Tennis players are motivated by many factors, including fear of failure, hope for success, or a combination of these two. While there are times when fear of failure is helpful (for example, to prevent overconfidence when a player is expected to win easily), it is healthier to approach competition from a “success” rather than “fear of failure” perspective.
Fear of failure is a weaker form of motivation because it increases worry and negative thinking (“I better not lose this match”), detracts from performance focus, and centers thoughts excessively on outcome. Players with this fear enjoy competition less and are at greater risk for leaving the sport. By contrast, players who approach tennis from a success orientation welcome tough challenges with less fear, and they view competition as an exciting opportunity to improve their skills and display their competency.
What can you do to help players adopt a success orientation? Here are some suggestions:
Arrange practices and competitions so that the player gains experience in “going for it” under pressure. By expecting to perform even better in tight situations, rather than holding back due to insecurity, the player gains greater control over her or his actions. This attitude promotes a healthy motivation toward success and enhances feelings of competency.
Convey an attitude to the player that the most exciting and enjoyable moment of competition occurs when the match is close and on the line. Encourage the player to thrive on these challenges, for it provides her or him with an opportunity to overcome difficult obstacles and to achieve even greater success.
Every match has some elements of success, regardless of the actual outcome. In reviewing the matches, focus on the positive aspects of the performance, rather than the negative. Help the player set and achieve short-term goals to increase the behavior needed for continual improvement. Attaining these goals provides the player with a rewarding sense of satisfaction, regardless of the competitive outcome, and it leads the player to focus more on “success” rather than “failure".