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If we listen to our favourite athletes and coaches being interviewed after their performance, they will often refer to the fact that they focus on controlling the controllables. So, what exactly does it mean and is it realistic or is it just another well worn sporting cliché?

Essentially what it means to control the controllables is to focus on the elements of performance that we can influence rather than the outcome which we may not have control over. This is particularly important in a sport like tennis where your opponent has a massive influence on the outcome.

Elements that are in our control and have nothing to do with our opponents’ abilities include: professionalism, body language, self- talk, effort, and attitude to name a few.

Professionalism should be a no brainer for any player who is trying to make a living from the sport. They can control how they have prepared for a tournament. Completing  the necessary physical preparation, the time spent on the court honing their technical and tactical game, scouting their opponents, getting sufficient sleep, eating and drinking the appropriate amount to sustain them throughout the tournament, visualising how they will play and being in the right state of mind to perform at their optimum are all areas that a player can and should be in control of.

One exception to the preparation could be injuries but even then, the player can control how diligent they are with their recovery and will be back on court sooner as a result.

Body language is another area the player can control. When your opponent looks across the net what do they see: a confident player who believes they are the better player or someone who is one bad point or decision away from a total breakdown? Your body language can have a major bearing on what your opponent feels and in turn can have a major influence on the outcome of the match.

The way a player talks to themselves is also an area that is in our control. Positive self- talk can have a massive influence on performance. The player who has confidence and belief in their own ability will invariably be more successful than the player who is full of self-doubt and derogatory self-talk.

The amount of effort a player puts into their game is an area they can control. Be it in the gym, on the practice court or in the final of a grand slam a player is always capable of giving maximum effort. This will not always translate to a positive outcome on the scoreboard, but it will give the player the satisfaction that they gave it all they had on that occasion and can accept the result.

Arguably the most important overall aspect and a word that can summarise the above points is attitude. Having a professional attitude towards developing your game both on and off the court, your body language, your self-talk, and your effort all come down to your attitude.

Having the never say die, always positive, always looking to improve and always treating people and the game with respect will give you the best chance of reaching your goals.

By being able to recognise what you can control will help you identify your current strengths and weaknesses and help you understand what behaviours you need to change. Whilst your opponent may still prove too strong for you on the day, making these changes will ensure that you are indeed controlling the controllables.


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