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Mental Strength | How to Stop Freezing on the Court

Mental Strength | How to Stop Freezing on the Court

How to Stop Freezing on the Court

By Maite Iriarte Rego, PhD in Psychology, Master in Sports Psychology, Contextual Mental-Coach, and CEO of Flowandgrow Mental-Coaching S.L. (Licensed AO11855)

Talking with one of my players, who confessed to winning his doubles match but completely freezing during his singles match, he asked me how he could stop freezing in his matches. In the first set, after 3:3, he started to tense up, lose points, and become very nervous because he hadn’t taken advantage of his opportunities.

What was mentally and emotionally blocking him was the feeling of not being able to capitalize on his match opportunities, especially since the score was close in the first set against a high-level player. He thought that if he didn’t seize his chances, he couldn’t win, which made him tense up even more.

This tension led him to play worse, freeze up, and eventually lose the match. Mentally and emotionally, it’s important to figure out the root of the blockage, understand why the player is using it, and what function it serves on the court.

In his case, we found out he was convinced he was making a fool of himself by not taking advantage of his match opportunities. His fear of what others would think if he lost or played poorly made him tense up in important match situations, causing him to play well below his potential, miss opportunities, and become even more nervous and blocked.

Behind this fear of looking foolish was the fear of rejection by others. This is a core and very common fear: the fear of rejection and being left alone. Historically, if you were rejected by the group, you didn’t survive. Nowadays, this can’t happen. The fear is completely irrational and must be confronted to eliminate its power over you. This fear prevents you from reaching your full potential on the court because you don’t want anyone to think badly of you to avoid personal and social rejection. Freezing and fear are ineffective ways to control rejection.

It’s impossible to please everyone and avoid rejection. The only choice we have is to choose why we want to be rejected: for playing big and reaching our full potential or for playing timidly with the fear of what others will say.

If we manage to eliminate this fear, we also eliminate the mental blocks that prevent us from reaching our full potential, playing freely without fear of failing, missing opportunities, playing poorly, or having to prove anything about our tennis or ourselves. We simply play focused on the match, giving our best in every point. Then, the close match against a strong opponent becomes a challenge that allows us to bring out the best in ourselves, rather than a source of blocks and fears that prevent us from enjoying the match, the opponent, and our tennis.

To stop freezing on the court, it’s crucial to find out what core fear is holding you back, whether it’s the fear of looking foolish, fear of rejection, fear of what others will say, fear of not feeling competent on the court, fear of not being good enough, fear of failure, fear of not achieving your goals, fear of not being loved if you don’t perform well, fear of not feeling valuable if you don’t win, etc.

By identifying your fear and the function of your blockage, you can free yourself from it and start playing your matches with confidence and enjoyment instead of stress, fear, and pressure.

To read this article in spanish by page 74-75please click HERE

Stay tuned for my upcoming publications.


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Parents of tennis players | The shadow of being ‘bad father’ in tennis

Parents of tennis players | The shadow of being ‘bad father’ in tennis

This weekend I participated in a Coaching seminar and got inspired by the question of a participant about her fear of being “bad mother”, I decided to write an article on the subject with the intention of opening new possibilities in the triangle that is so important in tennis. Parents-Players-Coaches.

Every day I talk with two or three parents (mother or father) of players under 18 who contact me to help their children in the mental part of their game. Many want me to help them in order to support better their children and ask me for advice on how to act in an appropriate way especially on tournaments.

They tell me that they have the feeling of not knowing how to do it well and correctly, so that their children don’t suffer or have a bad time during the competition. Their questions are: how to support them so that they don’t get angry and complain when they fail, or how to stop them from losing confidence when things go wrong, how to act when their children cry inconsolably after losing or how to improve their attitude so that they stop throwing matches they could have won. Above all they confirm that after so much effort of time, money and energy, it would be a pitty if their children waste all their talent that way and especially they tell me that they can’t see their children “suffer” so much.

One of the conditions I have, to help these young players is that, their parents also have to be willing to receive Coaching from me and to change situations that may be slowing the development of these growing talents. Most of them answer me affirmatively “of course” and in their eyes or their voices I notice how the shadow of the doubt looms up if at the end they will have to admit that they could be “bad parents” and that they have slowed the development of  their children’s talent.

Just thinking that because of their “fault” something has not worked properly or optimally and that their children don’t develop all their talent and love for tennis, is something they run away from and want to rule out all the time. The most important thing is to ensure a good healthy life and with sport far from bad habits, bad companies and ultimately do the impossible so that their children “do not suffer” since the “suffering” of their children is often used as measure to be evaluated as parents. If they suffer or go astray, there remains the doubt of maybe they’ve been “bad parents” and that maybe they didn’t do enough, so that this wouldn’t happen. Then avoiding the suffering of their children becomes something that serves to eliminate the latent fear of being a bad father that in turn entails ensuring the good future of their children.

