Giving Your Best

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.

A client of mine had recently sent me a video clip extracted from a football movie, assuming I would appreciate its content.

She was right. The clip contained a wonderful message, that we tend not to authentically “give our best” until we’re pushed past what we think are our limits.

When you think of an athlete giving his/her best, what comes to mind? If you’re like most, you likely conjure a particular image of an athlete drenched in sweat, completely bodily exhausted and devoid of energy – that is, we think of giving our best in purely physical terms.

However, what would it mean to give your “mental best”? There’s not as clear a face to this concept. A player could be giving her mental best during practice and nobody would know, as the experience is not all that externally recognizable.

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I posed this question to a group of tennis players, and they gave me some thoughtful responses:

When I give my mental best, I am…

-always convincing myself to put forth full effort
-always staying positive and optimistic, even when the situation is bleak
-always playing at a good rhythm (not rushing when tense, and not slowing down too much either)
-staying focused on the NOW (the task at hand, in this present moment), and quickly able to bring myself back to the moment when I drift off
-always fighting for every point
-preparing well so that I come into every match feeling ready and really believing that I can be successful
-reflecting well so that I walk away from each match knowing what went well, knowing what needs to be improved, and the lessons I’ve learned

Many of the players from this group have little experience giving their mental best (some, of course, play at their mental best most of the time). Think of how often you’re giving your mental best in practices, training, and competitions. Consider which area(s) from the list above may be in need of strengthening. Being setting practice goals, every day, to improve this area. Every skill requires practice to hone, and your mental skills are no different.