Carl Sandburg once said “it’s never over until it’s over” or maybe it was Yogi Berra – either way the message is pretty clear. Keep fighting, keep trying and maybe you can turn around a hopeless match, game, set or whatever it is you are attempting. This is the message we try to instill in our students at the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy every single day!
Vince Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay Packers coach, would say “we never quit, we just ran out of time.” All competitors of life must have this attitude to become a true winner. When it’s easier to quit then come back, the real winner keeps fighting until the final whistle!
How do these clichés relate to tennis? Well, coming back from a likely defeat is an attitude. We see evidence of this posted on locker-room walls in sayings like: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”
Mental toughness separates great players from good players and whether winning or losing, great players will fight and claw for each point. Some examples of this in tennis include Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Lleyton Hewitt, Rafael Nadal, Francesca Schiavone, Kim Clijsters, Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Jim Courier. They wouldn’t give up, regardless of the score. When great players lose, they leave their heart and soul on the court!
These athletes can look at themselves in the mirror after the match and say, “I gave it my all, I have nothing left.” If you have this attitude any loss will mean you got beat! Each player may go about this thinking their own way. For example, Chris Evert said she played not to lose whereas Jimmy Connors said he played to win at all times. Despite their slightly different philosophy, they were both great champions and were mental giants on the court.
To me, it is simple. Winning is a state of mind. It is a belief that something is going to happen that will enable you to prevail – the score is secondary. You should manage each point, each game with the entire contest in mind. If you can accomplish this, you’ll end up a winner regardless of the score.
When reading this article, sit down and read it again and again! So many people in life go into a battle with a loss already in their mind. They will find an excuse whether it be their parents, their coach, their strokes, not feeling well or any other myriad of reasons why not – and that is a bunch of you know what! You lose because you lack the will to fight when nothing seems to be working for you. In my mind, that attitude will result in a loss in whatever you try.
When you are out on the court, you are in a battle and you need to be a warrior. Then, and only then, I want you to be truthful with yourself and place yourself into one of the following categories. What excuses do you make? When making your decision be sure to consider that there are three sides to every story: your side, my side and the truth!!
It wasn’t my day
Match was just practice
I could have done better
I blew it in the 3rd-set tiebreaker
I was a warrior!