ETI 022 | Relish the Contest

  • ETI 022 Relish the Contest
    ETI 022 Relish the Contest

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Relishing the contest.  Appreciating the opponent.  Understanding (really) the rules of a contest.

To my mind, some matches are determined before ever hitting the first ball.  We have all been in situations where we knew immediately that the opponent had no chance – and equally we have all been in situations where we knew immediately that we had no chance.  None at all.

The fun occurs, when we play an evenly matched opponent.  And in these contest, both players have an even chance to win.

Look for these opportunities.  Keep your cool.  You can be ahead and blow this lead, you can play from behind and catch up – but in any event there is chance, there is luck, there are a few balls close to the line.

Contests are fun – if you see them that way!

P.S. – I will be at the BNP Paribas in Indian Wells March 10 – 12.  Drop me a note if you will be there as well – we can hook up on the tournament grounds the afternoon of the 11th.

P.P.S.  As regards respect for the opponent and respect for the game – this photo from Jim Fawcette tells it all!




  • Adam Chan

    Reply Reply April 2, 2013

    Yes… I try very hard to keep telling myself but without much success a lot of the time. Don’t worry about winning or losing as I prepare to serve or receiving a serve, think about the next shot, eye on the ball, split step, shoulder turn… I can only keep trying!!

  • Armand

    Reply Reply March 30, 2013

    Once again, insightful and helpful. Well said Jim. Thank YOU!!

  • kwok

    Reply Reply March 7, 2013


    I just got back from Indian Wells. I was lucky to see Federer and Dimitrov practice, separately. Keep your eyes open for Dimitrov, his style is almost exactly like Roger. His one-handed backhand is more explosive than Roger,s, in my opinion.
    Sorry i cannot go again.


    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply March 8, 2013

      Kwok – sorry I will miss you at Indian Wells – last year our ball kids worked a match for Dimitrov – and yes what a beautiful game and backhand – the serve may need some minor adjustments – but how fun to watch – stay in touch

  • Mogens Kock Hansen

    Reply Reply March 7, 2013

    Hi Jim,
    sorry can’t be there, as I live in Switzerland. Have a good time over there. Think of putting on your sun glasses again. Bad to be in the blazing sun without wearing them! All the best. Thanks for this valuable pod cast.

  • Kevin Todd

    Reply Reply March 7, 2013

    Hi Jim,
    I’m there on the 11th.
    Look forward to meeting you and your fans.

  • jeff sandler

    Reply Reply March 7, 2013

    Hey Jim,

    Another stellar job on a very provoking issue: Why do we play tennis?

    Do we play for external gratification ie: the score board, my opponent, everyone watching and all my “bragging rights” friends know I won – or – for internal gratification ie: the mere act of playing my best tennis and developing /advancing my game makes me feel good..?

    Why do so many of us deliberately set ourselves up for the trap you reference…. Extreme focus on outcome (winning this point, saving the break, etc) has a very negative effect on performance. In the words of Jack Welch of GE fame, “If you aim at nothing you’re bound to hit it” translates here to “If you worry too much about not losing this point you’re bound to lose it!”

    Perhaps Michael Jordan, one of the most competitive to ever play sports taught us all a lesson with his “Love of the Game” clause, whenever, wherever he wanted to play for the love of playing he played, even when no one was keeping score. How much you want to bet when he played pickup ball he did’t need a score to confirm his skill level, nor his Love of Playing!

    I believe your lesson is huge, but I’m not sure I can fully break the old habits because if I do there won’t be much “bragging” left to do about my game! Just how human is that dilemma…?

    Keep the great stuff coming!

    Jeff from NJ

  • Kevin Todd

    Reply Reply March 7, 2013

    Hi Jim,
    I’ll be at the PNB Paribas on the 10th. I would love to meet you so email me when and where.

    I’m a HS Coach and use your advice and pass it on to the kids.
    Thanks, Kevin

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply March 7, 2013

      Kevin – I arrive late on the 10th and am having a meeting with this group on the 11th at 1pm in the covered area close to the scoreboards – are you there on the 11th as well?

  • Sigurd

    Reply Reply March 7, 2013

    Very good words Jim!

    I try to say to myself before a match: don´t think about the outcome, try to play well instead! Sometimes that works…The problem for me could be: I have 15-40 against a gay I usually loose to (he serves). It could be the first game of the match. In this sitauation, I start to think about the score and that I have the chance to win the game and I play more carefully just to keep the ball inside the lines. What happens? He wins the game of course and I feel bad about not taking risks at 15-40. The he rapidly goes to 3-0, that´s a great difference for the match and for my feeling. This happens over and over for me. How do you think and play when you have two (one) breakpoint(s)?

    Kind regards,


  • Carol

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    This is great advice, and whenever I leave for a match and my husband tells me to bring back a win, I always remind him that I want to bring back the satisfaction of playing well. Nothing beats the feeling of having a great match, competing well, and enjoying this splendid sport of ours.

  • Joc Anderson

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    Jim, I live in Rancho Mirage, CA. I plan to be at the BNP on Thursday, March 7. Hope we can hook up.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply March 7, 2013

      Joc – I am there from the 10th thru the 12th – and coordinating a meet amongst us at 1pm on the 11th at the covered area near the scoreboards near the circular corona bar

  • Fernando

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    Jim, I relish your podcasts. This was one of the best. I really liked the phrase “Play well and the outcome will take care of itself.”