This fear that appears at the moment in which they decide to support the tennis ambition of their children is more common, according to my experience, than what we, the professionals that surround these new players think. This fear is expressed in many ways, from leaving everything in the hands of coaches and not caring, to wanting to control everything and being too worried, going on courts and tournaments, doing parent’s job,  being coaches, managers, taxi drivers and sometimes even ball boys. If the son or daughter is the only child, what happens many times is that they do everything for them and hardly leave them any kind of responsibilities. They immediately go to their “aid.”

From my beginnings as a tennis psychologist I have heared, and I continue to hear from coaches who complain about the parents who are too involved, dominant and in “I’m controlling everything” mode, who don’t let the coaches do their work and also they stop the development of their children. Since then I have wondered what is it that makes (from a mental point of view) parents behave in such a controlling or overprotective way in this sport which is so individual and requires a lot of maturity in order to face (on their own) all kind of situations that happen on court. Also in my professional practice I find many demands from players under 18 who are angry at the slightest failure, have no tolerance for frustration, are blocked in competition and don’t know how to get out of a compromised or uncomfortable situations during the match.

As I said at the beginning of this article, the dialogue held by one of the participant of the Coaching that I attended, helped me to understand better these parents and consequently to understand the responses of anger, blockage and frustration of her children during the competition. . In this dialogue at the Coaching, the participant talked about the problem she had with her teenage children, she said that her kids don’t do what she tells them to. In this case it was about doing their homework. She felt that she had to be controlling them in order to ensure that the homework was going to be done. She didn’t understand why her children didn’t do what they knew they had to do without her controlling the process. This situation forced her to control daily the homework of her children since she didn’t want them to have problems at school. This daily control of the homework was an obligation and she felt that if she didn’t do that, she was a “bad mother”. The intention of not being a bad mother because of neglecting her children homework, led her to have permanent disagreements and arguments with them , which in return deteriorated the relationship with her children, created tension and took her time and energy for other important things. How to get out of this situation without running the risk of being a bad mother because of neglecting her children?

There were several aspects during this Coaching process that caught my attention most of all. This woman wanted to stop fighting with her children because of  “school homework” and to stop controlling them, but the feeling that if she did so she would neglect her children, and that she would become a bad mother who would ruin her children’s future, didn’t let her do so.

One of the aspects of Coaching was examining the conviction of being a “bad mother.” The feeling she had of intervening as a “good mother” so that her children wouldn’t suffer the consequences of “not doing their homework.” Just the idea that they could have problems at school and that they may be expelled and ruin their academic background was something she could never forgive to herself. The Coach’s question was why she wanted so badly to avoid that her children experienced and suffered the consequences of their behavior and acts? Why overprotect and control them? If she controls and forces them, she deprives them of experiencing what happens if they don’t do their homework, deprives them of suffering the consequences, so that they can decide what they want and what they don’t want in their lives. This overprotection and control nullified them in their ability to make decisions and take responsibility for the consequences. It minimizes the development of their ability to react to adverse situations, their resistance to frustration and their ability to solve problems.

This new freedom of her children being able to experience the negative consequences of their behavior, so that they can consciously choose how to face adverse situations, also meant for her as a mother, the risk of her children making the wrong decisions and ruining their lives.

Here comes a new aspect of Coaching that I found very interesting with the question of, if there is a causal relationship between “being
a good student at school” and “having a good life.” Obviously no. We have many examples like Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, etc that this causal relationship doesn’t exist. There are a lot of people that were very good students at school and had a bad life and very bad students at school who had a very good life and vice versa. Then there is no causal relationship in this case and it’s very interesting to examine our convictions about whether there is true causation. And regarding tennis, whether a good tennis career leads you surely to a good life.

This mental causality of the participant along with the desire of protecting her children from suffering, led her to be a controlling, demanding and a stressed out mother, and all that kind of things. She didn’t want to be like this with her children but she couldn’t avoid it.

A final aspect that I also found very interesting was the question of, whether our participant as a mother “trusted her children” and in their intention of being good students. Her answer was yes and that many times she couldn’t understand why they weren’t consistent in their behavior. The option that was opened at the Coaching was instead of controlling and demanding, to speak with her children from the confidence and ask them what their intention was regarding the school. Opening a dialogue of empowerment and support, from trust rather than distrust.

Here the key word is “empowering” and about this aspect I will write a new article analyzing important and necessary factors in order to be relaxed and more idle parents who fully support their children’s career.

If as a father and mother you want me to talk with you and your child to see how I can help you, click here to book your FREE MENTAL-COACHING SESSION with me:

I will be delighted to meet you and give you an individual step by step plan that will allow you in a short period of time to TAKE THE TENNIS CAREER OF YOUR CHILD TO A NEW LEVEL OF SUCCESS.

To read this article in spanish: “La sombra de ser `mal padre`en tenis” please click HERE

Stay tuned for my upcoming publications.


If you also want to receive my free eBook “Mental Training oncourt”  by signing up for my newsletter and continuing to improve your mental ability, sign up here to download it. IMPORTANT: you will receive by mail a link that you have to activate to confirm your registration to my Newsletter and be able to download the eBook for free:
Tus datos están protegidos y no serán entregados a terceros.