Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Nov 1, 1997 – Dr. John F. Murray – What does it mean to say that an athlete displayed outstanding competitiveness? How can you become more competitive and successful in tennis? This month we’ll take another tool from the mental equipment stockpile and add it to your personal arsenal.

What is Competitiveness?

For many tennis players and fans, “competitiveness” evokes memories of Jimmy Connors’ never-say-die perseverance or John McEnroes’ cleverly timed outbursts. However, sport psychologists use this term to describe much more than extreme desire or tactics. From this perspective, competitiveness involves the whole range of attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and behavior associated with the pursuit of excellence and the long-term journey of getting there.

Competitiveness has also been described as achievement motivation in sport. Recall the September, 1996 article, The Motivation to Achieve, which discussed the advantages of striving for success over attempting to avoid failure. Although we all desire optimal performance, match outcome is actually impossible to control. Luckily, our responses to outcome are within our control and highly related to competitiveness and future performance.

Explaining Performance Outcome

How do you explain your wins and losses to yourself? Research indicates these self-explanations are closely related to your level of competitiveness and future performance. Follow the lead of the effective competitors to enhance your growth in tennis.

Following A Win

Highly competitive tennis players believe that success results from stable factors such as talent and ability and internal factors such as effort and health. On the contrary, less effective competitors attribute success to unstable factors such as luck and external factors such as opponent weakness. The message here is to give yourself full credit for your wins without minimizing your part in a successful performance. This will increase your confidence and motivation for your next match.

Following A Loss

Highly competitive tennis players attribute failure to unstable factors such as poor strategy and external factors like opponent strength. Failure for players low in competitiveness is ascribed to stable factors such as low ability and internal factors such as reduced interest. After a failure, it is in your interest to credit the opponent’s performance but realize that conditions can easily change next time to increase your chances for success. This will keep you hungry and positive in your pursuit of redemption.

Here are a few more ways to improve your competitiveness on the court:

Make sure that you are setting task rather than outcome goals. Review the May 1996 article, The Art of Goal Setting. Remember that focusing on “winning” does little to actually help you win.

Anticipate the enjoyment and thrill of competition (See the March 1997 article, Keeping Tennis Thrilling). Learn to thrive on the chance to play in front of others.

Find opponents that are near your own ability level or slightly better. Thrive on situations where there is a legitimate chance of losing and never walk from a healthy challenge.

Learn to control your explanations for winning and losing and you will be more competitive in your next match. Look forward to the excitement of the match and your competitiveness may even scare your opponent.