A friend of Marc VanDamâ€™s shared this tennis experience on â€œplaying with fear,â€ which I thought interesting and insightful.
“I don’t know how many of you saw the Australian Open tennis final recently, but it was particularly interesting to me on a number of levels. The first of course being the obvious “clash of titans” factor that comes into play whenever Federer and Nadal face off on a court. The quality of tennis these two players are capable of is mind-boggling. However another factor I was equally interested in, was whether or not Federer was going to play his normal carefree, artistic game, or whether he was going to tighten up and get conservative. Obviously, for those of you who saw it and are familiar with Federer’s game, it was a shame to see him take the latter approach. No doubt in my mind if he plays Nadal with the same mental approach he used in his match with Andy Roddick in the semifinal, he wins. But, he didn’t. Now why is that? Well, I could get all philosophical here and give a million of my opinions, but rather than that — I thought I’d share something that happened to me yesterday to illustrate just how limiting fear can be.
After many years away from playing the game, I’ve recently taken up tennis again. I’ve been taking lessons, hitting balls a few times a week with friends, and even hitting balls against a wall and drop hitting to work on fundamentals. And, this practice is showing up in my casual hitting sessions with the above-mentioned friends — I’m hitting the ball more consistently, with greater control and power, and progressing quite well — or so I thought. Yesterday, after hitting well with one particular friend, I decide to ask “hey, want to play a set?”. I thought this would be a good measure of how much I’ve improved, and how my game had progressed when put under the pressure of keeping score.
So what happened? I got demolished. I lost the set 0-6. That’s right, 0-6 — I didn’t even win a single game. And I’ve never failed to take at least 2 games in a set against this particular player.
Now why did this happen? One word: fear. I was afraid to lose because in my mind, I felt I had improved enough to potentially win a set against this person and I really wanted to make it happen. And it’s a perfect demonstration of why you want to eliminate this emotion from your life as much as you can. Rather than hitting the ball and focusing on hitting good sound shots like I’d been doing in the warm-up session, I began to attempt to “steer” and “guide” all of my shots. Of course, all this did was cause an unbelievable number of bad shots and mis-hits, the very thing I was trying to avoid.
So, I was trying “not to lose”, and as a result — I ended up not only losing, but losing in an embarassing manner.
So what’s the lesson I learned here (again)? Ditch the fear. It acts as a magnet, and the more you wallow in it, the more it attracts the very thing you are afraid of. Next time I play this guy, and it’s going to be soon, I’m going to rush the net every chance I get and swing out on every shot I get a clean look at. I may not win a set off him yet, but I can pretty much guarantee I won’t go down again like I did the other day.
This lesson can be applied to pretty much any area of life, no?”