For those of you who know me, you know that I’ve been a devoted tennis player. That is, until I injured myself and turned to other forms of exercise and activity. I didn’t say I was a “good” tennis player. I said I was a “devoted” tennis player. At least two, and more likely three or more times each week, I was out on the courts with my tennis partner…wanting to win and yet prepared to lose. That’s a secret to losing at tennis, and at life. Preparing to lose. And boy did I lose.

I didn’t, and don’t, lose purposely. I really, really want to win. Sometimes I do. Though I half-jokingly think I didn’t win, he just lost. That’s yet another secret to losing at tennis, and at life. Thinking you didn’t “win,” when you did.

Enough with the secrets to losing.

What’s the secret to winning? Attitude. The link is always what you think. And when it comes to winning at anything in life–sports, career, relationships, health, fitness, what your ears hear your mouth say, what you think, is what it’s all about.

Prepare to lose? How about the self-confidence to know you already won. Not “will win” but “already won.” The confidence that your abilities and focus offer you can provide you with the same knowledge that the seasoned farmer has, who “knows” the crops will grow—not hoping, wishing, praying—knowing. The farmer grows his own seeds, the tennis player who wins plays his or her own game and the head of the successful company runs his or her own company, not anyone else’s. Thorough, all-embracing and complete belief in oneself to the point of knowing in advance one has already won, that’s what winning tennis players and those who win in life bring with them. Winners always have a positive attitude, even if they don’t play their best. Why? They win more with their heart than anything else.

Imagine that. You can win even if you don’t play your best. And you can lose if you do.

Unlike many sports, but just like life, tennis is (except for doubles) a solitary endeavor. There is no team coaching and the player is literally on her/his own. No one can really share the emotions of the player as the match unfolds. Thus, it takes a special type of mindset to play this game competitively, yet joyously. The same hold true for the game of life. No coaches – except for “life coaches” maybe.

Let’s begin with your eyes. I cannot begin to tell you how important vision is in this game and in life. What you do with your eyes during and in between points is critical. You want to lose? Keep your eye OFF the ball, OFF the main target in your life that you are shooting for.

Another point to consider in losing is what you do between points. The time to think and analyze is in between games, between events in life, not during them. If you want to lose, carry this with you out on the court, during tests, presentations and difficult situations.

Frequently, you will read that tennis players should stay in the present, and I couldn’t agree more. Thinking about what has happened is usually not productive until you are in between games. If you make a poor shot, so be it. There is no rule that says you will make it again! Shake it off. Put it behind you. Don’t regret it. Move and and forget it. Same in life.

Realize that you must play not one-point at a time, but one stroke at a time. This is what present-tense thinking is really all about. Want to lose? Think ahead, think about the past, think about the past, think about anything but the present. It’s one day at a time, one stroke at a time.

Thinking into the future is equally undesirable. It is very difficult not to think about winning or losing a match while you are playing it. Still, not doing so is necessary, if you truly want to compete. Once you allow yourself to start thinking about the win/loss aspect of your game in life, your focus is not in the present.

Listen to pros when they are interviewed. They rarely, if ever, want to think too far into the future. Everything in this game has to be taken one step at a time. Want to lose? Keep your mind on winning and losing, keeping score, comparing yourself constantly to others and focusing on how you come up short.

Another aspect of the mental game that you can change, if necessary, is your on-court self-talk. You want to lose? Listen to your negative statements that bring out negative feelings and thoughts. If you are chastising yourself on the court – or in the classroom or at work or in your backyard — for making a mistake, your whole body reacts negatively. Instead of saying “You idiot. How could you miss that?” Try something like “Wow. Next time I know I will make this shot. I see it done already” The latter is a positive response to a negative situation. This is what all tennis players need to learn to do.

How can one learn to do this? Well again, it takes practice. You must stop yourself every time you find yourself beginning to say a negative statement. This has to be done on the court and off the court. It is especially important while practicing. Learn to convert your thoughts into positive statements like “No problem. I will get it next time.”

Believe me. Positive self-talk makes the game of tennis and life much more enjoyable…especially, when you lose!

What is the goal of tennis and life? Is it winning? The goal should be improvement…not winning and losing. Want to lose? Only think about winning and losing. Ignore your progress, that is generally one or two steps forward and one step backward. Ignore the general trend of moving forward. This will assure you lose. Progress over time is the really sensible goal.

Winning and losing is an emotional roller coaster. You will win some you shouldn’t, and lose some you shouldn’t. If all you are worried about is the win/loss record, you are going to find that you need a good gastroenterologist for the inevitable ulcers you will develop.

Our tennis pro neighbor, Rod Laver, once said, “The worst thing that could happen is that I would lose a game of tennis.” In other words, it’s not death. But, if you want to lose, take the perspective that losing is a major disaster from which you cannot or will not recover. Believe me, you can and will recover.

So let’s review how to lose.

  1. Don’t control your negative thinking.
  2. Don’t control your concentration.
  3. Don’t keep your eye on the target.
  4. Think only about winning while playing.
  5. Fill your mind with anything but the present.
  6. Call yourself names.
  7. Play everyone else’s game.
  8. Believe the names you think others are calling you.
  9. Feed your negativity.
  10. Avoid seeing your abilities.

That should do it. Practice these skills and you will be a loser in tennis…and in the game of life.