In a broad sense, tennis is a game of controlled risk. The successful players take the minimum risk necessary to accomplish their objectives. Along these lines, they know their own limitations and virtually never hit the ball so hard that it is out of control, sensing that in doing so the percentages are against them.
Bystanders may think it is courageous to whack the ball and go for a big shot in important situations, but champions don't do it unless they have a legitimate core feeling that they will make the shot.
The less successful, on the other hand, will insist on forcing the big shot even when they are fearful and lack confidence in the shot. Consequently, they will usually miss and lose.
Hitting hard and hoping the ball will go in is a formula for disaster in tennis. It is like playing the ring toss game and throwing the ring from across the street. In tennis, the winning players don't hope. They control the ball and hit shots that they feel they can routinely make.
As you might imagine, Jeff used to go for big shots in the important situations. And as you also might imagine, he used to miss them. That was bad enough, but it was even less helpful when he urged his teammates to do the same thing.
Accepting Responsibility for Outcomes
In one big match against a rival school the score was tied at four matches all. The deciding match was being played and the members of both teams were crowded along the sidelines, verbally driving their teammate on.
The tension grew as the match progressed deep into the third set. Finally our guy reached match point by getting an ad on his opponent's serve. Our guy needed a good serve return but that would not be easy since the opponent had a nasty serve and the pressure of the situation made hitting any shot difficult.
In these circumstances my usual advice is to take a deep breath, pick a spot for your return, focus on the ball, and play the point as routinely as possible.
Since your opponent is under as much pressure as you are, you need to avoid trying a wild, panicky shot. This usually results in a quick error and lets your opponent off the hook without having to play.
But the advice Jeff shouted out to his teammate exemplified the loser's mentality. "Take a chance. Go for it!" he yelled. He was speaking for himself and was endorsing the old "hit and hope" strategy.
Jeff had put into words what I had sensed about him all along, which was his desire to give up responsibility for outcomes. Not trusting in his own ability to perform (but pretending that he did), Jeff was only too happy to put his fate in the hands of the Gods -- and remove it from his own.
If Jeff could have acknowledged his own fears and insecurities he could have helped himself. He needed to face the fact that his nerves would not allow him to go for a big shot in certain high-pressure situations.
Realizing this, Jeff could have worked on relaxation and focusing techniques that would have allowed him to perform better. He could have attempted less demanding shots in these situations.
Faking it and lying to himself only doomed him to endlessly repeat his original errors.
By contrast, the people that take responsibility themselves -- that take pains to control their own destinies and are willing to accept the consequences -- be it in business, sport or life are the ones that win.
Those that don't (like Jeff) get beaten.
Search for your next tennis event.