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Pressure is Like Trash

Dear Dr. Valverde:

I have been taken out of tournaments for awhile to work on my game and mostly my attitude on the court. My parents want me to start figuring out a game plan to get my game together. So far I have thought about why I get mad. I have realized that I am scared what my friends or people around me will think if I lose. In my division there are a lot of stuck-up cocky kids, and all they care about is who is good, and who sucks. I feel like I am scared of what they will think if I lose to someone bad. Even when people walk by and watch me play I don't want them to think I suck, and all this leads up to getting mad, and upset. I would like to know if you have any ideas on how to help my game plan. C.E.

Dear C.E:

I am glad to hear that you have identified one of the sources of pressure you are feeling: peer pressure. Congratulations on beginning the wonderful process of raising your awareness about what produces pressure in you. It is highly likely that you will discover more sources of negative pressure along the way, so just remember to deal with them one at a time. In regard to peer pressure, I recommend you do to the following:

1. Realize that you cannot control what your peers think of you. Even when you are playing great, they may convince themselves that you are not. The key principle here is to focus on things that you have absolute control over. Worrying about what others think about your performance is a waste of your mental energy, a big distraction and a tremendous source of pressure.

2. Understand that you cannot think about two things at once. In other words, if you focus on what others may be thinking in regard to your performance, you cannot concentrate on your game plan, on taking care of your physical needs (deep breathing, taking time between points, drinking enough water, keeping your eyes on the court, etc.) or on any other contributing factors to playing your best, like the weather and court conditions.

3. Create a recipe for success, a blue print. Write a script (a short, descriptive essay) detailing the way you play when you perform your best. Organize this script into four parts: a) your physical effort: foot work, energy, etc. b) your technique: your strokes -- your weapons in particular c) your strategy: explain the way you win points and d) your mental toughness: the way you concentrate, your belief in yourself, your determination and your courage. The end result is your script for success (*).

4. Internalize your script for success by doing the following: a) read it often, in particular right before going to sleep and as soon as you wake up in the morning b) summarize your script by writing key positive phrases after each paragraph, along with drawings or magazine clippings that reflect your ideas c) memorize your script summary.

5. Visualize yourself playing your best tennis, guided by your script summary. Do this in a relaxed state of mind, for twenty-one consecutive days -- preferably using a relaxation technique like the Alpha Technique described in my Mental Preparation Program. You will be amazed at how powerful it is to couple a script summary with guided imagery.

6. Take your script summary to your matches, and read it at every change over. This will keep you focused on what you can control: your body and your mind.

7. Remember that your mind is like a sponge. The process described above will allow you to saturate your mind with the right kind of information. As a result, when you will find yourself under pressure, what you will get out of this powerful sponge is what you have put in -- your script for success. And what you think about, you bring about!

I look forward to hearing your exciting results as you faithfully follow these seven steps. And know that you can use these guidelines to deal with any other pressure factors that you may discover.

Pressure is like trash: if you fail to deal with it properly, you will pay the consequences sooner or later. So start working on your script for success immediately -- right now! Champions act with a sense of urgency, because the alternative (procrastination) is simply one more source of pressure.