Sunday was the start of the spring season for ALTA which is a tennis league here in Atlanta. Among tennis types, it is a pretty big deal. Over the past several years, tennis has kind of taken a back seat to other sporting activities in my life but makes an appearance here and there when I have time. In ALTA, I tend to run into two types of people. The types that either plays for fun or the type that are super competitive. I am in the playing for fun category. Not that I don't want to win - I definitely do - but I prefer a friendly match. I am sort of the cruise director on the court. I like to know that everyone is having a good time.
Sunday, my tennis partner and I were playing against an overly competitive type. One tell tale sign that you are dealing with such a type is that they start with the mind games. (There are actually books telling you how to get into the mind of your tennis opponent). Normally, they have a game face on and are not overly friendly from the start. Such was the case with this woman. There was a small band aid on the court near the net during warm up. It looked like it had not been used - not bloody or particularly gross - but she insisted on picking it up. She wanted the band aid off the court so badly that she rifled through the trash to find a napkin with several pieces of gum stuck to it to use to pick up the band aid. Touching that nasty trash seemed like a better idea than just leaving the band aid on the court. When we won the toss and elected to let them serve, her remark was "oh good that is what we wanted". When a ball would hit the net, she would insist that we pick it up immediately because it distracted her (in 99% of matches, you would just push the ball up into the net and leave it there until the point ended). She would take an excessive amount of time to walk on the court/pick up balls/serve. Had she just done any one of these things on their own, I wouldn't have given it a second thought; however, doing all these things throughout the match really seemed to be more of a way to try and get in our heads. It works to some extent because you catch yourself thinking about what a psycho this person is and less about your game. Once you settle in and get over the attempts to control the mental game it becomes kind of funny. Our mental game was stronger than our opponent's attempts to get in our head. It doesn't always work out that way.
I can think of plenty of times where I lost what should have been an easy match because something had me off my game. Something might have been said or done or maybe something happened before the match and unrelated to the match that had my mind elsewhere. I had a coach tell me that they felt the reason I had been on a little losing streak was not so much my game but that mentally I needed to become more competitive. Probably true. I know I do have a fair amount of mental toughness but I think it only comes only comes into play in certain scenarios. Usually I see it in situations where I have no other choice. A perfect example is at B2B last year. I lost my aero bottle in the first half mile of the ride. Something like that could really throw your entire day. It definitely changed my hydration plan and added to the number of stops I ended up having to make during that leg. I stressed out over it for a couple of miles and came up with Plan B. I think that was pretty much mental toughness in effect right there but I really had no other choice. What was I going to do, toss in all the training I had put in and walk the bike back to the rack because I lost my water bottle?
The mind is such a crazy thing. One thought, action or off handed comment can so easily start whirling around in your head and change your day (or your tennis game). I know I am susceptible to that stuff so I try hard to develop the skin of an armadillo. CR tells me all the time that I need to worry less about what people think and just do my thing. Easier said than done. Sunday, on the tennis court, my armadillo armor must have been in full effect. Maybe you can teach this old dog new tricks :)