My son, age 16, has played tennis for 6 years. He’s extremely talented stroke wise. He has won only one match in 10 novice tournaments with double elimination – always losing to lesser players. He is a perfectionist; ADD without hyperactivity. Starts missing shots and it snowballs from there. Have tried the “Live in the now. Each shot new opportunity. Be patient. Breathe. Relax before each stroke.” Progressive relaxation. Meditation. We don’t need that stuff. He has two coaches who try to work with his head. He knows what he needs to do (relax, stop being judgmental, avoid being results oriented) but cannot make himself do it. He tries out again for the high school tennis team in March. He’s playing enormous pressure on himself to make the team. In May he will move to the 18U.
How do I get him to be a successful competitive player when he won’t do what will ultimately help him?
The Ultimate Sports Parent:
From our experience, athletes sometimes have trouble applying mental skills even when they know they’re important to them and they understand the mental game skills. This is always our biggest challenge when working with athletes: to help them apply what they learn. For example, he might have other core issues such as self-limiting beliefs or expectations (“I always choke in tournaments”) that prevent him from applying the simple strategies you addressed in your email.
Most people think that sports psychology or mental coaching is all about relaxation and visualization. Sports psychology is much more than teaching athletes relaxation and visualization. Confidence, trust, and focus are more important concepts.
In addition, you said that he is a perfectionist. He likely needs to address several mental game issues such as high expectations, fear of failure, self-confidence, coping with frustration, lack of trust in competition, and several other issues.
Working with a trained expert in the field of mental coaching and sports psychology will help your son better understand and apply the mental game skills. Team coaches have some knowledge of the mental game (as players and students of the game). But they are often not trained experts in this area.
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