Encouragement and Instruction…Everything Else Interferes 8


“There are only two kinds of self talk when competing that are ok. Encouragement and instruction.. Everything else interferes”

My first two matches were, on first glance, uneventful. When things go well there is the opportunity to identify what contributed. Writing them down helps reinforce them. We are really good at identifying the bad stuff, but the good…well, we tend to take that a bit for granted. Maybe we think we are being arrogant or too ego driven to note how we are good. Or maybe we think we can only learn from what we do badly. So we tend to default our self reviews by looking a the negatives.

It clearly helps me list what I did well as it provides a template of successful tactics and attitudes for use going forward in future matches. Here is my list from my first two singles matches which I won 6-1, 6-0 and 6-0, 6-1.

1. I played stingy. I didn’t give away points being too casual or overconfident.
2. Maintained good self discipline on my serving rituals.
3. Found a nice balance between casual and intense.
4. In two matches I held my focus for all but one game.
5. I was respectful of my opponents without engaging with them during the match.
6. I used the title quote above.

A little more on the quote. Two nights ago we were having dinner with my long time friend, incomparable tennis champion Brian Cheney. Before going into what he shared about the mental game, a little background. Brian’s record is extraordinary. He is, indisputably, one of the greatest senior players over the last 35 years. Some view him that way because of the number of Gold Balls (National Championships) he has won, the number of senior Davis Cup teams he has played on and led to victory and how often he has been ranked #1 in the USA. Certainly all a part of it.

But more so, it is about who he is as a person. A leader for sure. A supportive partner in doubles like no other. He raises all the people around him. His middle name is integrity. He sees his game as an ongoing, always developing continuum. He clearly knows how to win and how to be a good winner, respecting every opponent as an equal. He can take a loss, accepting that on any day, things can work out in an unexpected way, that the past is no guarantee of the present day. He makes no excuses. Personally I have been lucky to be in his orb, as I am a better person for being influenced by him.

And the other night he gave me another gift with the simplicity of a statement made to a friend who was playing his first National Category 2 tournament:

“I am not expert about mental training but let me provide my two cents. There are only two kinds of self talk when competing that are ok. Encouragement and instruction. Everything else interferes.”

Wow. The simple is often the most profound. Imagine what it would be like to limit all of our self-talk to those two ideas. To be free of what brings us down and interferes with being able to operate at our best. No more internal conversations about how we are not good enough. No more self criticism. No more whining about wishing it were another way. No more regret. Just forward thinking. Support. Unemotional self correction.

I have been working on my game for 35+ years. It is never too late and I never know too much to learn something new. Thanks Brian.

Quarterfinals of the singles and doubles today.


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8 thoughts on “Encouragement and Instruction…Everything Else Interferes

  • Judy Lipstein

    That’s the Bob that I know…always, always, open to learning from every experience and happily sharing with the rest of us.

  • Stacy

    LOVE this! Think I will embroider a towel with on it for next summer’s league season! Thanks as always Bob. Best of luck in the next round of your tourney.

  • Bob Schewior

    I’d like to reinforce your point at the start of your post: unemotional self-correction should include self-praise. I’d also highlight the role of observation skills. These are what enable top players to make the subtle adjustments which can make the difference in close matches.

  • Steve Stewart

    The brilliance of this advice is how actionable it is! Anyone can put this to use — on the court and in many other daily activities. Great post !

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