Mental Toughness and Respect

posted on: June 11, 2013
author: Brian Lomax

Female Tennis Players Shaking Hands

Several weeks ago, I was playing in a league tennis match and was paired against a player who has a reputation for on-court shenanigans and creating controversy.  When I realized who I was playing, I had a decision to make.  What should my approach to this player be?  Conventional wisdom tells us to be on-guard for the slightest indiscretion or infraction with this type of opponent and not to back down if there’s a confrontation.  Our reptilian brain, the one that identifies threats and spurs us into action, takes over to help us deal with the difficult player.  Now, if this were 10 to 15 years ago, that’s exactly the approach I would have taken.

However, if I think back to those days when I opted for that approach, it didn’t help me play my best tennis.  It took the focus off of my own performance and if anything, was a major distraction.  If something questionable did occur in the match, my immediate reaction was confrontational, and that escalated the situation and made it worse.  I’m sure that my own body language and demeanor were so obviously negative that my opponent picked up on it thus making him more defensive right from the start of the match.

So what’s a competitor to do in this situation when he wants to play well and win?  What did I decide to do?  In this match a few weeks ago, I went against conventional wisdom and decided to be ultra respectful and polite to my opponent.  If he hit a good shot, I would compliment him on it.  I would say thank you whenever he hit the tennis balls to my side of the court.  I would remain calm and display positive body language at all times.  I would not show him up by saying “C’mon!” in a loud voice.  And guess what?  It totally worked.  Not only did we not have a single issue, I got him saying “nice shot” and “thank you” to me!  Chalk up a victory for attracting the kind of behavior you want out of someone else by behaving that way yourself.

One of the character traits that I monitor in my own performances in practice and competition is Respect:  respect for my opponent, respect for the game, respect for my teammates, etc.  When I behave this way, I know it makes me feel better and it makes me more positive.  I play better and I stay focused on the right behaviors, and I can take pride in how I handle myself in a competitive environment.  Having respect for your opponent in competition is important because that person is making you better.  They are giving you something to measure yourself against and you should be grateful and thankful for that opportunity.  Every competitor deserves respect because it takes courage to put yourself on the line and compete in a public forum.  So many people avoid competitive situations and therefore it’s important to note how courageous and gutsy it is to go out there and try to play your best under pressure.

The next time you’re in a difficult situation with an opponent, consider approaching it from a position of respect.  I can’t guarantee that it will work every time for you like it worked for me in this recent match, but I can guarantee that you’ll be proud of your own behavior in a pressure situation.  That builds character.

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About the Author

Brian Lomax founded PerformanceXtra™ in 2009 with a mission of helping athletes achieve their goals and their top performances more consistently through a progression of mental skills that enables them to focus on what is truly important.

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10 responses to “Mental Toughness and Respect”

  1. Sydney Patten says:

    Wonderful piece of writing Brian. Thanks for that. Even though I’m not playing competitive sports these days, life is a competitive sport and there is a situation that I’m currently dealing with where this wisdom comes in very handy.

  2. Brian Lomax says:

    Thanks for your comment, Syd. Best wishes to you always.

  3. MJ says:

    Thanks for sharing. This is what the girls team at my daughter’s high school were taught… “To kill them with kindness”. Some of their opponents who relied on gamesmanship and other tactics to disrupt an opponent sometimes got so frustrated that they did not know what to do other than to just play tennis! In the long run our girls could live with themselves and their efforts and usually came out on top. They won the state title a few years and won the sportsmanship trophy all 4 years. When they played jr usta tourneys the no worries, no controversy respectful attitude made us proud and the parents of the opponents would sometimes end up apologizing for their kid attitude. Winning or losing the usta jr matches will long be forgotten but being proud of who you were when you competed will be remembered much longer.

  4. Caroline Lane says:

    Nice topic and good approach! Thanks.

  5. Steffani Lomax says:

    I totally agree with this approach. As you stated, if you behave with respect no matter what the situation is, you will feel more positive and good about yourself and in turn play good tennis.
    Be yourself and do not let the poor sports turn you into someone you are not. It will just distract you and you will not play your best tennis.

  6. Johann says:

    It was very helpful. I’ll think of that next time I am doing a sport and am really annoyed with the opponent.

  7. Michelle Rosar says:

    Such a great Article! This is the Pre-Match message I always deliver to my Varsity and Middle School Teams – Play with Dignity! Play with Confidence! Play with Humility! And Play With Respect for your Opponent!It works very well in building character and closing out the win! Through many potentially contentious Matches, our Boys Doubles Team won District and then brought home State this year with this exact concept – Respect for your opponent! Thank you for the Article!

  8. Jim Falvo says:

    Great piece, worthy of emulating. A shortened version would be to follow what Federer and many other great athletes aspire to: “Respect everyone. Fear no one.”

  9. paco hernandez says:

    Fantastico a great way of approaching live gracias

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