Mental Toughness | ATP

Whether or not you agree, it’d be tough to argue Serena Williams hasn’t had an impact on women’s tennis and what it means to be an athlete, period. Her 27-year professional career is one of the longest in her sport’s history.

And the mental toughness she’s consistently displayed throughout the decades is certainly noteworthy, says Eric A. Zillmer, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and the Carl R. Pacifico Professor of Neuropsychology and an athletic director emeritus at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

“Some people may be ‘broken’ by a crisis, while others emerge from a stressful experience sometimes even stronger than before,” he says. An abundance of research backs this up.

While mental toughness is talked about often in sports, it translates to everyday life as well. “Mental toughness and resilience can be learned,” Zillmer says. They’re skills and qualities that are accessible to everyone.

Ultimately, it’s about treating yourself well and cultivating a sense of purpose and belonging in the world.

Losing is a key part of competitive tennis. Here are three examples of how to better deal with it….

1. Find Joy in a Highly Competitive Sport — and Show It

It’s no secret that tennis is an especially high-pressure sport. Players compete alone, travel often, and are subject to constant scrutiny by the press and the sport itself.

Williams’s appreciation for all aspects of her sport, not just winning, is key to her success. “Sports by definition is competitive, hard, stressful, and deals with a constantly changing environment,” Zillmer says. Learning to enjoy all the ups, downs, and pressures of the job, at least to some degree, is the very definition of resilience and mental toughness.

2. Find Motivation in Setbacks

Serena Williams wasn’t always great. “When I was little, I was not very good at tennis. I was so sad when I didn’t get all the early opportunities that Venus got, but that helped me. It made me work harder, turning me into a savage fighter.”

She’s fought her way out of many scoreboard holes to win matches (including, famously, the 2012 U.S. Open championship match), and has been dubbed the “queen of comebacks”.

That kind of determination in the face of adversity is part of what defines mental toughness. Rivalry is a great way for people to learn resilience starting at a young age. Learning to cope with failure early on, and even be motivated by it, is another thing that sets certain individuals apart.

3. Lose With Grace

Losing is part of ALL sports. And Williams has lost many tennis matches throughout her career. She does it with grace — even when she lost the (presumed) final match of her career.

“Dealing with winning is easy, but losing is tough,” Zillmer says. If and when a loser does muster up that good sportsmanship, s)he actually has a lot more to gain by doing it graciously than sorely.

“In sports psychology, losing graciously can also help someone maintain belief in themselves, even after (or because of) a setback.” It can help keep your confidence up, which makes you more likely to succeed in the future.

Extract:Christine ByrneSeptember 8, 2022