Facing and dealing with pressure seems to have hit an all-time peak in today’s world. Parents and students can look up their “live” grades 24 hours per day. Everyone seems to know their body weight at all times, how many followers they have on Instagram, and how much money they have left on their debit card. Players and parents also can search for UTR, USTA, ITF and Tennis Recruiting rankings any hour of any day. While this constant scorekeeping is an exciting dopamine fix for all of us, it also creates a tremendous amount of pressure in our daily lives; this is especially true for strong academic students as well as tennis juniors.

Navigating stress can be an excellent motivator for schoolwork, as students regularly need a jolt to stay up to complete their homework. However, school is a “try harder”system where the harder you try, the better your grades will be. Tennis does not work this way. In this sport, the general rule is “the harder you try, the more you fail.” When I use this saying, I am referring to tournament play and performance. When you use the school adage of “try harder “in tennis, you begin to become a bumbling mess of nerves, which on court leads to mishits and doubt. You have to flow when you play while shutting off your critical mind. When you are constantly thinking of rankings and results, you disrupt your ability to concentrate on “playing” the game. You judge yourself, your parents criticize your performance, and your coach critiques your play when you allow rankings to determine your ability to execute what you practice during actual match play. These unwanted variants all interfere with the process of development and performance.

It is vital to set boundaries in looking up your rankings in all aspects of your life. I wish UTR only allowed one day per month for players to ascertain their rankings, but that will never happen because all of those hits bring marketing dollars. USTA and Tennis Recruiting only change once per week, but again looking only once per month would suffice. Conversely, school grading, however unhealthy it may seem, can be a strong motivator to study more, so both positive and negative aspects to “live” grading exist. In tennis, I see very little positives coming out of “live” rankings; in fact, this data only leads to stress and the wrong kind of practice. Practice and training should be about the process of game development for long-term growth. A player should go on the practice or tournament match court trying to improve and become a better overall player that day instead of wondering whether the number of wins or taking a certain amount of games will increase or decrease a UTR. It’s not whether you are focused or unfocused. Rather, it’s whether you are focused in the right mindset to enhance your game and your life.

Play the long game in your life. Focus on the process of game improvement to keep the wrong kind of pressure off, and the right type of pressure – to be good at your craft – on, while you’re training or competing. This mindset will lead to a much healthier approach where the development of a more well-rounded game and better long-term potential will be possible. Look up your rankings once per month to have a healthier outlook on these numbers. The first Wednesday afternoon each month is the best option. Tennis Recruiting is refreshed on Tuesdays for boys and Wednesdays for girls each week. USTA is updated on Wednesdays weekly. UTR is constantly updated. Parents, let’s encourage our kids to create a new ritual in tennis to look up their rankings only on the first Wednesday of the month to ensure a better development outlook that will ultimately improve their ability to perform at their best regardless of the numbers associated with their record. If you are successful in motivating them to adopt this new approach, you will soon see a level of tennis from them that you have not witnessed before.

Mitch Bridge
Bridge the Gap Tennis

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