Every time you play him/her, you lose. Sometimes it is pure skill; but sometimes the “expectation to lose” is in your head. With permission, here is a thorough analysis of why this happens and what you can do from tennis teaching pro, Tomaz Mencinger.
1. Your mind predicts the future based on the past.
That’s what our mind (or brain) does all the time. It has this logic inside which is not always true.
The logic is: in these circumstances this and this happened so whenever there are similar circumstances similar things will happen.
In your case the repeated circumstance is the same opponent. Since you lost to her before, your mind predicts that you will lose again.
So there is an image of you losing to her in your mind and you will play in a way to confirm the image in your mind.
Solution: Don’t believe your mind.
Use logic or just let go. Decide what you want more: to win a match or to be right.
Right meaning that you already feel that you will lose a match so if you win, you will prove yourself wrong.
2. You have too much respect for your opponent.
You may see your opponent as very good (maybe they are or maybe it’s just your perception) and yourself as not so good.
As I once told one of the players: these are only opinions and not facts. Some people would be ecstatic if they had a forehand like yours and you might feel that it sucks.
Solution: Play the ball not the opponent.
Take your opponent’s past results, their behavior and their presence out of your mind and play tennis.
When the ball comes over the net, play it somewhere where it is tactically correct regardless of your opponent.
Play points and try to win them instead of playing a match and trying to beat your opponent.
3. You will lose acceptance – love of your opponent.
In most cases, iff you beat someone, they won’t like you. In my experience this is the case with 80-90% of the people. Ego gets hurt and most people don’t want to be shown their weaknesses.
You subconsciously feel that, and are afraid to play really aggressively and win the match.
Solution: You have to make a choice what you want more: to win a match and risk less acceptance and appreciation from your opponent OR lose a match and have them like you since you helped them confirm their superiority feeling.
4. You are afraid of the unknown – winning the match against this opponent.
The sad thing about human mind is that it prefers the known failure against unknown possibility of success.
That’s why so many people struggle in same unhappy jobs and relationships.
There are many unknown things that may happen if you win:
• How will your opponent behave towards you later?
• What will other people think of you if you are the winner?
• What will be your expectations after this win?
• What will be other people’s expectations after this win?
• Will you be able to handle the responsibility of being a top player?
Solution: Decide what is more important to you.
You have to make this decision off the court and the above questions will help you become more aware of the unknown and what you can expect.
Answer the questions and find some more personal ones that come to mind and see whether you are ready to go into the unknown and risk the possibility of becoming a winner or you prefer not to expose yourself too much and keep losing to same people day after day.
5. You subconsciously feel inferior to your opponent.
This is a tricky one although it seems similar to having too much respect. But having too much respect is a conscious feeling while the subconscious feeling of inferiority lies deep in the primal brain and guides your actions without you knowing it.
This system is built into animals as well as humans.
When do animals feel inferior to another animal? The first thing is SIZE. If your opponent is bigger then this immediately triggers your inferiority complex. Your opponent’s tennis skills (how their strokes look like) and fast, powerful movements also have the same effect.
Basically animals are sizing up their opponent in case there will be a fight.
A tennis match is a fight on distance (if you perceive it like that) and you are consciously and subconsciously sizing up your opponent.
If the result of this sizing up is that your opponent is superior, you will behave (play) in way to CONFIRM that. And of course lose.
I personally believe that Rafael Nadal wins many matches because of his muscular build and his appearance on court.
Most players immediately get triggered by their subconscious sense of inferiority even though their tennis skills are at the similar level as his.
Solution: Just the knowledge of this subconscious process weakens it a little bit but it will remain.
You’ll have to fight every time and basically focus on winning the point. When you play points and not tennis you are not competing with your opponent but with tennis demands.
This keeps you free from getting emotionally involved and the need to size up your opponent since you don’t play against her.
This starts with your thinking about tennis strategy and tactics and here are some examples:
Playing against opponent/Playing tennis
I want to stretch her wide so that I can attack her/
I want to play wide so that I can attack the open court
I want to beat her/I want to win a match
I want to stop her from attacking my defensive shots/
I want to play deep when I am on defense
I am afraid to serve short since she will attack my serve/
I aim my serves deep
I come to the net to put pressure on her/
I come to the net to improve my chances of winning the point
I play a drop volley to exploit her slow movement/
I play a drop volley since this will very likely win me a point
As you can see, the statements are very similar and have the same goal. But in the case of playing your opponent you are always emotionally in battle, while in the case of playing tennis you are non-emotionally solving tennis challenges.
These are some of the most common mental challenges when we try to win a match against someone we have beaten before or we play someone for the first time.
Being open to new experiences, opening yourself to unknown, risking the chance of success and not falling to the inferiority trap are not only the keys to success in tennis, they are also the keys to living a fulfilling and rewarding life.
Tomaz Mencinger currently works in Slovenia as a tennis coach and a mental training coach. His video series on How to Play Tennis offers beginners a solid foundation in tennis fundamentals to start playing tennis correctly.