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How Sociology Can Help Your Tennis Game

September 30, 2017

My favorite books to read often relate to human behavior and interactions with our environment. Books like “Social Animal,” “Your Are Now Less Dumb” and “Bounce” all have great components to how we think and react to situations. I recently read a blog by James Clear that depicts some great info on some behaviors we often do that can keep us from improving our mental state and outlook in situations. I found some similarities in tennis that I would like to share. I hope they are useful for you. Enjoy!

Survivorship Bias

This is one of the most common means of bias we see as recreational players trying to improve our tennis game. We see a professional player or instructor give advice about training and never think about how many other people that did that same training but fail. I often warn players that are using some sort of diet or exercise regimen they got from a high level player that the player might have gotten to that level despite their training, not because of it.

Although this can be inspiring to think there is a magic bullet out there that can get you to the next level, consider thinking of being more critical with your praise towards someone’s methods of accomplishments. Experiment and see what works for you. Consider finding patterns in training that multiple players share to ensure you are using the right methods for your own improvements.

Loss Aversion

This way of thinking is probably the biggest obstacle to improving ones tennis game. Loss Aversion in tennis relates to avoiding things in practice that you’re uncomfortable with. This happens because we are much more comfortable with the feeling of gaining something rather than losing something. For example, research has shown that someone who gets $10 does not feel as much of a high from gaining that money compared to the low feeling when losing $10. Although the amount is the same the mentality is not. This keeps us from wanting to improve our game since it will mean we will be losing points and even matches for awhile until we get good at the changes that will overall improve our game.

Avoid this tendency by finding hitting partners that are willing to train for the long term. This means you may want to avoid the players that only play matches or hit for fun. Find the ones willing to think outside of the box and train with a purpose to expose potential weaknesses for the future improvement you will get from it.

The Availability Heuristic

This refers to the focusing on the examples that are easy to notice that will help solidify your stand on something. This relates to tennis when players will be selective with what they notice in a match to confirm their bias. For example, I was running an adult drill recently and it involved the players to move forward on one side with the feed going to their opponents on the other side at the baseline. The player coming to the net refused to do it after getting lobbed once. She claimed that happened all the time and after four more points that were played, she pointed out again that it happened. She didn’t mention the four points between the two lobs that would have given her a great position to hit a winning volley. Not only does this happen in match play situations but also with our own self-criticism. I’ve seen it too many times when a player will self implode as they focus their attention on any bad shots they are hitting. They will literally wait until a point ends on their mistake to then criticize themselves on a poor performance.

Tennis isn’t won by being perfect. The ability to see the big picture in a match can help keep a positive outlook and mindset that can help with your chances of winning.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is similar to the previous flawed mindset in that they both look for confirmation on what they saw previously without being critical about it. In a tennis scenario, confirmation bias refers to a player seeing a pattern and ignores anything but the examples that confirm that pattern. A great example of this happened two years ago during regionals. My #1 girls high school doubles team was playing regionals. As their coach we were talking after the first three games to see what was going on as they were down 0-3. They immediately told me they were getting beat down the line and that is why they were losing. I was watching the match from a distance and I counted two times out of three games that this happened. Once we think a pattern is occurring it is hard to notice anything BUT the points that prove that pattern which keeps you away from seeing anything else that is going on in the match that could be useful for strategy purposes.

Try to have an open mind to what is going on throughout the match so you can see anything that might help benefit you. A great example is in Brad Gilbert’s book, “Winning Ugly.” He mentioned that an opponent he was playing was crushing him but noticed in the middle of the match that the guy didn’t hit very strong approach shots that allowed him to beat his opponent when the guy came to the net. Brad intentionally led the player to the net to do this and ended up winning the match. He didn’t let the other possible patterns impact his outlook on the match to find a weakness he could exploit.

Be A Better Thinker

All of these examples help show how we can be pretty irrational thinkers, especially as tennis players. Overcome this by first being aware of it and then having an open mind to think “outside of the box.” You may surprise yourself with what you can notice and change during a match to help swing the outcome your way!

Want to see how the pros turn during a match? Check out this video and help unleash some potential power you have in your groundstrokes!

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