In the field of competition an athlete will come across many different kinds of opponents. The various kinds of opponents an individual can face makes competition unique and difficult to predict. In this article we will look into a player developing his/her identity as well as developing the ability to block out the various distractions opponents can bring to competition through their actions and presence.
All athletes have to abide by the rules of their sport and specifically the competition they are engaged in. Breaking rules, or stretching them is common in sports and something humans in general engage in quite frequently. Pushing the boundaries and finding ways to get around the rules seems to be an innate desire of humanity. Cheating or various degrees of unsportsmanlike behavior should be expected in competitive arenas particularly when the intensity of the competition is high. In our culture of winning is everything, athletes have to be ready to cope with the frustration of cheating happening to them.
In tennis, cheating can occur frequently on several levels. Many tennis players tend to cheat by calling balls out when in fact they are in, some try to cheat by calling the wrong score intentionally, others try to cheat by miss-using the time they have between points, games, or sets, and others cheat by being overly verbal during a point or between points. While all these are types of cheating there are varying degrees of what one can do to address the behavior. In tennis, calling a line judge or official is the simplest and most effective way at controlling overt cheating. This action also gives the responsibility of dealing with the issue to someone else allowing the player to focus on what he/she can control (which is his/her actions, thoughts, emotions and motivational level). Bringing in an official many times forces the opponent to evaluate his/her actions and deal with a third party authority if the cheating continues.
When cheating isn’t overt, or the issue is mainly that the opponent is being annoying or rude, the options the player has of cope with the situation comes down to simple emotional and thought control/regulation. (In a previous article on athlete attention discussion on focus and dealing with distractions covered in a greater detail).
Controlling emotions and how an opponent impacts a players focus is critical when playing an individual who is obnoxious verbally. For a player who runs into an opponent who is verbally annoying, there are two options: focusing on the other person or focusing on yourself. While is it easy to say this, and seems oversimplified, these are really only two options. Great players focus on what they can control and work to do that the best that they can to do that. They create rituals, thought control techniques, and participate in mental training to enforce their abilities to focus and control their play. It is important to analyze the opponents strengths and weaknesses and to devise a plan to attack them but there is a limit to the amount of focus one should have on their opponent. Focusing on the opponent too much and allowing them to take control and dominate the situation can and will effect a player more than it should.
When an athlete walks on the court or competition site he/she needs to know who they are. They need to know that they have the ability to win as well as know how to get the best out of themselves. They need to know their strengths, weaknesses, as well as have well defined goals and strategies to achieve those goals. All of this plays into a players identity. A player with a solid identity will have the upper hand in a competition as they will not loose sight of themselves which typically happens when that player focuses too much on the opponent.
Opponents come in many different shapes and sizes. For an athlete to succeed they need to know their own talents and abilities, have an awareness of what the opponent brings to the competition ability wise, and to focus on what he/she can control in the competition. In tennis many athletes loose matches because they get distracted from their goals, abilities, & strategies. Bad line calls, obnoxious behavior, or some form of inappropriate sportsmanship will happen. In these situations a player who focuses too much energy on the opponent or other outside factors will not maintain the control over their game. The number one key to success is to develop control over oneself knowing what responsibility one has day in and day our. The best way to deal with an opponent is for a player to allow their opponent to be who they are while continuing to be who he/she is without doubt or distraction.