The Solution? Realize That We All Have A Debt To Pay Back To This Great Game And, Use Weaker Opponents As A Practice Tool. When you were a beginner I'm sure some better players took the time to hit with you. Maybe they even gave you some tips. This is your chance to give back. Also, it's a major myth that you can only improve playing better players. You need weaker players so you can try new things in a lower-stress environment and to realize that you are improving, and a very good player. If you only play up, you will kill your confidence.

How Do You Start Winning The Matches You Know You Should?

Respect the game of everyone who beats you. Manage your thoughts. Set yourself up for success, not failure. Learn important lessons from everyone who makes you struggle on the tennis court. Get some professional coaching on these issues. Play more competitions and experience these situations so you get used to them and can deal with them. Instead of losing to those you should beat, you'll soon be winning those matches and be enjoying your tennis more than ever before.

Copyright © Bill Cole, MS., MA. 2002, 2010 All rights reserved.

This article covers only one small part of the mental game. A complete mental training program includes motivation and goal-setting, pre-event mental preparation, post-event review and analysis, mental strengthening, self-regulation training, breath control training, motor skill training, mental rehearsal, concentration training, pressure-proofing, communication training, confidence-building, breaking through mental barriers, slump prevention, mental toughness training, flow training, relaxation training, momentum training, psych-out proofing and media training.

For a comprehensive overview of your mental abilities you need an assessment instrument that identifies your complete mental strengths and weaknesses. For a free, easy-to-take 65-item sport psychology assessment tool you can score right on the spot, visit This assessment gives you a quick snapshot of your strengths and weaknesses in your mental game. You can use this as a guide in creating your own mental training program, or as the basis for a program you undertake with Bill Cole, MS, MA to improve your mental game. This assessment would be an excellent first step to help you get the big picture about your mental game.

Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching Association, Bill is also founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps organizations and professionals achieve more success in business, life and sports. He is a multiple Hall of Fame honoree, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published book author and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For a free, extensive article archive, or for questions and comments visit him at

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