Written by: Peter Straub
***Peter is a Mind Trainer and former #2 Junior in Canada Under 18, who played tennis full time for 7 years. More recently, in 2011 and 2012, he played for Canada on the Dubler Cup team over 45, in the World Team Championships.
Motivated by his passion to benefit others he has trained his mind extensively for the last 20 years. Understanding that by changing his mind in a positive way, he would be able to benefit others more. Peter has travelled, at great expense, to study with the best teachers and practitioners, including doing 16 months of silent meditation retreats.
Peter now wants to help tennis players become happier and perform better on the tennis court.
This article is primarily for tennis competitors, but it can be used by anyone to make every area of their life more enjoyable. My reason for writing about this topic is that I want everyone to be happy and to play great tennis. We all have two basic wishes: to be happy and to be free from problems and suffering. We have these wishes all the time, including when we play tennis. When we compete we hope that we will: play great; win; stay in the lead; not get nervous; not lose; be seen as a good or great player; etc. If some of these things don’t happen, we view this as a problem and become afraid and tighten up.
We need to change our mind before we can change our actions in a consistent way. If we don’t change our mind and try to force ourself to do something different it will not last. We can’t magically ‘just think differently’, it takes mental effort to change our view of a situation. Reading or listening alone does not have the power to change our mind. Our coach, for example, could recommend a beneficial way of thinking, and we may agree, but we are not immediately able to do it. We need to contemplate and work with the advice we are given, to come to a deeper understanding and experience, and then we will be able to put it into practice. Just like we need to train our body regularly to maintain a healthy body, we need to train our mind regularly to maintain a stable and happy state of mind, no matter what happens on the court.
Playing tennis is a great opportunity to learn about ourself, especially if we compete, because we are out there alone, with all the focus on us. By applying just these few instructions we can stay happy when we play.
Five methods for staying happy on the tennis court
When we start to get disturbed we can notice that we are thinking about ourself and what is going wrong for us right now, and we think things like “I wish this would come to an end now”. To counteract this quickly we need to “think bigger” which means to think of a greater scope of time and to include more people in our thoughts. A greater scope of time could include focusing on how good we want to be playing in five years or we can think “will this situation matter to me in 20 years”. An example of including more people could be to think about how the people we are playing with or around us are feeling. Also, we can think of all the other people who are, or will, experience the same thing we are experiencing right now and develop compassion for them. We can get creative with this. The more people we can include the better. Anything to get the focus off of ourself and our problem. If we think bigger, our problem will disappear immediately because we are not focused on ourself and “our problem” any more.
I received some great advice many years ago, for what I thought were difficult situations, and that was to “play there”. What this means to me, is to stay in the situation and to keep a childlike, light, curious and interested mind and try to learn as much as I can. The alternative of resisting a situation and “wishing I was somewhere else”, or avoiding a situation altogether, just causes suffering.
We can meditate which will make everything more enjoyable for us. Meditation is analyzing, or concentrating our mind on positive thoughts, intentions, decisions, objects or states of mind. Through meditation we can familiarize our mind with positive thoughts and we can train in remembering them throughout the day. We also meditate on the faults of negative minds and thoughts, to weaken the power of them in our mind.
If we “welcome adversity” instead of always thinking “I hope everything goes my way” we will stay happy when things do not go the way we want. The reality is, we will always have situations that will not go the way we want them to go. Instead of being unhappy, it is more useful to view adversity in a more realistic and beneficial way.
When we focus on the “mastery” of tennis rather than just winning, we will stay happy. By mastery, I mean focusing on learning and improving to become the best we can become. If we are “attached” to winning, this will disturb our peace of mind.
Attachment is a mind that observes an object that appears to be pleasant and a cause of happiness and wishes to possess it. It is a delusion because happiness comes from the mind not from external objects. When we are attached to something our mind is disturbed which is the hallmark of a delusion being present. When anything gets in the way of getting what we want (like winning a tennis match) or we don’t get what we want (like losing a tennis match) we become more disturbed. We can have a strong wish to win without attachment, and our mind can stay happy.
The next “evolution” in tennis is to practice training the mind
For decades professionals have said that tennis is at least 50% mental, and yet most tennis players are primarily focused on physical training. It is too extreme to devote all of our time to our body when our mind determines: our motivation; how we learn; if we make correct decisions; our focus and concentration; our consistency and persistency; how good we will be; our confidence and self-esteem; how happy, calm, relaxed, scared, nervous or patient we are. If we understand the mind deeply, we see that it actually determines everything.
As a mind trainer, I lead people to know their own mind, by helping them see what beliefs and attitudes they have, and the harm the negative ones are causing, so they can stop relying on them. We will keep relying on something, no matter how harmful it is to us, until we realize it is not producing the results we want. Once we no longer rely on that anymore, we can adopt a new view or belief that is beneficial for us.
Everything that is worthwhile is difficult at first, but becomes easier with practise and familiarity. Good luck.