    I just like to contribute by asking: what do you think about creating contest when there is a clear gap between our level and the opponent level?

    For example, if I am better than my opponent, there is no doubt I will win, but maybe it is a contest to win by 6/1 6/1… In this case winning by 6/2 6/2 is loosing.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply March 7, 2013

      Fernando – when the two skills are dissimilar (a gap) I think one can still focus on playing the ball – meaning performance

  • Max

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    Like several of the other posters, I, too teach (photography, not tennis) and have for several years placed much of my emphasis on what I call ‘process’, though it seems a close cousin to ‘performance’ in this arena.

    In my experience, the results of a process/performance-oriented approach speak for themselves and have the side benefit of bestowing upon my students a continuously growing sense of self confidence.


    FWIW, I’ve found when I think only in terms of being in the moment and looking for ways to create scoring opportunities, my performance is much more in line with my skills as I know them in practice, whereas every time I mentally wander into either results-thinking or frustration the wheels begin to wobble.

    Thanks very much for sharing your performance insight. Excellent advice for tennis and life.

  • Robert

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    Over the last year or so of rebuilding my game and finding a new group of guys who were higher level to play with to apply what I was learning, I have had a good number of opportunities to leave the court discouraged after I reverted to old habits and what I was trying to learn just did not come out at that speed of play. I reminded myself that this was not going to happen in a day or a week or a month, and I made notes on paper or mentally of specific items I noticed, such as getting off balance forward on my TS backhand (footwork) or dropping the racket head too far and opening it on TS forehand (two or three mechanics issues). This gave me a better target to focus on in practice. I also noted things I had done well, such as a nice TS drive or sequence at net, regardless of the outcome of the point. This let me notice things like the put away volley I got too strong on but still (luckily) landed inside the line. The focus both ways becomes the details involved — preparation, stroke mechanics, footwork, court positioning, recognition of situation. And the outcomes are getting better and better. I thank Jim very much for this suggestion.

  • john Graham

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    You’re right! When I am trying to win, I get up tight and am more prone to make errors. When I am more into hitting my shots with good form, good footwork, and proper finish, and not worrying about winning or losing, that relaxes me. Performance, not winning or losing.

  • Rebecca Pick

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    Thank you. This is just what our tennis instructor, Tom Leonard, from Fairfax Racquet Club always tells us.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply March 6, 2013

      Rebecca – is that the Tom Leonard who played the circuit and was from USC?

  • John Rasmussen

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    I often think about these things, although I do not express them like you do. I am thinking right now that point counting is set up in tennis to amplify the difference between the players. If you are just slightly better than your opponent in each game of a set then you will win 6-0.

    So slight differences have a large influence, and this is what makes tennis players hysterical about small things. The focus on small things is what distracts us from what really matters. So I try not to care whether I lose or win and rather focus on whether I played well. But it is hard, hard, hard,

  • Greg

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    Wow, that was a prompt response!
    Seemingly simple, l do find your answer deep and helpful! Thanks so much, Jim!

  • Rod macgregor

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    Thanks Jim this is what I tell my students as well. But , for many it is always the out come

  • Greg

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    Couldn’t agree more! Thanks Jim! Do you have any tips on how to rid you mind of the outcome, if outcome really, really matters?

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply March 6, 2013

      Greg – this is a game for a lifetime – so in many ways these things can be resolved only slowly and bit by bit – but if winning is the goal things are different than if performance is the goal

  • Bud Light

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    Jim: As usual, you hit the nail on the head. This is wonderful and very perceptive advice. I try always to remember about concentration on performance rather than the outcome and try my best to teach my students this. So many things can happen in the course of a game and/or a set that are often beyond one’s control and as a result we often lose focus on what we’re out there to do. Essentially, to have fun and give it our best and focus on the moment. Thanks for the reminder! Bud Light

  • Dave Ragone

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    Your comment on the mental part of the game reminded me of a short poem I was inspired to compose after blowing a match.

    As I stand on the court with the score in my favor
    The wind’s at my back, and a win I can savor.
    It’s really not hard. I’ll coast home from here.
    Except for my nerves there’s nothing to fear
    Just a deftly hit drop or a neatly placed lob
    Is all that it takes to finish the job.
    But it takes more than shots to finish the grind
    It also involves the state of your mind.
    And that’s how they tell the men from the boys,
    The boys have the shots, the men have the poise.

  • Carlos

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    You have to become somewhat Zen: the outcome does not matter.

  • Joan Mockford

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    Hi…. just to say I love your tips ! I’m a 64 yr old woman who is still trying to improve ! wish I’d had the opportunity to learn to play as a child.
    I will be signing up to receive more info from you on my return from vacation…. in April.
    Many thanks…. the kick serve / 2nd serve has been great for me as I relied on this after a shoulder op.
    Joan Mockford

  • Q

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    The more you want to win the outcome of a match, the more your mind wants to control the performance by helping it! That is what causes so many problems.

    I think the smarter you are, the more you think you can use your mind to control the situation, however as I think about it, the more I give myself a game plan, and focus on that, and not the outcome, the better I do.

    So if I have it right, in your words, my game plan is your “playing well!”

    Or How can I just leave my mind at the court gate?


  • jma

    Reply Reply March 6, 2013

    I really like the concept of “Play well and the outcome will take care of itself”. I focus on the process (balance poise, court positioning, hit the ball in the contact zone and not beyond etc). This video is a good reminder for me. Thx.

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