All Athletes Face Challenges. It’s How You Confront Them That Matters.

By Greg Chertok, Director of Mental Training at CourtSense, a high performance junior tennis academy in Bergen County, NJ, as well as private consultant with Telos Sport Psychology in the greater NY area. Greg has a Masters of Education in Counseling/Sport Psychology from Boston University and is a certified consultant with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. He has worked with athletes from the junior to Olympic level.

In the pursuit of every athlete’s goals, the presence of obstacles, barriers, and other challenges is inevitable. Nobody achieves greatness in sport, exercise, or vocation with ease, and without struggle. Challenges are guaranteed for each player as they strive for their individual tennis goals, and so learning how to embrace challenges seems useful.

Playing an intimidating opponent. Overcoming injury. Learning new technique / mechanics. Difficulty in managing on-field emotions. These, and other challenging situations may be uncomfortable and result in making mistakes in the short-term, however they also provide opportunities for learning, growth and development. When embraced, challenges are seen as exciting tasks to be overcome rather than situations to be avoided. Facing, confronting, and embracing challenge allows individuals to develop skills for focusing and relaxing during potentially stressful endeavors on and off the court.

Consider a fitness-related example. Curling a 5-lb. weight several times isn’t a remarkably challenging task – for most, it’s rather simple. As a result, very little muscular growth will occur, and the bicep will remain as it was. Curling a 25-lb. weight several times is a far more difficult task, and while the feeling in the moment may be uncomfortable, unfamiliar, or distressing, the muscle is sure to grow when put under that kind of stress. The mind, too, needs to be put under stress in order to learn and grow. A player who adopts this mindset will not only accept challenges, but begin to actively seek them out (what a wonderful difference between this and the player who actively avoids, or acts out, in response to challenging or uncomfortable situations). This mentally tough player understands that short-term discomfort will yield long-term improvement.

Embracing challenge also means continuing to play hard when things aren’t all going according to plan. One can imagine that playing your sport intensely, confidently, and loosely under these circumstances is a challenge. A player who may “want” to give up in the moment but convinces himself to keep fighting is embracing challenge.