Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Oct 1, 2000 – Dr. John F. Murray – In tennis, as in life, there are times when performance and effort subsides. This often occurs right after some success is realized. After winning a tournament or achieving a top ranking, it is very common to experience a performance reduction due to a subtle letdown. In essence, players become fat with success! While this is human nature, champions learn how to avoid this danger. This month, we’ll explore the keys to thinking like a champion by embracing challenge.

Whether you’ve just reached number one on your high school tennis team, or won the French Open, this is when you most need to realize how fragile and temporary your position is. Like winning a Super Bowl, the word is out and everyone guns for you. Add to this the fact that you might enjoy your victory a little too much. There are numerous associated problems such as becoming predictable, losing creativity and thinking you’ve got it made.

Most athletes learn this month’s lesson the hard way, after it is too late and they have to scratch and crawl back to the top following a dip in performance. Let’s anticipate this problem before it occurs. Let’s assume you’ve just had great success, however you define that. Here are some things to do to keep challenge alive, and avoid falling victim to human nature:

1. Make Your Game Even Better

Think you’ve got it made? Think again! Remember there are 1,000 levels in tennis. Right after success, get back to the court and figure out how to make that backhand passing shot even better. Discover a more confident mental approach too. Give yourself a brief pat on the back for your recent success, then forget about it, roll up your sleeves, and make your game even better.

2. Develop a Sense of Urgency

When you practice, do it with a real vigor, focusing on every shot and striving to improve sooner, not later. This urgency will keep you attentive to the task and challenged to make the most of your time.

3. Keep Doing What You Do Best

Maybe your game is baseline consistency. Perhaps it’s an aggressive serve and volley. Whatever it is, challenge yourself to keep doing what works for you. Never change a winning pattern of play just to keep life interesting. A baseline game is only boring if you don’t challenge yourself to become sharper on your angles, depth, pace, and spin. Your practices and matches become more interesting when you remind yourself about the never-ending complexity and challenge of what you do best.

4. Add a New Twist

While sticking with the basics is essential, it’s also important to continually challenge yourself to come up with new solutions to your greatest problems. Why can’t you beat that one opponent? What can you do to get more control and pace on your shots while moving to the right? Keep on thinking about minor additions to your game and you will be naturally challenged by seeking knowledge.

5. Walk the Walk

If you want to improve your first service percentage, don’t just talk about it. Take a bucket of balls out to the court and hit serves for a half hour every day. Count your first serve percentage while challenging yourself to hit difficult targets. The only way that goals work is if you do too. Don’t just set goals–get out there and execute!

By fully engaging yourself in difficult and exciting challenges, there is never room for complacency or boredom. A challenge is always enjoyable, your energies are in the right place, and you avoid one of your greatest foes � yourself.